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Preventing crime in Kansas City

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

This week, Missouri prosecutors charged two men with murder following a mass shooting that took place at Kansas City's Super Bowl victory celebration on Valentine's Day. Lisa Lopez-Galvan, a popular local radio personality, was killed. And about half of the 22 people injured were children who had come out to see the Chiefs celebrate their second straight Super Bowl victory. Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas spoke to my colleague Juana Summers about it.

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QUINTON LUCAS: I was someone who brought my own family to this event. I was someone who had to flee at a shooting. I saw big, giant football players and 8- or 9-year-old children and all types of people running away from harm.

DETROW: But unlike many other high-profile mass shootings, where one person targets multiple victims, Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said this shooting began because one of the men charged turned an argument into a violent event.

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JEAN PETERS BAKER: That argument very quickly escalated to Mays drawing his firearm, a handgun. Almost immediately, almost immediately, others pulled their firearms.

DETROW: And while the location was unique and the national attention was unique, that key fact really wasn't.

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PAT CLARK: It's not uncommon. We have mass shootings around here all the time. Some make the news, some don't.

DETROW: That's community activist Pat Clark. Kansas City has long been plagued by gun violence. In 2023, the city saw its highest murder rate. Klassie Alcine heads KC Common Good, an organization that works to prevent violence in communities before it starts. She was at that Super Bowl celebration.

KLASSIE ALCINE: I was at the rally, and I did see thousands of people running towards me. I didn't really know what was going on. It was very scary and chaotic. And as I'm processing it now, it's so hard because what we experienced as a community was senseless violence.

DETROW: The focus of Alcine's work is on empowering and supporting the Kansas City neighborhoods most affected by violent crime.

ALCINE: Violent crime is not new to Kansas City, but the Super Bowl parade is probably likely the first time that many Kansas Citians (ph) have been directly impacted by that level of violence. So it was an eye-opening moment for people across the Kansas City community that isolated acts of violence can do and that they impact our entire region.

DETROW: Mass shootings, like the one that took place at the Kansas City victory rally, command the public attention. But there's been an ongoing epidemic of gun violence in Kansas City that has not gained that kind of attention. In 2023, the number of homicides reached a record high, this coming at a time when many other U.S. cities have seen a decline. Groups like KC Common Good have been working on the ground with community leaders and government officials to try to prevent violence. Klassie Alcine is the CEO of KC Common Good. We called her up to talk about it.

On the main page of your website it says, KC Common good wants to unite the community to address the root causes of violence. Can you break that down for us a little bit? And speaking specifically of Kansas City, what are those root causes? What are you working on?

ALCINE: So in Kansas City, the root causes of violence are lack of access to resources, repeated family trauma, concentrated poverty, high unemployment rates and then high school dropout rates.

DETROW: I mean, a lot of that are overwhelming problems that have very long, long causes and are tough to individually tackle. Can you talk about how you start to get at them from that community level?

ALCINE: Yes. From the community level, the first thing we started with was employing young people in the summer, because we knew that we needed to expand the ecosystem to support young people, mentor them, have skills training, professional development and really eliminate silos between employers and youth. And what we have seen, a story that I'll share with you, we had a young man - I will never forget. He was 15 years old, and I encouraged him to apply because he had a big personality. And he - I just saw so much light in him. And I said, you know, you should really apply. And he said, Ms. Klassie, don't worry about me because I'm not going to live till I'm 16. This is a 15-year-old young man who didn't believe he was going to live to be 16.

DETROW: How did you respond?

ALCINE: I said, I know you have greatness. And I know that you want to do something different, and this is the opportunity, and that we care about you and that we love you, and that this is an opportunity for you to show and live out your personal dreams. And when I saw him after the program had ended, he had so much confidence. And he, at the time, was interning with KC Pet Project. And he worked in the HR department. And he had stated, you know, working in HR is like being a therapist to employees. And he really, really loved it. And I just loved that. And three years later, he is graduating from high school. And he wants to go to school for business administration. So he has lived past his own life expectancy, which is the power of addressing the root causes with our youth.

DETROW: That's a really great outcome from that first conversation to now.

ALCINE: Yeah.

DETROW: When you're talking about working in the community, can you tell me the types of people that you're coordinating with here? Who are the leaders that you're reaching out to and planning with?

ALCINE: Yes. So KC 360 is a comprehensive, community-based approach to reducing gun violence and building stronger community relations, increasing access to education and jobs. You know, it really is the neighborhood associations themselves, the community members, the faith community, the business community, the health systems, law enforcement, community leaders, city officials. I mean, we're bringing, you know, 10 different subgroups of folks together into one room every single week.

DETROW: Can you just give us a sense of what these meetings are like, what specific things people are talking about, what the questions you're raising and trying to address are on the ground level?

ALCINE: I think what is key from 360 meetings is we always start out with a report from the police department on what's currently going on around nonfatal and fatal shootings. And we really stress building police and community relationships. And then another big bucket that's talked about a lot is personal conflicts that turn into gun violence, also reinvesting into high-crime areas, because the neighborhoods that we work with have been disinvested in for decades, and we have to reinvest.

DETROW: Is there a specific example you can five from that?

ALCINE: Well, I think the Santa Fe neighborhood is the perfect example. I mean, we were able to, you know, focus on shifting that neighborhood from a space of hopelessness to empowerment. And really recognizing that over the years, many neighborhoods on the east side of Kansas City, including Santa Fe, have experienced a disinvestment in resources. However, the many positive things happening are due to the investment of numerous partner organizations working together and building trust. And that takes a collaborative effort, and I think that people forget about that.

We know that when you bring in affordable housing, you bring in health care, you bring in entrepreneurs, you bring in businesses, that's when neighborhoods start to be uplifted because you're on the same playing field. And then that benefits the entire region because everyone can live a thriving, prosperous life. They can go to school. They can get good-paying jobs and not feel like they have to go out of their neighborhood to get resources.

DETROW: Yeah. Let's talk about guns from a minute, though, because, you know, one of the aspects of the shooting at the Super Bowl parade and rally was the fact that once the violence started, multiple people, you know, withdrew weapons. Lots of people had guns on them that day. Missouri has pretty permissive gun laws - no background checks, no permits needed for concealed carry, no red flag laws, which, you know, allow for temporary firearm removal. How much harder does that make the work that you're doing? How much of a factor is that?

ALCINE: It makes it very hard because when you have too many legal guns on the streets, that's where we have an argument that turned into someone losing their life. And what I believe is it is our job to bring these community-based approaches. And we started it, right? And so it is a matter of us working together, regardless of anyone's position on gun laws themselves, because this is about the community coming together around that main focus. But yes, there are definitely things we should be doing and advocating for to make sure that the folks who should not have guns do not have them.

DETROW: Klassie Alcine is the CEO of KC Common Good. Thanks so much for talking to us.

ALCINE: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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