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Mayor Assembles Task Force To Examine Violence In Kansas City

Elle Moxley
Kansas City Mayor Sly James, bottom right, announces the formation of a Citizen Task Force to prevent violence.

Kansas City Mayor Sly James recited a list of wins for the city at a press conference Wednesday.

  • A Choice Neighborhoods Implementation Grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
  • A designation as one of just four so-called “smart cities” worldwide.
  • A partnership with the Royals and Major League Baseball to open an Urban Youth Academy near 18th and Vine.

“But the reality is simply this: none of these things, none of these great accomplishments, really mean anything if people don’t feel safe in this city,” James said, announcing the formation of a Citizen Task Force to look at ways to prevent violence.
Despite the efforts of the Kansas City No Violence Alliance and other anti-crime groups such as AdHoc, Aim4Peace and Mothers in Charges, the year-to-date homicide rate has surpassed that of 2014.

James said he was considering creating the task force even before he began his second term as mayor earlier this year, but the last straw was a triple homicide in September that claimed the life of two teens and an infant.

It’s not that other initiatives aren’t working, James said. It’s that most of the city’s anti-crime groups have specific objects. For example, KC NOVA uses focused deterrence to identify individuals who are likely to commit violent acts together.

“Domestic violence deaths are up. Child abuse deaths are up,” James said. “KC NOVA doesn’t do that. They can’t be there. It’s not a group activity.”

Councilwoman Jolie Justus, a former state senator who will lead the group alongside Andres Dominguez with the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City, says she’s committed to producing something tangible over the next 12 months.

“When someone gives me an intractable problem, I don’t let go until it gets done,” said Justus.

That said, Justus said she recognizes many of the task force’s recommendations will take lobbying in Jefferson City to ultimately enact.

“We know there are lots of things we don’t have control over. Funding for mental health? We get it. That’s a tough issue to crack. Gun safety? We understand the political state of where we are,” Justus said.

But James pushed back when reporters began asking how the task force would be any different than other initiatives to prevent violence in Kansas City.

He said even if efforts had failed in the past, it was still his duty as mayor to try.

“If we can’t eradicate poverty and poor education,” James said, “can we get guns out of the hands of people who should use them?”

Other members of the task force include:

  • Deidre Anderson, United Inner City Services
  • Charles Atwell, Foland Wickens, P.C.
  • Charles Caisley, Kansas City Power & Light
  • Councilwoman Alissia Canady
  • Jose Faus, artist
  • Pastor Tina Harris, Grand Avenue Temple United Methodist Church
  • Atty. Jill M. Katz
  • Jonathan Kemper, Commerce Bank
  • Rodney Knott, ReEngage Staffing Services
  • Raytown Supt. Allan Markley
  • Atty. Nancy Olivares
  • Asst. City Prosecutor D.J. Pierre
  • Judy Sherry, Judy Sherry Consortium, Advertising & Marketing
  • Rosilyn Temple, Mothers in Charge
  • Wick Thomas, Kansas City Public Library
  • Jackson County Legislator Crystal Williams

Elle Moxley is a reporter for KCUR. You can reach her on Twitter @ellemoxley.

Elle Moxley covered education for KCUR.
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