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Central Standard

Prosecutor Says 2016 Homicide Count Is Kansas City's Failure

Eva Wilson
Leawood Baptist Church
For the fifth year in a row, the Leawood Baptist Church put up white crosses in their front lawn on State Line Road. The display goes up at the end of each year, and each cross represents a life lost to homicide.

Dec. 21 was the winter's solstice, the longest night of 2016. That night, roughly 200 people showed up for a vigil at the Leawood Baptist Church to honor nearly 200 people who lost their lives in homicides in the Kansas City metropolitan area in 2016.

For weeks, the church's front lawn was a sea of white crosses: 193, each with a name, each representing a life lost.

In Kansas City, Missouri in 2016, there were 127 homicides, marking the highest number in nearly a decade. 

"In my office, we measure our community's success and failures based in part on that number," Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker told Gina Kaufmann on KCUR's Central Standard. "So this number is incredibly significant."

Baker points to the tension between police and communities that swept the nation after the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014, along with the ready availability of guns in Missouri as factors that play into this recent uptick in homicides.

There's deep-seated distrust of law enforcement, Baker says, and for some people in the community, it's not uncommon to pick up a gun to solve disputes.

According to Baker, 90 percent of those 127 homicides in Kansas City were due to gun violence.

But, she says, this isn't new.

"The type of violence we saw in 2016 is not unknown to Kansas City," Baker says. "We have seen that kind of violence for decades."

Rosilyn Temple, director of the Kansas City chapter of Mothers in Charge, says homicide is a learned behavior, one that begins in the home.

Temple's son was 26 when she lost him to homicide the night before Thanksgiving five years ago. Acting as a bridge between law enforcement and the community, Temple is called to each homicide scene.

Looking back at 2016, Temple feels intense dismay. She'd get a call, and, she says, before she could even breathe, there was another homicide just like the last one.

"For me, going to scenes and having this happen so fast, and revisiting this scene I once had to revisit, revisiting families that have lost their loved ones and children, that was just unbelievable," Temple says.

The unbelievable part, she says, is that we, as a community, let it happen.

Editors note: The official homicide count in Kansas City, Missouri changed in the first couple of weeks of the year. This post reflected those changes, and was last updated Jan. 10.

Andrea Tudhope is a freelance reporter and producer for KCUR 89.3. You can reach her at andreat@kcur.org.

Andrea Tudhope is an award-winning multimedia journalist based in Kansas City, Missouri. She is currently coordinating producer for America Amplified, a national public media community engagement initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.