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Kansas City already recorded more homicides than last year. 2023 may be its deadliest ever

Two blue police cars are parked on a neighborhood street in daylight. There is a strip of yellow police "Do Not Cross" tape between them. A crowd of people can be seen standing in the far background.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Kansas City police work the scene of a homicide in June 2023 on College Avenue near 74th Street.

Kansas City is on the brink of breaking the all-time record of 182 yearly homicides, set in 2020. Community organizations, activists, city leadership and law enforcement are searching for answers to stem the tide of death.

A late night killing on Nov. 19 pushed Kansas City past last year's final homicide total, with about five weeks to go in 2023.

Sunday’s victim was 36-year-old Theus Dewberry, a Black man found slain behind a house south of 23rd Street and Lawn Avenue. According to data kept by the Kansas City Star, Dewberry’s death was Kansas City’s 171st homicide this year.

A deadly shooting Tuesday night near East 70th Street and South Benton Avenue put the city at 172.

This makes 2023 the second deadliest year in the city’s history, a milestone that has left those working to stop gun violence searching for answers.

“It was hard to see that we had surpassed that number,” said Latrice Murray, who is an outreach specialist for KC Mother’s in Charge, a group dedicated to supporting victims and families who’ve lost loved ones to gun violence.

“To see so many people have been lost to senseless gun violence, it's heartbreaking,” she said. “It's heartbreaking for our community to be in the state of mind that we are in today.”

Murray lost her only son to gun violence in 2009, when he was 17 years old. She said losing a family member in such a violent way can be devastating, especially this time of year.

“During the holidays and stuff, you think back all the memories and it just gets harder and harder for the families. And it breaks my heart for these families this year who have to spend their first holiday, Thanksgiving without their loved one,” she said.

Outdoors street scene in daylight shows a Black woman from behind with her left hand resting on her hip and her right hand holding a box of tissue paper on her right hip. In background a police officer can be seen in the shadows with yellow police tape blocking a street.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Rosilyn Temple, of Mothers in Charge, stands near a crime scene on College Avenue near 74th Street in June 2023. She was standing by to comfort neighbors and family.

Recent research from Counseling Psychology suggests more than 7 in 10 Kansas City residents have real concerns about gun violence, the fifth highest rate in the country, and 90% of Kansas Citians say local, state and the federal government are not doing enough to prevent mass shootings and gun violence.

The Rev. Darren Faulkner is program manager for KC Common Good, which leads a violence prevention program called KC 360. He said the uptick in random acts of violent crime and homicides over the past couple of months are hard to address.

“As much as 44% of homicides are the result of an argument gone bad. So when we see that this is the case — and that it's not a group or gang incident — we have to address those root causes,” he said, “such as unemployment, lack of education or lack of resources.”

Getting involved early to show kids there are better ways to solve problems is key, Faulkner said. “And we start that with the new generation of young people going into the schools, the elementary schools, middle schools, even the high schools, and teaching conflict resolution skills.”

The homicide count kept at the Kansas City Police Department’s daily homicide analysis webpage has this year's official total at 169 as of Nov. 22, three fewer than the Star’s total. KCPD Sgt. Jake Becchina told KCUR in an email that the Star’s records include officer-involved shootings.

“The number of homicides and non-fatal shootings is very concerning … it's something everyone in Kansas City should care about,” he wrote. “We continue to work with our strategic partners on this issue. We are confident in the investments and efforts that we are employing to reduce violence, along with Partners for Peace, KC360, state and federal partners, probation/parole, and many many other community partners.”

While Faulkner thinks collaborative work with the police has yielded some results, he said depending strictly on law enforcement as the primary solution won’t work.

“We believe if we provide for people what they need, regardless of what the laws are in the city or the state, you can prevent a lot of stuff from happening,” he said, noting Missouri gun laws are some of the most lenient in the country.

“While we understand the proliferation of guns in our community here in Kansas City is great, and access to them is easy, we take the position that if we are addressing their needs, it doesn't matter if they have 10 guns in their home,” he said. “They're not going to shoot because their basic needs are being met.”

With a little more than a month left in 2023, Kansas City is on pace to break its all-time high of 182 homicides, set in 2020. According to KCPD numbers, there were 166 homicides at this time that year.

The consistently staggering totals have convinced Faulkner it will take more than a year to clean up such a long-standing issue.

“We want to make sure that what we are doing has a lasting effect. So one year — great, you were able to see a reduction,” he said. “But what about two years, what about three years?”

As KCUR’s race and culture reporter, I work to help readers and listeners build meaningful and longstanding relationships with the many diverse cultures that make up the Kansas City metro. I deliver nuanced stories about the underrepresented communities that call our metro home, and the people whose historically-overlooked contributions span politics, civil rights, business, the arts, sports and every other realm of our daily lives.
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