Killings in Kansas City are happening at an alarming rate, and police and residents say the slayings can be traced to the same urban maladies that have plagued the city for years.
Two more suspected homicides were reported Thursday morning, bringing the yearly toll to 105, and officials say 2008 could wind up as the deadliest year in Kansas City since the 1990s. There were 21 homicides in August alone—a record for a single month.
Most of the killings are happening on the city’s economically and academically troubled east side. Residents forced to cope with joblessness and failed schools are increasingly resorting to desperate measures, police say.
That’s what former police officer and Mayor Pro Tem Alvin Brooks thinks happened to a teenager he was mentoring, 18-year-old Vincent Williams, whose September 23 shooting death pushed the city’s yearly toll to 100.
Williams had dropped out of high school and couldn’t read, write or do math. But he had proven to be a hard worker mowing yards. Brooks, a longtime community activist, had spoken to the teen about a lead on a job six days before he was killed.
Police say Williams tried to rob a convenience store at gunpoint and was killed by a clerk.
“Here was a kid who tried so hard,” Brooks said. “I believe he just gave up hope and went to the extreme for survival.
“Vincent didn’t fail himself. We failed him, the system failed him. There are a lot of Vincent Williamses out there in urban America.”
More than half of the homicide victims—about 70—have been black males.
“Maybe if we had more jobs, we wouldn’t have this shooting and killing,” said Opal King, who helps lead a Caring Community group on the east side that assists families with employment, housing and education. “It seems like everything is falling on these black males 17 and up.”