What causes gun violence? Faith leaders, community try to answer in KC United event

Faith leaders, city officials and the community at large came to St. James United Methodist Church in Kansas City Saturday for an afternoon of healing and support, followed by in-depth discussions about the complex issue of gun violence.

The afternoon began with pastors Darron L. Edwards and Emanuel Cleaver III praying for healing in a time of mourning in the Kansas City community.

“We ask that your spirit of peace and strength will work in us and through us that we might work toward solutions toward this serious problem we have in Kansas City — violence,” Cleaver III said.

Shortly after, Mayor Pro Tem Ryana Parks-Shaw led the group in a moment of silence for the lives lost in an Independence shooting Thursday that killed one Independence police officer and a Jackson County civil process server.

Saturday’s event was organized to help people who were affected by the Chiefs parade shooting process their feelings, seek support and explore options for a safer Kansas City. Over the course of two hours, community members answered questions related to gun violence and listened to experts in violence prevention on ways to proactively approach the issue.

Parks-Shaw organized the event with the help of faith leaders in the community and KC Common Good, an organization involved in a program called KC 360.

KC 360 is modeled from Omaha 360, a program which aims to reduce gun violence through direct intervention and addressing root causes. In Omaha, officials said the violence prevention strategy achieved a 74% drop in shootings in 15 years. With 184 killings in 2023, Kansas City saw its deadliest year ever recorded.

In addition to the general community, youth advocates, intervention workers, mentors, first responders and others whose jobs revolve around direct intervention of violence came to the event Saturday.

“Thank you for those of you who prioritize this work every day who are doing this great work in our community,” Parks-Shaw said.

Addressing root causes of violence

Much of the event involved community members acting as sounding boards for one another about what they feel can lead to lasting change.

Experts asked questions which led to in-depth conversations about the social, physical, legal and emotional circumstances that lead to violence in communities.

Many in attendance advocated for providing strong programs and services for youth and families to meet the underlying needs of people who “resort to violence” when those needs are not met.

Some in attendance shared emotional personal testimonies of feeling undervalued and having gone through periods of violence because they felt they had no where else to turn to.

“Most people who are involved in violence do not want to be doing what they are doing,” said Willie Barney, a leader at Omaha 360.

Another large part of the conversation centered on reinvesting in neighborhoods that have been neglected by the city and advocating for funding for initiatives in those communities.

“Until we put funding back into the communities that are suffering, we will not see any progress,” one group said.

The KC 360 program has a 10 point action plan that is several pages long, but the highlights mention stronger police and community relationships, addressing disparities, providing communities necessary support, and continuing research for what causes violence.

Their action plan, they said, is not something that happens overnight. Rather, it is an ongoing process.

“We’re inspired by what Omaha 360 has been able to accomplish,” said Klassie Alcine, CEO of KC Common Ground. “We’re developing a strategic plan to help neighborhoods with the highest rates of violence and the community plays a crucial part in that.”

At St. James United Methodist Church on Saturday, conversations reflected that message. They began with people conversing about their disgust, anger and hurt from violence in the community, and ended with each group sharing ways to help people most vulnerable to violence.