Through the years, Kansas Citians repeatedly voice in surveys and at public forums that a reduction in crime is among their top priorities.
There are dozens of “Anti-Crime” and “Stop the Violence” organizations around Kansas City Missouri. Politicians and community leaders, neighborhood activists hold vigils, give speeches, write stories and decry the daily bloodshed.
Most residents believe violent crime—especially murder—has recently increased, but the Kansas City Police Department’s data does not show any dramatic increases over the last 10 years.
Nationwide, violent crime was down 4.4 percent, and murders dropped 10 percent for the first half of 2009 as reported by the FBI but KCMO is holding steady at over 100 murders a year.
One recent victim of Kansas City gun violence, Nelson Hopkins, Jr., has caught special attention from the media and the surrounding community, most notably the students at Rockhurst College.
By all accounts, Nelson Hopkins Jr., was a fine young man with a bright future – he died with his college application in his pocket. He was murdered at the edge of the campus of Rockhurst University on his way home from the Plaza library.
The neighborhood where Hopkins was murdered is known as 49/63. It has a diverse mixture of long-term residents and rental housing where many students from Rockhurst and UMKC choose to live instead of on campus.
Days after Nelson’s death, a vigil was held at the site of the murder. Dozens of Rockhurst students attended along with former Kansas City Mayor Pro Tem Alvin Brooks and Janay Reliford, Vice President/COO of the Ad Hoc Group Against Crime, one of the oldest and well-known anti-crime organizations in Kansas City.
Many Rockhurst students that spoke at the vigil expressed their fears “That could have easily been one of us”.
The President of Rockhurst University, Rev. Thomas Curran was also present and told the gathering how he was so deeply moved by Nelson’s tragic death he put a picture of Nelson Hopkins Jr. on his desk.
Father Curran vowed to take action, and not “rest on rhetoric”. Curran has since pledged to work with the community to “level the playing field” and began by submitting an article to the “As I See It” column for the Kansas City Star.
Many in the neighborhood welcome the support and involvement of Rockhurst University and its students outside of the immediate campus after years of little or no involvement with the neighborhood residents. A private university in the middle of a neighborhood can easily be viewed as insulated and unconcerned with what happens off-campus but recent events might finally change that.
The Rockhurst Neighborhood Committee, which is comprised of faculty and neighborhood leaders, is now focusing on an action plan to further Father Curran’s vision of a level-playing field for all in the community.
Last Sunday, January 11th, Nelson Hopkins, Sr. held another vigil at 54th & Lydia to announce that he was forming another group to stop the violence in memory of his son, and another member of his family, his nephew and Nelson’s cousin 21-year-old Randy Wilson.
Wilson was killed by gunfire at Linwood and Gillham while riding in a car just two days before the second vigil and less than a month since Nelson Hopkins Jr. was killed.
Approximately fifty family, friends and neighborhood residents, including Father Curran attended the Sunday afternoon vigil in freezing temperatures and snow-packed unplowed streets on the edge of Rockhurst’s campus.
Nelson Hopkins Sr. announced that he was forming an organization in memory of his son and his nephew – The Promiseland. He asked the attendees to walk seven times around the block in silence to signify the seven times pilgrims in the Old Testament walked around the Walls of Jericho before it fell.
Many in attendance carried handwritten signs stating “Take Back Our Streets”, “Stop the Violence”, “Don’t Let Nelson Die in Vain”.
“My son did not die in vain. Randy Wilson did not die in vain. The others, 100 and some odd murders that happened last year, weren’t (sic) in vain. We’re going to put this to a stop. This has got to come to an end,” implored Hopkins, Sr.
On Tuesday, January 12th, The Ad Hoc Group Against Crime held their first public forum of 2010 and featured two Jackson County Prosecutors along with Maj. Randall Hundley of the KCPD Violent Crimes Division.
The topic was to be aggravated assault but quickly turned for the need for more cooperation with police investigations into crimes.
The prosecutors said the biggest obstacle they face is the lack of cooperation from victims and witnesses due to the “Stop Snitching” mantra held by many in the inner city.
It makes it difficult or sometimes impossible to obtain convictions for violent criminals.
One prosecutor told how a recent shooting victim was completely indifferent to their attempts to arrest and prosecute the perpetrators but was told by the victim, “I will take care of it, you don’t need me”.
Some in the audience began to understand that most aggravated assaults were often just homicides “gone wrong”, and began asking about the murder rate and asking why more isn’t being done to stop the bloodshed.
“I know we are here to talk about assaults – but in my opinion these assaults are just homicides waiting to happen,” said Maj. Hundley. “The bullet didn’t go two inches to the left or the right, or it was a bad shot so it didn’t become a homicide. But to me, if you are using a gun to shoot at someone – you are trying to take their life.”
“We have (aggravated assaults) all of the time, I would guess we have 5 or 6 every night,” added Hundley. “More and more what happens is that the victims don’t want to cooperate. ‘I don’t want to prosecute’” he said. “We have victims now that say first thing ‘talk to my lawyer’. Keep in mind this is the victim”
“Homicides get solved when the community gets involved, when people come forward and get involved and give us information,” he told the small gathering of community leaders and local politicians.
“We had a homicide last year where the friend drove the car up to the friends house and left the friend dead in the car and left.”
“We had a case last year where cousins were involved and they drove up and left the cousin in the car – he could have been alive when they left. They were cousins, why didn’t they take him to the hospital?"
Hundley, an African American police officer said that it was not “politically correct” to say but that “black on black crime” was the problem.
“It is black on black crime and most are youths 75% between 17 and 24 years old,” said Hundley. “In 2009 81% of the victims were black, 74% of the suspects were black.”
“We need more cooperation from the (black) community, I am not saying we get zero cooperation, but we don’t get nearly enough,” added Hundley. “The bottom line is most of the time somebody saw something or they heard something.”