KC leaders listen as urban core students speak out on violent crime and its effects

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- High school students in the urban core say blood shed all around them is taking a toll on their lives.

The Jackson County prosecutor, Kansas City police and the mayor all gathered Thursday to hear what the kids had to say.

"There is nothing, nothing more important than what we are talking about today," Mayor Quinton Lucas said.

After three homicides in the span of about four hours Wednesday, including the death of an 18-year-old, a student summit on violent crime couldn't have happened at a better time.

"We recognize we don't have all the answers," Lucas said. "There's not an answer at City Hall. There's not an answer at the prosecutor's office, at the police department that is unique and is special. We need to engage with youth in our community."

School leaders said by allowing a group of up to 30 high school students to share the stresses that violence places on their lives, teens might better cope with trauma and know there are leaders trying to help.

"If you keep your guard up, that means you have social and emotional defenses up," KCPS Superintendent Mark Bedell said. "We are tying to get them to lower their guard. Once they lower their guard and they offload that on people, on adults or advocates, it will allow for them to focus on academics."

Bedell said the listening session wasn't open to the public so young people could express the truth about what they're feeling.

The student summit was mediated by the Center for Conflict Resolution.

"I have a 15-year-old and a 19-year-old son, and I tell you, I spend time with them," KCPD Deputy Chief Karl Oakman said. "I make sure I understand what they are dealing with, what they are seeing and what they think of the violence."

Bedell also announced that Kansas City schools are getting a $2.6 million crime victims grant to put more clinicians in the district's schools. The additional staff will help students cope with violence-based trauma and teach kids conflict resolution skills.

Police said the three killings Wednesday all appear to be unrelated. Guns are the only common factor among the victims. They were all shot to death.

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