Michael Ryan

KC native returns home and finds barbecue, splendor and a city struggling with violence

You could say I’m the result of a transplant operation. If so, I can report that the patient’s doing just fine. I just wish the doctor felt better.

The doctor, in this case, is this city of my birth and upbringing. The transplant is me, having migrated since high school across Kansas, the southeast U.S. and, most recently, Texas during a nomadic newspaper career that now has me the newest member of The Kansas City Star editorial board.

Though I left Kansas City, it never left me. I’ve been singing the city’s praises all along. The comforts and conveniences. The stadiums. The friendliness. The food. I’ve assured everyone we take our barbecue so seriously that our baby formula comes in mild, medium and hot.

Yet, a purer transplant than me — a guy who moved here for the first time from Washington, D.C., over a decade ago — told me he wishes more Kansas Citians had the perspective of having lived elsewhere to more fully appreciate this city’s unassuming splendor.

I can vouch for the feeling. Coming back to a hometown like this is to shroud yourself in both nostalgia and newness. It’s the most sentimental of journeys.

But if there have been several surprises in my homecoming, the biggest is the angst hanging in the air circulating around crime, housing, property appraisals and chronic racial and socioeconomic inequity.

They are issues not uncommon to every major city, and they’ve no doubt been churned by recent election debates. But I love the gentle intolerance here for such scourges. We can’t accept any amount of homelessness, inequality or barbarity as normal.

I want nothing more at this moment than to join in and be part of the solution.

Specifically on violent crime: Its roots are so broad and complex that only a public-private, all-hands-on-deck approach will work.

Government has a leading role to play, of course, from community policing to creating the kind of equality of opportunity that sprays Roundup on the weeds of hopelessness and despair in disadvantaged neighborhoods. But government can only do so much. Governments build streets and sidewalks and water lines and sewer lines. It is people who create communities. We can and should push our elected and appointed officials to do all they can, but it’s incumbent on us to do the same.

In many cases, the seeds of crime and violence are planted at home. Safe, functional, upright families — however they are constructed — and a solid moral foundation — wherever it comes from, though it most often flows from religion — will be necessary to any meaningful fight against crime.

The tools of engagement are there for us to pick up and use: houses of worship, schools, businesses, neighborhood associations, nonprofits of every type, civic clubs and more. I’m a huge fan of both nonprofits and civic clubs, which are basically caring and action in frozen concentrate form.

Crime is a dilemma of our own making, not the government’s. While we expect more to be done, we should expect at least as much of ourselves. How are we contributing to society — beyond obeying the law and supporting ourselves and raising good kids, all of which are neat tricks by themselves? Let’s push ourselves to do more.

Having said that — and keeping in mind that any homicide creates at least one family’s unseen plume of heartbreak over the city, and we’ve had about 60 of them this year already — we need to keep our perspective while working on the problem. The vast majority of murders involve imprudent behaviors among acquaintances. Several well-informed folks I know scoffed at April’s Safe Wise study that said Kansas City is the country’s fifth-most dangerous city.

It obviously is dangerous for far too many. Yet, even as we battle both the reality and perception of crime — hopefully by attacking it at its roots — we should never lose sight of how good we’ve got it here.

That’s certainly the view of this transplant.

The Star’s Michael Ryan, a Kansas City native, is an award-winning editorial writer and columnist and a veteran reporter, having covered law enforcement, courts, politics and more. His opinion writing has led him to conclude that freedom, civics, civility and individual responsibility are the most important issues of the day.
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