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'No Bravery In Protecting Someone Who Kills Kids' — Kansas City, Missouri, Officials Plead For Tips In 4-Year-Old's Shooting Death

Rosilyn Temple of the anti-violence group Mothers in Charge speaks at a vigil for LeGend Taliaferro on July 1.
Noah Taborda
KCUR 89.3
Rosilyn Temple of the anti-violence group Mothers in Charge speaks at a vigil for LeGend Taliaferro on July 1.

Halfway through 2020, the Kansas City metro is approaching 140 homicides, and at least five of the victims have been under the age of 17.

Horrified by the latest shooting death of a child in his bed, Kansas City, Missouri, civic leaders pleaded Wednesday for the violence to stop and for people to come forward to help solve the crimes.

“There is no bravery in keeping a code of silence. There is no bravery in protecting someone who kills kids,” Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas said at a vigil for 4-year-old LeGend Taliferro, who was killed Monday morning while sleeping in his room at Citadel Apartments in the 1600 block of Bushman Drive near 63rd Street and The Paseo.

“If you know something, say something so we don’t have more stories like LeGend’s,” Lucas said.

City Councilman Lee Barnes lamented that LeGend “was doing what any child of four years old was supposed to be doing— resting peacefully. It's past time we stand as a community against this type of reckless behavior,” he said.

Rosilyn Temple, founder and executive director of Mothers in Charge, a local group working to reduce violent crime, was at Wednesday’s vigil and agreed it’s past time for people to turn in relatives who are committing these crimes.

“You need to speak up,” she said, reminding people that reports can be anonymous and the Greater Kansas City Crime Stoppers reward for information leading to an arrest in a homicide can be as high as $25,000.

At least 5 young people shot and killed

Temple told KCUR that while Black Lives Matter protests against social injustice and police brutality have drawn large crowds to the Country Club Plaza in recent weeks, she remains focused on violence occurring in the city's urban core.

“When we allow people to get killed every day in our community and do not speak up like it doesn't matter, these acts continue,” she said.

Deputy Chief Karl Oakman said the Kansas City Police Department had released a videoof a possible suspect’s car driving away from Bushman Drive, and they are looking for help identifying the make, model and color of that vehicle.

Taliferro is not the first child shot this year while sleeping in his bedroom in Kansas City. In February, an 11-year-old girl was critically injured by gunfire and police found her covered in blood in the bedroom of her south Kansas City home.

And an 8-year-old boy was shot and killed in his home near 83rd Street and Tracy Avenue in August 2019.

The rash of killings in the metro area this year has claimed at least five victims under age 17. On Wednesday, police were investigating the shooting death of a 15-year-old boy at the Raytown Plaza Shopping Center. Two other juveniles were injured in that incident.

And Kansas City, Kansas police are investigating the June 29 shooting death of a 15-year-old girl. That victim was shot while riding in a vehicle.

Frustration over silence

As the Kansas City metro area approaches 140 homicides barely halfway through 2020, community leaders are frustrated and struggling to identify solutions.

Alvin Brooks, 88, former city councilman and founder of the Ad Hoc Group Against Crime, wasn’t at Wednesday’s vigil but has devoted much of his life trying to addressing violence and improving life in Kansas City. He said one solution is for people to provide information about who is doing the killings.

“Folks who are committing these crimes have families, and family members know the behavior. The tragedy of it all is they are complicit,” Brooks told KCUR. “That whole thing of silence against snitching ought to be a thing of the past. We ought to put life above family members.

Brooks did not think the recent homicides were indicative of a drug or gang war. “I think it’s just individuals who have no compassion for life,” he said. Brooks said it breaks his heart to hear about children being killed.

“When I see or get a call or hear about babies being killed, it’s just beyond one’s imagination,” he said, adding that family members need to take responsibility. “You know in your family who is out there with guns, and doing these kinds of things. You need to be turning them in.”

At the vigil, Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker asked what her office can do to get help with these investigations.

“What can I do to help you feel safe to help this case? What can this community do to protect you, to lift you up when you do turn in your friend, your son, your brother?” she said.

In an interview with KCUR, Branden Mims, director of crisis intervention with the Ad Hoc Group Against Crime, said a relocation program for witnesses might help.

“What we hear most when it comes to coming forward is people fear being retaliated against,” Mims said. He said he has heard Kansas City officials were trying to create such a program.

“We’ve seen that work in other places,” Mims said.

'Less love and a lot of hate'

Pat Clarke, a longtime leader in the Oak Park neighborhood, said he knew LeGend Taliaferro’s grandfather as a youth baseball coach and he ached for the family’s loss.

He said solutions remain elusive but part of it will require “people who have created the problems in our community to finally grow up and say, I don’t want to live this life anymore.”

Clarke told KCUR that while attention is focused on Black Lives Matter protests and concerns about police officers shooting Black people, the community also needs to be concerned about Kansas City’s high rate of crime in which Black people are frequently both victims and perpetrators of violence.

Clarke said the urban core still needs a lot more help from City Hall and investment to create jobs, economic development and enriching activities and programs for young people.

The area right now is awash in guns and bullets, he said, adding “There’s less love and lot of hate.”

The Kansas City Public Schools tries to take a proactive role in helping its students navigate traumatic violence experiences, spokeswoman Kelly Wachel told KCUR on Wednesday.

“It impacts us. It impacts our kids. It impacts families,” Wachel said, noting that several Lincoln Prep Academy football players personally knew a teenage victim in a recent homicide and talked to their coaches about it. The district holds regular town halls where violence and its impact on the community are addressed.

“We have an intimate setting where kids affected personally by violence get to talk about their experience,” Wachel said. “It’s not their problem to solve. But we do want to hear their voice and make sure we’re there as counselors and guides. We have many trusted adults in our schools who have these relationships.”

Wachel said one message is that education is a major avenue to improving life choices and chances.

“We certainly believe academics and education is a ticket for our kids, a ticket to go on and succeed,” she said.

Kansas City is not alone in suffering an epidemic of homicides with children and teen victims. In St. Louis, more than a dozen children were shot and killed between February 2019 and February 2020.

One solution St. Louis is pursuing is the Cure Violence initiative that began in Boston, which targets potential suspects with increased enforcement but also preventive services.

Kansas City tried a similar approach called the No Violence Alliance which had some initial success in 2014. But that program is now being adjusted and refocused.

Lynn Horsley is a freelance writer in Kansas City. Follow her on Twitter @LynnHorsley.
As KCUR's health reporter, I cover the Kansas City metro in a way that reflects our expanding understanding of what health means and the ways it touches different communities and different areas in distinct ways. I will provide a platform to amplify ideas and issues often underrepresented in the media and marginalized people and communities in an authentic and honest way that goes beyond the surface of the issues. I will endeavor to find and include in my work local experts and organizations that have their ears to the ground and a beat on the health needs of the community. Reach me at noahtaborda@kcur.org.
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