KC can honor First Friday shooting victim Erin Langhofer by retaking the streets

Five things to know about First Fridays in the Crossroads Arts District

First Fridays is a make-your-own-adventure experience -- the streets fill with music, food and fun in the Crossroads Arts District.
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First Fridays is a make-your-own-adventure experience -- the streets fill with music, food and fun in the Crossroads Arts District.

Unthinkable mass shootings in public places in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, over the weekend, as calamitous as they are, don’t make those or any other locales more dangerous going forward.

Neither does last week’s tragic shooting death of an innocent young woman at Kansas City’s popular First Friday make the downtown arts celebration any less safe.

While it’s certainly understandable for such horrific events to set folks on edge, the El Paso assault that killed 22 and injured more than two dozen in no way defines the particular store the twisted mass executioner chose. Nor does the wanton negligence and hair trigger of the Kansas City shooter say the first thing about First Friday.

The fight that led to it, and the casual disregard for human life the gunman displayed, are quite mobile and equally indiscriminate. It could have erupted at any public gathering anywhere.

The question now is, how do we react?

Most immediately, while authorities press charges against the 18-year-old suspect in custody, the good and responsible people of the Kansas City area should determine to be the real ones who define First Friday — and every other fair, festival and function we flock to. We need to put a stake in the ground and reclaim First Friday in droves on Sept. 6, and every other public event henceforth. Our defiance of fear and violence must be emphatic and unmistakable.

“That sounds wonderful,” says Crossroads Community Association Vice President Jeff Owens, who’s in charge of the event. “That’s exactly what we should be doing. Otherwise, they win.”

It also would be one beautiful way to memorialize 25-year-old Erin Langhofer, an Overland Park therapist who advocated for survivors of domestic violence. The minister’s daughter with a bright future was struck down by a stray bullet while waiting in line at a First Friday food truck.

When terrorists strike, we like to proclaim that we’ll not withdraw from our routine or shrink from public events and let the terrorists win. We also can’t let lone gunmen herd us into hiding.

Other than bringing this one to justice, the other memorial we can leave for Erin Langhofer is a redoubling of our efforts to prevent any more such tragedies.

In the long term, beleaguered law enforcement officials need to regroup and decide on a cohesive new strategy for curbing violent crime in the wake of past efforts that started strong and ended in disappointment.

Ironically, the Crossroads Community Association, as its website says, “was formed by property owners fighting blight and crime in what was a forgotten stretch between downtown and Crown Center.”

While reeling from the tragedy, Owens has been buoyed by a wave of community support in the days since. “It’s been incredible, really. Super supportive,” he told The Star.

In turn, he and other First Friday organizers are turning every stone to make the event as safe as possible while maintaining its feel and freedom. In the coming days, which will include an association executive board meeting Wednesday and one with city officials Friday — and community meetings later — Owens said ideas such as increased police presence, slightly shorter hours and a curfew for minors will be discussed. No Westport-style perimeter is being contemplated, thankfully.

To their credit and the region’s benefit, the association and others have grown the 20-year event into a gathering that has become one of the city’s favorites, doubling its visitors to some 10,000 in the course of just a couple years.

Here’s hoping First Friday grows next month, too — along with the community’s courage and confidence.

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