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Kansas Citians Demand Urgency From Citizens Task Force Against Violence

Dan Verbeck
Confiscated handgun ammunition at Kansas City Police headquarters in July 2013.

None of the houses Kansas City Councilwoman Alissia Canady lived in growing up east of Troost are occupied.

Most of the schools she attended have closed.

“When you look at the areas where violent crime is occurring, you see vacant and abandoned houses, high concentrations of poverty, lack of basic resources and poor education,” Canady said Tuesday at the first meeting of the Citizens Task Force Against Violence. “It’s almost like it’s the formula for violence.”

Canady grew up in the Third District and now represents the Fifth.

“As a policymaker, my job is to create opportunities for these individuals, just like people created opportunities for me,” she said.

Another task force member, Raytown Schools Superintendent Allan Markley, said he’s tired of midnight phone calls telling him another one of his students has become a victim of violence.

“I called the mayor after my last student was murdered, and her young child and her friend, prior in the fall, and I said, ‘I’ve had enough. That’s it,’” Markley said. “I’m tired of attending the funerals and visitations of young people. Our students deserve better.”

Kansas City Mayor Sly James has said he wants the task force to bring him concrete recommendations on how to curb violence in the city by November.

For many of the 50 people who attended Tuesday’s meeting, that’s not soon enough. The crowd grew restless waiting for the 19-member panel to introduce themselves.

“This is really lopsided,” audience member William Harris told the panel. “I represent the black men in Kansas City, the ones who are perpetrating these murders and who are being murdered. You can't do this without me.”

Eric Wesson, who writes for the Kansas City Call newspaper, pointed out there have been eight homicides this year already. There were 109 last year, far surpassing the 2014 count.

“What I’m not hearing here is a sense of urgency,” Wesson said during the public comment period. “So between today and November when you submit your final report, how many more young black men, black women, white men, white women are we going to watch get buried?”

Jolie Justus, Fourth District councilwoman and facilitator of the task force, replied that everyone on the panel was there because they felt that same sense of urgency.

“If we see a policy recommendation that can be made in February, or January, then we’ll make it as an organization,” Justus said.

But the group will also look for long-term solutions as well as review what’s worked in the past.

Someone suggested incorporating conflict resolution into the school curriculum. Another asked if the city’s ShotSpotter technology, which can pinpoint where gunfire originates, could be activated on nights of revelry such as New Year’s Eve to identify the locations of illegal weapons.

Justus said the task force would investigate the feasibility of both ideas.

The goal, she said, is not to draft a final report that collects dust on the mayor’s shelf.

“We had folks stand up tonight and say they already had plans put together. Awesome,” Justus said. “Send them to us.”

You can contact the task force at violencetaskforce@kcmo.org.

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

Elle Moxley covered education for KCUR.
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