Homicide victims of 2016 remembered at prayer vigil
The new year was just three hours old when gunshots rang out and 23-year-old Sederick Jones lay dead, Kansas City’s first homicide victim of 2016.
Jones was sitting in a car outside a New Year’s party with a former girlfriend when a man walked up and shot him. The former girlfriend was wounded.
In the year’s first 10 days, seven more people would be killed in Kansas City. In the ensuing 12 months, the killing has not abated.
With 125 killings as of Friday afternoon, Kansas City saw the city’s highest total of homicides since 2008. From 2015, when there were 111 killings, homicides jumped 13 percent.
It’s a discouraging trend to those committed to finding ways to to reduce violent crime, especially after the promise of 2014 when Kansas City saw its lowest homicide total in more than 40 years.
“Today’s shooters are very young and never stop to think about the collateral damage they cause to families and the community at large,” said Damon Daniel, executive director of the AdHoc Group Against Crime.
Across the state line in Kansas City, Kan., which has a smaller population, the total number of homicides in 2016 was not as great, but the percentage increase was much larger.
The 47 homicides there were the highest total since 2001, when the city saw 65 homicides. This year’s total was a 42 percent increase from the 33 in 2015.
Kansas City and Kansas City, Kan., were among numerous large cities that saw homicides spike in 2016.
Chicago, with more than 750 killings, has been the focus of much national media attention about the upward trend. But Kansas City’s rate of 26 homicides per 100,000 in population is virtually on par with Chicago’s rate of 28 per 100,000 in population.
Kansas City, Kan., even had a slightly higher rate of 31 per 100,000 population.
Still, both cities lag far behind St. Louis and its 58 per 100,000 homicide rate.
And, as in every year, the majority of victims here were black males, and firearms were by far the most common means of killing.
In Kansas City, black males accounted for 68 percent of the year’s victims. Handguns were used in 90 of the 125 killings.
Thirty percent of Kansas City’s homicide victims were 24 or younger, including seven victims 16 or younger.
In cases where the motive is known, arguments were listed by police as the most common motive with 28. Another 15 victims were killed in robberies.
Police said they had cleared or solved half of the year’s homicides so far.
In Kansas City, Kan., police reported a clearance rate of 66 percent.
Beyond the numbers, there is the senseless and tragic loss of life — and the devastating impact such losses have on families and friends.
Kansas City mother Gaye Weston is still mourning her 30-year-old son, who was shot and killed in September.
Brandon Johnson’s killing in the 2800 block of Mersington Avenue remains unsolved. He left behind a daughter, 6, a stepdaughter, 3, and an infant son born just five months before Johnson died. He planned to marry the mother of his children in February, Weston said.
“These killings don’t just hurt the victims,” she said. “They break apart families. Extended families. Friends. These people have loved ones.”
Homicide is a crime that also resonates in the wider community and even for future generations.
“Now we have several children in our metro who will grow up never knowing their mother or father,” Daniel said. “And more grandparents are raising their grandchildren, in some cases great-grandchildren, causing a generation gap.”
It is “very sad and frustrating” to meet with parents who have lost a child to violence, Daniel said.
“The most heartbreaking is to meet a child whose mother or father will never return home again,” he said.
With Chicago leading the way, other cities like Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Memphis, Nashville and San Antonio have all seen increases in homicides.
Some national law enforcement officials have suggested that part of the increase may be attributed to what has been called the “Ferguson Effect.”
The theory is that since the fatal police shooting of a young man in Ferguson, Mo., and the subsequent public outcry, some officers have become less aggressive because of fears they will be videotaped and perhaps face charges.
However, the theory is controversial and is not backed by proven data, many other experts say.
While homicide numbers fluctuate year to year, local leaders say the same underlying societal factors have remained constant.
And while police departments can adopt strategies to fight violent crime, drugs and gangs, officials say that those efforts can only do so much until broader social issues are addressed in a meaningful way.
In Kansas City, most violent crime and most homicides historically occur in a small 34-square-mile area, from St. John Avenue to 87th Street and from Troost to Topping avenues.
