Occupy KC hopes police will waive cost of protest

Protesters from the Occupy Kansas City movement want to march on downtown streets Dec. 30.

But they don’t have the $4,100 fee to pay police officers to shut down traffic near Ninth and Main streets to ensure their safety. So an attorney representing the group asked the Board of Police Commissioners on Friday for an indigency waiver, prompting this discussion:

Whose budget is tighter: The movement’s or the city’s?

Occupy organizer Michael Enriquez said there shouldn’t be a financial barrier to exercise First Amendment rights, but board officials said the actual issue was covering the cost.

Mayor Sly James, a member of the police board, asked Enriquez if the group would be willing to pay a portion of the fee.

Enriquez said the group had collected $1,000 in donations, but they couldn’t pay most or all of it to police because they needed it for other operating costs.

“We’re operating on a shoestring budget,” he said, prompting James to reply: “I understand. So do we.”

James said the city couldn’t afford the cost either.

Just because the city’s budget is bigger than the Occupy movement’s budget, James said, “it doesn’t mean there’s any more wiggle room.”

Board president Pat McInerney said he needed to get more information from police commanders before they decided whether to grant the request for the waiver.

Board members asked Occupy Kansas City’s attorney, Gina Chiala, whether protesters could march on the sidewalks to avoid the need for extra officers.

Chiala said the protesters were dedicated to marching in the streets because “it sends a more powerful message.”

The march, called “The death of the social safety net,” would involve about 100 people and would be a symbolic funeral to bring attention to the group’s issues, Chiala said.

Members of the movement have been peacefully encamped for months in the city’s park south of the Liberty Memorial. Police officials and James said they have appreciated the good relationship they’ve maintained with the group so far.