There we were back in 2011, named in another list of America’s most violent cities.
We were No. 9 in that year’s U.S. News & World Report ranking. Our crime rate, the magazine noted, “is three times the national average.”
In 2015, we were No. 10, based on FBI statistics. “The city of nearly a half-million people experienced 99 murders, 377 rapes, 1,662 robberies, and 3,726 aggravated assaults.”
The headline in 2016: “Kansas City one of 7 cities responsible for national rise in violent crime.”
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And this year, Kansas City’s homicide rate was described as worse than even bullet-ridden Chicago, though there’s some good news: Homicide rates here had actually declined over the past two decades, as they had across the U.S.
Take the cheerful news where you can get it, right?
We’ve grown so accustomed to these annual reports that we’re numb to them. The shootings go on year after year after year.
But here’s a question that no one can answer, at least not definitively, and I’ve asked a lot of people: Why? Why does Kansas City remain such a steadfast presence on these most-violent-city lists when so many other cities also struggle with poverty, suspect public schools, the proliferation of guns and single-parent families?
What’s baked into our culture that makes us so trigger-happy? That seems like something worth knowing.
Answer: We don’t know.
“I have no idea,” said City Councilwoman Jolie Justus, who spent months leading the Citizens Task Force on Violence that Mayor Sly James appointed in 2015.
“I don’t have an answer for it,” said Police Chief Rick Smith.
“I DON’T KNOW!” wrote Al Brooks, a former cop, the longtime head of the Ad Hoc Group Against Crime and former president of the Board of Police Commissioners. “I don’t think anyone really does. That question has been raised so, so many times.”
“That’s the million-dollar question,” wrote Jeff Simon, another former police board president.
“That’s the $50 million question,” said Gwen Grant, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Kansas City.
That’s a problem. We pay scant attention to this carnage year after year, rising up with fear and concern and outrage only when the bullets fly west of Troost. We don’t truly grasp what’s at its core. We suspect the answer is multifaceted, baked into this city’s long, anguished struggle with racism and our history with racial covenants and redlining, our beleaguered school district, the lack of development on the East Side and the lack of opportunity that so many of our fellow citizens face.
Again, though, other cities struggle with much the same, and they aren’t nearly as violent.
So far, what we know is all scattershot — a theory here and a theory there. The question lingers. It’s time that it doesn’t.
“Systematically understanding what makes Kansas City as a whole more violent than others would be helpful,” said Ken Novak, a criminal justice and criminology professor at UMKC. “We would discover answers to questions we haven’t asked yet.”
The good news? The city is seeking money from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention aimed at digging into what’s going on here. The answers may provide another path forward, and we need another path because the one we’re on isn’t taking us anywhere.
One prominent city leader just asked: Why would Amazon move its headquarters to a city that’s so crime-ridden? Good question. Why would it?