Kansas City’s Power & Light District drew a crowd Saturday — across the street.
A couple hundred people gathered to protest what they view as the entertainment district’s discriminatory policies, specifically a dress code that some see as a means to keep out minorities.
Many in the crowd wielded signs reminiscent of civil-rights demonstrations a half-century earlier, such as “No Jim Crow.”
“I thought this was over — not in 2009!” the Rev. Sam Mann yelled to the energized crowd in front of the Sprint Center. “What’s going on across the street is wrong. It is not what this city is about.”
The crowd prayed, locked arms and cried out for justice.
In a prayer, Vernon Howard Jr., senior pastor at Second Baptist Church, said: “We seek the power to respect ourselves.”
The protest came a day after a prominent black minister resigned from an advisory board that was formed to address community concerns about alleged discrimination within the Power & Light District. In announcing his departure from the board, Mark Tolbert accused the district of ongoing racism.Earlier this month, Zed Smith, national director of operations for Cordish, the district’s developer, said Power & Light does not discriminate and that complaints about the dress code are rare.
The issue has been ongoing since the district began to draw crowds in early 2008. Critics say the dress code’s ban on baggy pants, chains, work boots and white T-shirts focuses on African-Americans and Hispanics.
“It’s meant to deny access to persons of color from a public facility under the guise of a dress code,” Howard said at the protest, which was organized by black clergy leaders.
Rick Leathers, 23, held a sign that read: “1959 or 2009.” The recent University of Missouri graduate said he was denied entry into Power & Light because of baggy pants. Shorts deemed too long kept out his friend.
“That is a beautiful facility over there, and we all want to be included,” Leathers said. “The worst thing we can do is stay silent.”
On Nov. 5, an African-American family filed a complaint with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights that it had been barred from a nightclub while similarly attired white patrons were allowed to enter.
That same day, Kansas City’s Human Relations Department issued a report that concluded the dress code was not consistently enforced. In a test conducted by the department, white similarly dressed males were allowed entry 100 percent of the time while minorities dressed the same way as the whites were denied entry 44 percent of the time.
Cordish has since said the company needs to work on consistency.