A trash bag used as a burial shroud.
It was the final insult to the 42-year life of Brandy Helbock Castaneda. She’d likely already been murdered.
City workers found Castaneda’s body stuffed inside a plastic bag last week, dumped in an East Side neighborhood known for illegal trash. That’s why the city crew was there. They were trying to clean up the block, a spot where people feel entitled to unload whatever they can toss.
Someone dumped a human being. A mother, Castaneda had been missing since late December, and her obituary noted that she’d fought multiple sclerosis, diabetes and mental illness. Police continue to investigate her death as a homicide.
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Remember Castaneda and her grieving family if you question why Police Chief Darryl Forté would propose hiring fewer police officers, instead putting the money toward tearing down some of the city’s condemned properties.
The chief understands the connection between crime and blighted neighborhoods. So do the people who live in such areas, painfully and very personally.
Forté made his comment Tuesday morning to the Board of Police Commissioners. The first meeting of the new Citizens Task Force on Violence met that night.
Among the tidbits of wisdom offered was consideration of the city’s two-trash-bag limit.
Rosilyn Temple, founder of Mothers in Charge, noted that in many neighborhoods, a small house might be home for up to eight people, crammed together by poverty. And the household will generate more garbage than two bags a week.
So people dump trash. And the trash adds to the perception that it’s OK to soil that neighborhood in other ways — with crime.
The connection between blight and crime has a name in policing. It’s the broken windows theory, a concept first introduced in the early ’80s.
George Kelling, who is credited with co-developing the idea, wrote in Politico recently of choosing the metaphorical phrase: “Just as a broken window left untended in a building is a sign that nobody cares, leading typically to more broken windows — more damage — so disorderly conditions and behaviors left untended in a community are signs that nobody cares and lead to fear of crime, more serious crime and urban decay.”
Someone chose the area of 49th and Brooklyn Avenue to leave Castaneda’s body for a reason. They knew it might not be noticed. No one is leaving bodies along bucolic Lee Boulevard.
The most effective answers to the violence in the urban core will come from the people who suffer it the most, who live the closest to it.
They were in the conference room at Gregg/Klice Community Center, where the task force met. They packed the room.
People stood along the walls when all the chairs were taken. And they grew frustrated when it took so long for each of the task force members (there are 19 total, although not all could attend) to give their opening spiels.
In all fairness, chairwoman Jolie Justus had announced ahead of time, and City Hall tried to publicize, that this first meeting would be largely procedural. And that public testimony will be the focus of future meetings. And some people did get to speak.
Many of the task force members, including Temple (whose son was murdered), have their own stories of being deeply affected by crime. The comments mumbled in the crowd included many worthy of discussion.
People tried to tell the task force that most of the guns are stolen first, then resold on the street, or out the back door of some pawnshops, and then used in crime. And they are readily available, with so many people owning guns, legal or not.
There was a suggestion for higher bail amounts so people charged with violent crimes can’t have their associates sell some drugs and get them out of police custody.
“The solution comes out of the dirt,” one man said. “If you haven’t been in poverty most of your life, you won’t have the solutions.”
Thankfully, future monthly meetings will be dedicated to listening.
How you can help
Citizens may provide input or comments by email to ViolenceTaskForce@kcmo.org or by sending correspondence to Councilwoman Jolie Justus, City Hall, 22nd Floor, 414 E. 12th St., Kansas City, MO 64106.