Westport survived the Civil War. It will make it through the turmoil of this era. But it’s going to stepped-up efforts from a broad range of stakeholders to end the mayhem that has taken hold on too many weekends.
A spate of shootings has resulted in more than a dozen injuries and escalating fears about public safety. Police have resorted to pepper spray, and last weekend, they closed bars early in an effort to force unruly crowds to disperse.
Clearly, people who are armed and looking for trouble don’t belong in Westport or any portion of Kansas City. But there’s a problem. Unless someone brandishes a firearm or shoots one, there is little that police can do.
That reality is courtesy of the Missouri legislature, which has relaxed concealed carry laws in recent years. Gun-toting felons don’t show up flagged with an “F” stamped on their foreheads, and police have few options if they simply suspect someone has a weapon.
So, Westport stakeholders got creative in their efforts to create a gun-free zone. Public safety is their goal. But one proposed remedy, privatizing the streets so that people entering the area can be checked for weapons, is a recipe for racial animus. The perception will be that the unwanted entity isn’t guns, but rather the people who tend to arrive late on summer Saturday nights: a predominantly African-American crowd.
Any perceived variation in how different patrons are checked for weapons no doubt would spur accusations of disparate treatment and civil-rights violations. And closing off streets to foot traffic so everyone could be checked for firearms would be a herculean, if not an impossible, task.
A meeting Friday with Westport Regional Business League included input from a California-based nonprofit that advises cities on entertainment districts. Pursue that avenue. Managing crowds is not unique to Kansas City.
Westport’s numerous 3 a.m. liquor licenses are also drawing scrutiny. But the issue isn’t necessarily what time Westport needs to clear out the patrons, but rather how quickly that can be accomplished. Congestion is a central problem, especially when the streets are closed off on weekend nights, heightening the party-in-the-street atmosphere. Besides, the city can’t yank liquor licenses without cause.
Westport is in flux. New property owners are eager to grow the area as a residential hub and expand office space, restaurants and other services. That’s a good recipe for building density and forming new communities in midtown.
It’s essential that stakeholders continue to work with city staff and consider a range of ideas for making Westport safer at night. But privatizing streets isn’t the way to accomplish that goal.