Group seeks ways to end violence in KCK

David Burke

1/18/2023

KANSAS CITY, Kansas – With the image of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King as a figurative and literal backdrop, Churches United for Justice asked local law enforcement officials to begin initiating group violence intervention programs in Wyandotte County.

“The violence must stop,” the Rev. Ronald King, pastor of Mason Memorial United Methodist Church, said at a news conference Jan. 16 that preceded MLK Day celebrations at Memorial Hall.

Churches United for Justice is a coalition of 14 houses of worship in Wyandotte County, includes four United Methodist churches. It was formed in 2021 as part of the Great Plains Conference’s Doing Justice Initiative.

Flanked by the Rev. Tony Carter, left, and KCK Police Chief Karl Oakman, the Rev. Bruce Draper speaks at a news conference. Photo by David Burke

Although the number of homicides in KCK has fallen over the past three years — from 58 in 2020 to 39 in 2022 — homicide is still the top cause of death in Wyandotte County for those age 15-44, according to Churches United.

“We recognize that combatting violence is a community effort,” said the Rev. Bruce Draper, a retired United Methodist pastor and Churches United board member. “It takes every single person in the community working together.”

Group violence intervention, Draper said, is a thorough study of “who are these players in Wyandotte, their reach, their influence, and offer a stick and a carrot.

“If you want to get out of this world, we will help offer you services — jobs, education, etcetera — an opportunity to get out,” he said. “If not, we’re going to seek every possible avenue of justice. You can have it either way.”

KCK Police Chief Karl Oakman, who has led the department since June 2021, praised the group.

“Churches United is actually trying to do something about the issue of violence,” he said. “What (offenders) don’t want to see is what we’re doing now, community and police together.”

Oakman said a $3.5 million grant to the department will add 12 officers to the force, a gunshot detection system and a real-time crime center to inform officers. The department is also starting a junior police academy and organizing peace walks in neighborhoods.

The civil rights leader’s name was evoked several times during the news conference.

“Dr. King showed us how to be a voice for the voiceless, rights for the disadvantaged and equal rights for justice,” said the Rev. Tony Carter, pastor of Salem Missionary Baptist Church and co-president of Churches United.

“We are united, and we stand for peace,” said KCK Mayor Tyrone Garner, “just as Martin Luther King ushered us to do.”

Contact David Burke, content specialist, at dburke@greatplainsumc.org.


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