A quiet meeting with a few people on Saturday turned into a fervent discussion between almost 20 area residents and members of the mayor's Citizens Task Force on Violence.
“Unfortunately we’ve had more than our share of deadly violence in this area,” said former city councilman John Sharp, who thanked the task force for holding its second listening session with the community. This one was at the Hillcrest Community Center in south Kansas City.
Sharp, who has lost a family member due to violent crime, suggested several ideas to the task force, beginning with increasing the reward for the TIPS hotline to $10,000 for information on murders.
“As a start, for murders of children or multiple murders resulting from the same incident,” Sharp said.
Although several residents echoed Sharp's endorsement of KC NoVA and Aim4Peace, a few disagreed with Sharp in regard to enforcing harsh penalties for possession of deadly weapons.
Shane, who withheld his last name from the group, pointed out that for many low-income families robbing a store is an act of desperation, and incarcerating people only means there’s one less provider for a family.
Chuck Harris, who lives in Blue Springs, said youth unemployment is a contributing factor to violence on the streets. He presented a plan for an employee-owned company that would turn abandoned lots into urban farmland, based loosely on the Depression-era work relief program, the Civilian Conservation Corps.
One recurring theme was the damaged relationship between police and the community.
“I see 2-year-olds that have very negative attitudes towards the police already, and that’s not healthy because we need the police but I also know that we need to change some negative behavior,” said Deidre Anderson, who is the executive director of United Inner City Service and a member of the task force.
Anderson also acknowledged that the task force’s listening session format isn’t completely effective.
“Because many of the people you’re really trying to reach are not going to come to this kind of meeting,” she said.
One woman said she didn’t have faith that any of the proposed initiatives would work because she thinks the entire justice system, including the police, are racist, and unless the task force can remedy that so-called systematic racism, then all their efforts would be in vain.
The task force will hold its next public meeting at the Kansas City Health Department at 6 p.m. on May 10. Aim for Peace will make a presentation on its efforts to interrupt violence in the city.