Victims impacted by violence identify common cause in Kansas City killings

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Despite increasing the reward for tips in homicide cases, police say the killing rate continues to climb.

Relatives of homicide victims are echoing a common theme in the search for solutions to make the metro area safer.

“When you think about it, we’re the only ethnic group that does not practice love thy brother,” said Haji Williams, who is frustrated by black on black crime that he blames for the death of his son, Assan.

Someone gunned down Assan Williams in Seven Oaks Park, and police say about two-dozen people were in the park.

But the case remains unsolved. Detectives need witnesses who are willing to testify, a common problem that prevents our justice system from pursuing murder charges.

“We’ve got to number one get back to loving ourselves,” Williams said. “Because right now it seems like self-hate, instead of self-love. Loving thy brother. We’ve got to start back and get a foundation of love and respect before we can even move forward.”

An analysis of crime data by the Violence Policy Center earlier this year ranked Missouri as having the highest black homicide rate in the nation, more than 46 deaths for every 100,000 people. The non-profit says Kansas also is in the top 10, with more than 25 deaths per 100,000 African-Americans. Nationally, the rate is less than three for whites.

“We always say it’s the outside keeping us down, but it’s the inside keeping us down,” said Kecia Mills Harris, the mother of another homicide victim. “We, as a community, are keeping ourselves down. We lack the love of God. We lack the love of ourselves. We lack the love of community. We just lack it.”

Harris also believes that stopping the bloodshed must begin at the basic level of rebuilding respect among neighbors.

Independence, Mo., police say more than one person shot and killed her son, Christopher Harris Junior, back in March. The attack happened in front of the man’s 9-year-old daughter.

“They are true cowards and they live behind a gun,” Harris said. “If they didn’t have a gun what would you be? What would you be? That’s what’s wrong with this community, everybody is living behind a gun. Everybody! Until we come together as a community, this is what we’re going to get.”

The grieving mom has added $13,000 of her own money to the standard $2,000 TIPS Hotline reward in hopes of bringing her son’s killers to justice. But it may not be enough in an urban core environment where more blacks are accepting K-C as the “Killa City.”

“It’s sad. I get mad when I hear KC referred to as Killa City,” Williams said. “That burns my soul because that’s an ugly term. And you know people are glorifying the negative in the black community.”

To encourage people to come together, volunteers from the Ad Hoc Group Against Crime go door to door at crime scenes with information about services to help victims and neighbors overcome the horrors of violence.

“It’s really meeting people where they are and really helping them understand that what they have experienced is not normal,” said Damon Daniel, executive director of the group. “And everything that they are feeling is normal.”

Daniel says Ad Hoc also educates folks to defeat the “stop snitching” stigma. In addition to the TIPS Hotline, witnesses can call police directly and remain anonymous or call Ad Hoc and be anonymous. Even Jackson County has an anonymous COMBAT crime hotline.

“A snitch is somebody who’s already been caught,” Daniel said. “They are already facing charges. To get lesser charges or less time in jail, they are then telling on everyone else. That’s a snitch. A witness is everyone else who has seen something or heard something was not even involved in it.”

Despite the perception that people in the urban core won’t get involved in investigations, Daniel says Ad Hoc does receive tips every week on everything from drug houses to homicides. It’s a start he hopes will grow into what victims’ families want: A Culture of Caring.

The Violence Policy Center report recommends reducing homicides by focusing on reducing access and exposure to firearms. The group says 93 percent of Missouri victims were killed with guns, in homicides where a weapon could be identified.