“It has been like this for 30 years,” said Kansas City Police Chief Darryl Forté. “That has been happening year after year and we don’t need a survey, we don’t need a study when you talk about the conditions that people live in. You talk about the educational level, you talk about the housing stock, you talk about the alleys with trash, you talk about no streetlights or poorly lit streets. You can tell where they are going to happen.”
Terry Zeigler, the police chief in Kansas City, Kan., concurs.
“Unemployment, education, alcohol and drugs, broken homes, all of those things can be a factor in some way,” he said.
Over the last several years, Kansas City has sought to address both crime fighting and providing help to those in troubled areas through the Kansas City No Violence Alliance.
The strategy seemed to be paying dividends just two years ago when Kansas City saw its lowest homicide total in more than 40 years.
But the killings spiked again in 2015 and 2016.
That doesn’t mean that officials are ready to scrap the effort. Far from it. They say that KC NoVA is constantly being assessed and adjusted with an eye on improving results.
“I can tell you one thing: KC NoVa is effective and I know people are saying the numbers are high, but the numbers would be much higher if we did not have KC NoVa,” Forté said. “We have gone and talked with some people and we feel like we have changed their behavior and their intended course of action.”
KC NoVa is a collaboration between city, state and federal agencies that focuses enforcement efforts on the criminal groups responsible for most of the city’s violent criminal activity. At the same time, it offers people on the periphery of those groups the chance to better their lives through various social services.
The idea is to turn those people away from the mindset that the only way to settle differences is through violence.
“Because every day in our city, people face conflict,” said Kansas City Mayor Sly James. “It takes only a few seconds for someone to make that choice and end a life. How can we as a community affect that decision? How can we change the outcome of those few seconds?”
Police officers aren’t going to be there at the moment the decision is made to pull the trigger.
“The reality is that we have to remain committed to affecting the days, months and years that lead up to those few seconds and that decision,” James said.
In Kansas City, Kan., the police department has developed a robust and extensive community policing effort.
But those efforts only go so far.
“Criminals don’t participate in community policing,” Zeigler said.
The department has begun several efforts to focus on the city’s most violent criminals and get them off the street.
A new criminal intelligence unit will delve into the circumstances of every homicide and share information with detectives. The department also has begun working more collaboratively with federal agencies that now have agents based at police headquarters for the first time.
“I believe those two things will help us in 2017,” the chief said.
Of course, no matter how effective any police crime-fighting strategy is, there is little that can be done to stop violence between family members in the home.
“They are way outside of law enforcement control,” said Zeigler.
Kansas City, Kan., officials have not broken down how many of the homicides were domestic-related, but at least two victims were women killed by a partner who then killed himself. In two other cases, small children were killed, allegedly by family members.
And on the city’s most violent day, a man allegedly stormed into his next door neighbor’s home after some type of dispute, and killed the neighbor and three other men.
“How do you prevent that?” Zeigler said.
In Kansas City homicides where the motive was known, 14 were classified as domestic-related. There were 15 domestic homicides in 2015.
Looking ahead to 2017, some local leaders are concerned about a change in Missouri law that relaxes restrictions on firearm possession.
Under the law that takes effect Jan.1, anyone 19 or older can legally carry a concealed firearm without a permit and with no requirement that they first obtain safety training.
“We heavily encourage gun owners to continue to seek professional training on the proper care, handling and storage of a firearm,” Forté said in a recent blog post. “Although it no longer is mandated, it is essential to the safety of you, your family and anyone who comes into your home.”
At a Saturday vigil held by AdHoc for those killed in 2016, prayers were made, tears were shed and calls for change rang across a sunny parking lot at 31st Street and Prospect Avenue.
Bishop Frank Douglas of Beth-Judah Ministries Church of God in Christ prayed for justice and for a new year “that’s not going to leave us with grieving mothers.”
“There’s been too much blood on the ground in 2016, and we refuse to sit silent again,” the pastor said.
An emotional Jessica Dydell lost her son, Craig Dydell, in August. He was found gunned down almost two hours before sunset. The murder remains unsolved. Her frustration and grief remained raw at year’s end.
“I pray to God no one else has to feel the pain I had to,” she said, pleading for help in finding someone responsible for the killing of the 28-year-old fledgling rapper. “Somebody saw something. (But) no one saw nothing. … This is ridiculous.”
The Star’s Scott Canon contributed to this article.