As four people began placing the names of homicide victims on the 188 crosses that span the lawn of Leawood Baptist Church, Kansas City was reaching a troubling milestone.
Late Tuesday, Kansas City recorded its 121st homicide of 2016 when police responding to a shots-fired call found a man who had been fatally shot.
The number of homicides recorded so far this year in Kansas City is the highest since 2008, when 126 people were killed. But that year, police were still counting fatal officer-involved shootings as homicides, which they no longer do. When subtracting the police shootings from 2008’s total, this year and 2008 tie for the highest number of homicides in the last 10 years.
“When you think about that it is tragic, it breaks your heart and each cross represents a life,” said the Rev. Adam Carter, the church’s senior pastor. “And when you think of the loss of life represented by those crosses and those crosses do not just represent an individual but a family that is hurting.”
“You are looking at a lot of people who are hurting in our city,” Carter said.
Carter was joined Wednesday morning by members of Mothers in Charge, an anti-violence and family support group, to take part in an annual ritual honoring homicide victims by placing their names on the small crosses in front of the church. The 188 crosses represent homicides so far this year in Jackson, Wyandotte and Johnson counties.
The church will host “The Longest Night,” a memorial service for the families of homicide victims, at 6 p.m. Dec. 21 at 8200 State Line Road. It is the fifth year the service has been held.
After placing about 20 names on the crosses, the frigid temperatures forced Carter and the others to postpone their work until later in the week, when the weather was expected to improve slightly.
Law enforcement, city and community leaders say the spike in homicides in Kansas City and other parts of the metropolitan area this year is disturbing.
“The number of homicides in our city is unacceptable,” said Mayor Sly James. “That’s true this year, but it was also true last year and it was true ten years ago. I remain committed to the work being done across our city to reduce violent crime.”
James urged leaders to foster an environment that prevents violence up to the moment someone decides to take a life.
“When we ensure every child access to a great education; when people feel that the opportunity to work hard and earn a good living is available to everyone; when communities and law enforcement seek to build trust — when we do these things, we can change the outcome of those few seconds and that decision,” James said.
Police have determined that roughly two-thirds of the city’s homicides and violent crimes occur in a 34-square-mile area that stretches from St. John Avenue to 85th Street and from Troost to Topping avenues. They have responded by adding officers to patrol those areas designated as “hot spots.”
That swath of geography includes the 3600 block of Wabash Avenue where the city’s 121st homicide victim, a man in his 20s, was found fatally shot late Tuesday. Police have not released the victim’s name, and details of what led to the shooting remains under investigation.
“We know where the crime is and it was like that 30 years ago and we don’t need a map, software and we can tell you where,” Police Chief Darryl Forté said Tuesday. “Part of it is you look at the streetlights, the garbage, look at the dilapidated conditions of some of these areas, that is where it is happening.
“And until we do something about those things and the socioeconomic issues that are out there. But we haven’t put a lot of energy as a country in some of those places,” Forté said.
September, with 16 homicides, has been the deadliest month so far this year. It also has been a difficult year for victims of domestic violence. At least 14 of the city’s total have been classified as domestic-related, the same number as in 2015.
Councilwoman Alissia Canady, who represents the 5th District, said more attention and resources must be directed to the families of homicide victims and others directly affected by violence.
“Let’s also deal with some of the real issues — making sure people have jobs,” said Canady. “If somebody is picking up a paycheck, they are not picking up a gun.”
Police union leaders have lamented that homicides and other violent crime would decrease if the police department had more officers patrolling the streets.
“We have heard a lot of people say that increasing police officers doesn’t create safety and that is incredibly wrong,” said Brad Lemon, president of the Kansas City Fraternal Order of Police. “Listen, if a man or a woman is driving down the street with a handgun in his car and hate in his heart and he makes a decision to shoot somebody and he doesn’t see a police officer, he is going to do that.
“And if that person drives down the street and sees a police officer, they are not going to do that,” Lemon said.