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Church Leaders In Kansas City, Kansas, Say It’s Time To End ‘Stop Snitching’

kck_rally.jpg
Alex Smith
/
Heartland Health Monitor

This story was rebroadcast as part of our best-of 2015 series. It was originally reported in October 2015.   

Near a greasy spoon restaurant in the Quindaro neighborhood of Kansas City, Kansas, two young men were killed in a drive-by shooting on a sunny afternoon earlier this year. Two more killings after what had already been a violent stretch of months.

Pastor Sheldrick Walker was in his church a few miles away when he got the news from fellow pastor Adrion Roberson.

“I was up here praying and Pastor Roberson called me,” Walker says. “And we began to talk to each other, and our hearts were broken, because – man – you get tired of this, man.”

There have been 25 homicides in Kansas City, Kansas, so far this year and Walker says many residents have become almost numb to the violence.

Walker and several other church leaders have been working together in recent months to address violent crime and especially the one factor they say has led to crime going unchecked: the reluctance of community members to cooperate with police because they’re intimidated by pressure to “stop snitchin’.”

While homicides occur in Kansas City, Kansas with tragic frequency, the shooting on August 18 particularly troubled Walker and Roberson.

“This is a young boy that didn’t get the opportunity to get married, to go to school, to work a job, to be whatever God predestined him to be,” Walker says, recalling the homicide and phone call from Roberson. “So he called me, and we cried and we said, ‘Brother, we got to do something. We got to change this.’”

A few days later, Walker, Roberson and a handful of other church leaders led dozens of marchers down the street where the shooting took place. They wore white and carried signs reading “Stop Killing Each Other.”

The organizers spoke passionately about the need for neighbors to take responsibility for their community and the importance of providing the police with any useful information they had.

‘Stop Snitchin’’

As long as there’s been crime, there’s been intimidation by offenders to keep witnesses from talking to police. But the ‘stop snitching’ mantra really took off in Philadelphia in the mid-2000s.

Since then it has become almost a brand, appearing on T-shirts and in rap songs. Walker says in neighborhoods like Quindaro, this mind-your-own-business mentality has become a norm contributing to the spread of crime.

“Your silence is consent,” Walker says. “If you don’t say anything, you’re saying ‘I agree. I agree that’s it’s cool that you murder folks’ kids. I agree that you sell drugs and destroy your community.’”

And in Kansas City, Kansas, a lot of criminals don’t face justice.

Last year, KCK police only made an arrest or identified a suspect in about half of all murders or manslaughters, according to the FBI. For violent crime in KCK overall, it’s about a third of cases. That’s not as bad as the highest-crime cities in the U.S., but it’s worse than the national average.

The Quindaro neighborhood to which the marchers took their message has a long history as a mostly African American neighborhood. But it’s far from the only one struggling with violent crime and ‘stop snitching’.

Strained relationships

Pastor Francisco Lara leads the largely Hispanic church Iglesia Vida Abundante south of Quindaro. He says he was moved to work with the Walker and Roberson’s group on the problem of violence after one of his congregants was struck by a stray bullet.

“There a saying around here that there is force in unity and we want the united churches to bring a great impact to the community,” Lara says.

Lara’s church consists mostly of Latinos who have lived in the area for years, if not generations. But his daughter Raquel, who leads youth programs in KCK, says that for some Latinos – who may be undocumented or have undocumented friends or family members – complicated relationships with the police makes cooperation difficult.

“The idea of who a police officer is and what that represents – it’s more of a fear of being taken away from your family and being deported back to your country,” she says.

Relationships with law enforcement in many communities have been especially strained in the past year in the aftermath of high-profile police shootings like the ones in Ferguson, Missouri, Baltimore, Cleveland and other cities. And Roberson says many people already had a mistrust of police owing to racial profiling and the high rates of black incarceration.  

But for many of his neighbors, these concerns are now taking a back seat to restoring safety.

“There’s getting to the point they don’t play. Because we’ve got seniors that’s been there thirty years. And when Ms. Block can’t sit on her porch, that’s a problem,” Roberson says. “We’ve got all these kids down there, when they can’t play – no, you’re going to get up outta here. And as much as we hate to see another man of color get locked up, that’s a decision you made.”

At the August rally, one of the speakers shouts through a megaphone, “Snitch to get rich!” In other words, inform on criminals to get reward money.

It’s a message that many criminal offenders probably aren’t happy to hear, and the marchers say they may be risking their own safety by going public with it. But Walker says it’s a risk that needs to be taken.

“The stuff that we’re seeing on the streets – that’s bold. You think you’re going to make a change being passive and fearful?” Walker says. “There’s a sense of urgency in the air that something needs to be changed, and it starts with the church. We can’t change the world, but each one reach one.”

Alex Smith is a reporter for KCUR, a partner in the Heartland Health Monitor team.

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