In Missouri and Kansas, African Americans are in peril. How can we reduce homicide rates?

Durron Bailey held a poster memorializing his cousin, De’Anthoni Lee Sanders, 20, who was murdered Oct. 14, 2016, in Kansas City.
Durron Bailey held a poster memorializing his cousin, De’Anthoni Lee Sanders, 20, who was murdered Oct. 14, 2016, in Kansas City. The Star

Crime-fighting advocates like Rosilyn Temple are at a loss to explain Missouri’s repeated designation as the state with the highest rate of black homicide victims in the country.

And it’s not even close, according to 2015 data submitted to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

“I can’t figure why, I wish I could,” Temple, head of the local chapter of Mothers in Charge, told The Star.

The Violence Policy Center reported this week that the rate of homicides among African Americans in Missouri was 46.24 per 100,000, nearly 2.5 times higher than the national average.

Wisconsin recorded the second-highest rate of 36.77 per 100,000. Kansas had the ninth-highest rate of 25.02 per 100,000 African Americans.

Nationwide, the black homicide rate was 18.68 per 100,000 in 2015. The overall homicide rate for all races was 4.62. The rate for whites was astonishingly low at 2.67.

Missouri topped the rankings for the seventh time in 13 years. The state has been in the top five 11 times since 2004. Kansas has ranked in the top 10 three times. It’s a disturbing trend.

Kansas City Mayor Sly James laid some of the blame on Missouri’s lax gun laws.

“Because of this, we’re fighting gun violence in our city with one hand tied behind our back,” James said.

Officials say they are working to reduce the city’s homicide rate. But anti-crime programs such as KC Nova and Aim For Peace are not enough. Greater transparency and accountability are needed to improve cooperation between minorities and police. Access to quality jobs, education and health care is also crucial.

The city recorded 150 homicides last year, the most in 24 years. Nearly 70 percent of homicide victims in 2017 and 59 percent of homicide victims so far in 2018 have been African American.

Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith said as the largest law enforcement agency in the state, the department is obligated to take leadership role in tackling this issue. The department is making strides to prevent violent crime, he said.

“What we’ve been doing obviously was not making the needed impact,” Smith said. He added that cooperation starts with the assistance from the community to build trust. Residents must refuse to accept a culture of violence.

The report concluded “the devastation homicide inflicts on black teens and adults is a national crisis, yet it is all too often ignored outside of affected communities.”

Policymakers in Missouri and Kansas should partner on community policing efforts to address violence in the African-American community — and vow to get our two states out of the top 10 for black homicide rates.