Editorials

25 local teens killed by gun violence. KC Mayor Lucas: ‘That’s a monumental failure’

The untimely and unnecessary end of young lives is becoming the norm in the Kansas City area, as gun violence all too regularly kills our teenagers.

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas says that starting with him, society as a whole is responsible.

“There is no reason for our city, or our region, to tolerate this,” Lucas said.

Seventeen-year-old Leighlan Fleming reportedly spent the last moments of his life being pursued by assailants likely armed with high-powered automatic weapons.

Fleming was killed during a rolling gun battle Saturday afternoon in Kansas City. Police believe he was chased for blocks. Spent shell casings were found in multiple locations.

Officers found Fleming mortally wounded in the driveway of a home near East 53rd Street and Wabash Avenue. He was the 25th person between the ages of 13 and 19 to die as a result of gun violence in the metro area this year, according to The Star’s database of homicide victims.

Three of those victims were 14, including one who was killed by accidental gunfire; one was 15; two were 16; 10 were 17; five were 18; and four were 19.

The count does not include the region’s youngest homicide victim this year: Brian Bartlett, who was 8.

Dozens more have been shot and survived. At least 18 teenagers died by gunfire in the metro last year.

For argument’s sake, what if Fleming had been the 25th teen in the Kansas City area to be infected with a pathogenic disease such as the bird flu?

“We’d have a ton of attention,” Lucas said. “The Centers for Disease Control, the city’s health department, the state, everyone would be involved. We need to recognize (gun violence) as a public health epidemic.”

The death of any young person should shock the conscience. And it’s unacceptable that a 17-year-old was gunned down in the middle of the day on a busy street in a well-populated neighborhood.

Kansas City police list teens younger than 17 as suspects in eight of the city’s 118 homicides this year through Thursday. Five of those victims were 16 or younger.

What does it say about our region when young people are dying at the hands of other young people?

“It’s a sign of failure,” Lucas said. “A 17-year-old shouldn’t be running to stay alive. That’s a monumental failure, and it should encourage us all to do some soul searching.”

What’s the cure for gun violence?

Local officials have plenty to say about gun violence and its traumatic effect on young people and their families. Despite the rhetorical focus, the killings continue.

So what’s the solution?

Surely, not one-off programs such as crime summits and community cease-fires. But real, tangible action plans with measurable results.

Establishing relevant and well-funded programs to address conflict-resolution skills, mental health and economic disparity is paramount to saving the lives of young people.

“It’s definitely a tragic situation to see our young people dying, and also killing for no reason,” said Rashid Junaid program manager for the city’s crime prevention program, Aim for Peace. “We definitely have to make sure we are teaching them how to resolve their conflicts.

“The result of what is causing the violence is them not knowing how to resolve their conflicts.”

Adopting the safer schools and communities model championed by Azim Khamisa, founder of the Tariq Khamisa Foundation, could also be a step in the right direction.

Khamisa spoke about the model after this week’s keynote address at the Heartland Coalition Against Gun Violence’s annual community forum.

Khamisa’s foundation uses a four-tiered approach to teach children a peaceful approach to problem solving, reconciliation, conflict management and building and maintaining relationships.

Peacemaking, forgiveness and restorative justice are major components. Schools in San Diego County, California, and Pennsylvania have implemented the program.

“Violence is a learned behavior,” Khamisa said. “No child was born violent. We need to teach non-violence.”

Teaching children non-violence is only one step. A community-wide commitment to addressing gun violence is essential to break the cycle of kids killing kids.

These unnecessary tragedies have touched every corner of the metro area. Schoolchildren in Kansas City, Missouri, Kansas City, Kansas, Blue Springs, Center, Grandview, Hickman Mills, Raytown, Olathe and Overland Park all have been affected recently by tragic, gun-related deaths.

After killers brazenly gunned down Fleming, the 17-year-old, in broad daylight, it’s undeniable that gun violence has become a crisis in our community, claiming far too many young lives too soon.

Ples Felix and Azim Khamisa.jpg
Ples Felix and Azim Khamisa brought their message of peace and understanding to the sixth annual Heartland Coalition Against Gun Violence Community Forum in Overland Park on Oct. 14. The Star
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