Toriano Porter

Violent crime drove me from St. Louis. Is the bloodshed worse in Kansas City?

Mayor Sly James and other city leaders have to get a handle on Kansas City’s violence before it has an impact on the future workforce.
Mayor Sly James and other city leaders have to get a handle on Kansas City’s violence before it has an impact on the future workforce. File photo

Nearly 11 years ago I moved to Kansas City from the eastern half of the state to pursue career opportunities. One of the things that drew me to the city was its relatively peaceful nature and chill vibe.

St. Louis had become a personal hellhole for me. Economic disparity and indiscriminate violence had uprooted many families from the south city neighborhood I was raised.

Then in my mid-30s, I was driven away by the continuous body count that had built from my teenage years in the 1990s.

After experiencing the violent deaths of several close friends and relatives, I left for what I thought would be safer and greener pastures on the west side of the Show-Me State.

Boy, I hope I didn’t misjudge Kansas City.

After 25 people were shot — six fatally — during the first week of August, it has made me re-examine the quality of life here for the first time since I moved.

The city has already recorded 78 homicides this year. More than 30 of them have gone unsolved. If the city really wants to be a crown jewel of the Midwest, city leaders need to effectively and aggressively tackle the violence head on.

There can be no more finger-wagging at lawmakers about the state’s ineffective gun laws. Putting the onus on a community disproportionally affected by crime — one with a lasting distrust of law enforcement — isn’t the answer either.

In fact, there is not a single remedy to cure what ails this city. But if the metro wants to attract, recruit and retain the best and brightest people, something has to give.

During a recent press conference to denounce the mounting body count, Mayor Sly James said it’s up to city, civic and community leaders to right the ship.

“If we’re truly interested in trying to eliminate this culture of violence we (would) practice equity in education, equity in housing, equity in jobs, equity in income,” James said, “we would make sure we are trying everything that we can to meet people where they are and provide them with what they need to succeed.”

James was spot on. And his point is backed up by research.

According to a project sponsored by the Urban Institute, increasing public-private community partnerships helps reduce gun violence.

The research found that business development promotes economic well-being, creates jobs and reduces gun violence, which in turn drives additional business growth.

The results, the study revealed, demonstrate that gun violence is detrimental to a neighborhood’s economic health.

Gun violence significantly reduces a neighborhood’s growth of new retail and service businesses, leading to fewer local jobs and fewer local establishments where residents can shop. And the appreciation of housing values slows.

Violent crime is a key factor in continuing cycles of poverty. It causes overall economic growth to stagnate, the study concluded.

Leaders must consider the safety and welfare of Kansas Citians not only in the traditional sense, but also in terms of creating an environment conducive to investment and growth, as the study suggests.

Until violent crime and economic disparity are adequately addressed, there will be a devastating impact that could hinder the next generation of young talented prospective employees considering Kansas City as a place to live and work.

And that should worry us all.