Two months into the new year, the number of gun deaths in Kansas City is inching downward, but work still remains to curb the violence in our city.
Grassroots efforts such as Operation Cease Fire KC could help. But city, county and civic leaders should get on board to make it more effective.
The cease-fire effort began three years ago as a violence-free weekend event. The goal was to reduce the homicide rate in Kansas City, even if only for a weekend, by offering free services such as haircuts, food and activities.
In the first year, organizer Ronell Bailey got three city barber shops to donate their services to community youth over a 24-hour period that began on a Friday. Last year, eight barber shops and hair salons were involved.
Kansas City recorded one homicide during the 2016 event, and a couple of non-fatal shootings occurred on the first night of last year’s event.
At the end of last week, 16 homicides had been reported in Kansas City this year. That’s down from 20 at the same point last year and 18 the year before. The city’s 150 homicides in 2017 were a 24-year high.
Nearly half of Kansas City homicides with known motives in 2017 were ignited by arguments, police data show.
Two out of three suspects were between ages 17 and 34. Nine out of 10 were males. Three-fourths of them were black. The victims, too, were mostly young black men.
Those stats inspired Bailey to act.
“We don’t have enough positive things going on to keep them on the right track,” Bailey said of young people.
As Ad Hoc Against Crime President Damon Daniel said Operation Cease Fire KC is a noble effort. But it would have even more impact with financial and organizational support from the private and public sectors.
This June, those eight barber shops will once again offer free haircuts and services. Other events over a three-day period include a gospel concert, health fair, picnic and a balloon release to honor murder victims.
But planning should start now to elevate this effort and secure commitments across the community to put a stop to the violence. Perhaps Kansas City could take a page from Baltimore’s playbook.
Last year, there were 341 homicides in Baltimore, the highest per-capita rate on record, according to the Baltimore Sun.
The rising violence spurred the first Baltimore Ceasefire. The quarterly events began last August with the goal of zero murders in the city. The weekends include music, rallies, discussions and public memorials.
Kansas City Councilman Jermaine Reed said an all hands-on-deck approach would be welcome.
“We can’t fund ourselves out of crime,” Reed said. “It has to be holistic and innovative.”
Jackson County Sheriff Mike Sharp is willing to get involved. He’s offered to cut hair as a way to open dialogue with someone who is facing problems.
With sponsorship and volunteers still needed, that is a step in the right direction. Others should follow Sharp’s lead.
“We need our city officials to show support,” Bailey said. “It starts there. They are the ones that can make changes.”