Protesters blocked traffic along one of the metro’s most iconic thoroughfares on Saturday, in a march meant to call attention to the case of Donnie Sanders, an unarmed Black man killed by Kansas City police one year ago.
“We do not have any other options,” said Sanders’ younger sister Reshonda Sanders. “We're going to have to keep doing this, and doing it and doing it, until Jean Peters Baker realizes … that these officers should not be allowed to be out here, and continuing to take lives.”
On Monday, Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker announced she had insufficient evidence to charge Blayne Newton, the officer who shot Sanders near Prospect and Wabash Avenues after Sanders made an illegal turn.
The officer told investigators Sanders held his hand up as if he had a firearm. The day after his killing, the Kansas City Police Department announced Sanders was not carrying a weapon.
About 50 protesters took part in Saturday’s action, which started at Arno Park, in one of Kansas City’s tony neighborhoods. The group marched from there to the intersection of 70th Street and Valley Road, at times blocking traffic on Ward Parkway between 69th Street and 70th Street.
Questions for the Jackson County Prosecutor
Organizers of the protest, which included members of the Kansas City chapter of the Revolutionary Black Panther Party, said they were looking to confront the county prosecutor at her home.
“Wherever she stays, whatever she is doing … we’re going to disrupt that,” organizer Anton Washington, using a bullhorn, told those gathered. “If the family don’t get no sleep, (Peters Baker) don’t get no sleep.”
When they reached Peters Baker’s home, which appeared unoccupied at the time, organizers demanded she release a complete copy of the police investigation file, and a complete copy of the evidence she reviewed when deciding not prosecute the officer.
"If (Sanders) was a white man ... the officer would have gave chase, Tased him and cuffed him," Washington said. "You don't shoot an unarmed man in the back. That's an execution."
Peters Baker responded to the protesters on Twitter, saying she fully supported their right to peacefully protest, but she called out “those few people who decided to carry and display rifles at a peaceful protest.”
Some residents of the neighborhood stood outside their homes, watching from a distance, while the group blocked streets and leaders shouted into bullhorns.
Merrick Henry, originally from Jamaica, said he’s lived in the neighborhood for about five years. He was on a bike ride with his children when they came across the protest. Henry said he’s talked to his kids, who are biracial, about the Black Lives Matter movement, and he supports the protesters as long as things remained peaceful.
“Doesn’t bother me in the slightest,” said a woman named Diana, who didn’t want to give her last name, but lives in the neighborhood. She watched protestors from a few houses away in her socks.
“If it's effective for them and it stays peaceful, I'm all for it,” she said, noting she hadn’t heard of the Sanders case in particular before today. “I'll go find out more about the case and why this brought them here today.”
Police remained out of sight for most of the action, but intervened quickly on two occasions. At one point, they led one man away after he appeared to hit a vehicle with his hand. Protestors said the driver struck another protestor at a low speed. No one appeared to be injured.
The Kansas City Star has reported Newton was also involved in the controversial arrest of Deja Stallings, about six months after he shot Sanders. Newton was allegedly captured on video kneeling on Stallings, who was nine months pregnant.
The protest and march lasted just under two hours.
“This hurts,” said Youlanda Sanders, the older sister of Donnie Sanders.
“All we ask for is justice for my brother,” she said. “He didn’t deserve to die — not after no traffic stop.”