The local chapter of the NAACP plans to formally oppose the privatization of public sidewalks in the Westport bar and entertainment district, officials with the civil rights organization said Wednesday.
The organization will host a press conference at 10 a.m. Friday at the Swope Parkway United Christian Church to announce its opposition to a pair of ordinances approved by the Kansas City Council that would allow the city to relinquish its ownership of sidewalks along the district’s main corridors to the Westport Community Improvement District.
The measures privatize the sidewalks on Westport Road from Broadway Boulevard to Mill Street, plus the sidewalks on Pennsylvania Avenue from 40th street to Archibald Street. By law, the police cannot screen for weapons on public streets or sidewalks.
The city council voted 8-5 in favor of the ordinances, citing an increase in violent crime on the weekends. Starting in the spring, metal detection checkpoints will be from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m. on weekend nights.
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Opponents worry the approach could lead to discrimination and sets a bad precedent of giving away public assets to private interests.
NAACP officials said the ordinances may “increase civil rights violations, and increase racial tension.”
“Privatizing public lands are not a solution for legitimate concerns about crime,” Rev. Dr. Rodney E. Williams said in a statement. “Although privatization is much in style these days, it cannot solve this very real issue. Indeed, it is more likely to increase civil rights violations, and increase racial tension in our city.”
The Westport Regional Business League originally wanted to privatize the main streets in the district after a spate of violent, often late-night crime.
If the city reclaims ownership of the sidewalks within the first three years of privatization without any reason, the city would have to reimburse the Westport Community Improvement District up to $132,784 for its expenses. The council also approved an amendment that says the city doesn’t have to reimburse the district for its expenses if civil rights violations occur.
Provisions call for the district to hire civil rights observers for each entry point to monitor the process and to report any violations to the city’s Human Relations Department.