LIBERTY, Mo. (AP) — Clergy and civil rights advocates in Kansas City are promoting a 21-day cease-fire with offers of conflict resolution and on-call spiritual counseling in a city that's undergoing yet another deadly year of gun-related violence.
The cease-fire, which began at 12:01 a.m. Sunday, got off to a disappointing start when a woman was shot and killed at her home about 10 a.m. Monday. The shooting marked the 68th homicide this year in the city, which set a record of 176 homicides last year, according to police department figures.
The shooting illustrates why the cease-fire is necessary, said the Rev. Vernon Howard, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City, one of several groups promoting the effort.
“We want to intervene in situations of either retaliation or someone who has been thrust into a situation where mentally or emotionally they have snapped,” Howard said. “Those two scenarios are ravaging us right now.”
Experts from the Center for Conflict Resolution will be available during the “21 Days of Peace,” along with licensed and ordained clergy, who will provide spiritual counseling. Another group will provide a 24/7 ministry and prayer. The effort is scheduled to end at midnight July 3.
Organizers felt the need to react to violence on the ground level, in part because residents living in the city's most violent neighborhoods feel forgotten by local, state and federal officials, Howard said.
He said many residents in those neighborhoods are plagued by low-income jobs, a lack of mental and emotional health services and too-easy access to weapons and drugs.
Besides helping people in difficult situations, the larger goals are to prompt politicians to make systemic changes that truly address the problems, Howard said, as well as engage all of the Kansas City region in confronting the violence.
“We're fighting as hard as we can in the streets for our people," he said. "Our feet are treading the path of the bloodshed, and then we look up to the state and federal government, we're not getting any help with policy and law. That has to change.”
Despite the seemingly overwhelming odds, organizers believe they can make a dent in the violence by giving people alternatives to violence, Howard said. Group members plan to saturate social media with their message, as well as meet at the site of every homicide in the next three weeks, where they will pray, offer comfort and hand out literature about the program.
“I can't remember the last time we went 21 days without a murder in Kansas City,” Howard said. “But we do believe it’s attainable if we focus on it and get in the trenches and show people we care."
Margaret Stafford, The Associated Press