Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Mayor Talks Tough on Crime, Race

By Seann McAnally
When Mayor Sly James was scheduled to speak at a joint breakfast meeting of the Grandview and South Kansas City chambers of commerce, the topic of discussion was how to generate economic development in Kansas City.
But when he got there, what the Mayor really wanted to talk about was crime.
“We’re working to make sure business thrives and prospers in this area, but no business will thrive where there is high crime,” James said.
James’ appearance came the morning after the Kansas City Council voted unanimously to change curfew laws for minors following acts of violence on the Country Club Plaza. James said he at first opposed the idea of a curfew until he got a first-hand look at the situation. The problem is that large crowds of young people, behaving in a mob-like fashion, are harassing shoppers who come to the Plaza.
Some youth are committing crimes – which have turned violent.
“I went down there (to the Plaza) to see for myself,” James said, “and not 50 feet away from me there was a shooting involving a 13 year old, a 15 year old, and a 16 year old. It was right near the Cheesecake Factory. There were two KCPD officers right nearby. I had two security officers with me. There was a stampede. It was frankly a fairly bizarre scene.”
James said he’s been on the other side of the curfew argument, and that he knows not everyone is happy about it.
“There are people who will criticize, and say it’s just to protect property. Well, that’s
part of it. There are others who will say it’s racist, because these kids we’re talking about who show up on the Plaza and cause trouble are black. But here’s the bottom line: if we don’t take decisive action to protect our children, to insist that parents take some control over their children, then we’re not doing our jobs. If we’d had a
9 p.m. curfew on that night, then that 13 year old, 15 year old and 16 year old would not have been there.”
The curfew was passed by emergency action, meaning that it took effect immediately after its Aug. 18 passage. For the summer months, from the Friday preceding Memorial Day through the last Sunday in September, the new curfew for minors under 16 is now 10 p.m. For minors ages 16 and 17 the new curfew is 11 p.m.
The council also designated five areas that during the summer will have a special curfew. The Plaza, Westport, Downtown/Central Business District, 18th and Vine and Zona Rosa will have a 9 p.m. curfew for anyone under 18.
In October, the curfew will revert for all minors under 18 to 11 p.m. on weekdays and midnight on Friday and Saturday.
Any minor violating the curfew will be detained by police and their parents will be called to pick them up. Parents will be ticketed with up to a $500 fine for each offence.
“If you want to let your kids come out after curfew, fine – but get your checkbook out,” James quipped.
There are some exceptions to the ordinance, including when a minor is accompanying a parent, or is on an emergency errand directed by a parent or guardian, or when the minor is returning from a school activity or employment.
James decried the level of violence in Kansas City, saying it was not acceptable and that it seemed to him as if Kansas Citians were too divided by race and income to take decisive action.
“We’re in the top five cities in the nation for murders, every year,” James said, “but we don’t do anything but talk about it. We don’t do a damn thing in this city about homicides, probably because they’re happening in an area we don’t live in. Let’s just be honest about it. But any idiot can have a gun. If the Plaza has taught us anything, it’s that you’re not safe anywhere. We have to step up our game. It’s important that we stop this slide toward the abyss, or we’re going to slide off the abyss with them.”
He said some segments of Kansas City’s minority communities aren’t always helpful.
“If the police were actually turned loose to do their job effectively, they would be labeled as racist and problematic,” James said. “The police don’t want to do certain things in certain areas because they are afraid of how they’ll be portrayed in the papers.”
He said he knew his comments would ruffle some feathers, but he was adamant.
“We find too many excuses not to do the right thing,” he said. “We can’t deal with issues of race in this city, and it hampers our ability to get things done. It permeates everything. We have to have some frank conversations about race, and stop pretending the problem doesn’t exist.”
He urged members of all segments of society, rich and poor, black and white, to support the police.
“These people put their butts on the line for us…we need to put our butts on the line for them,” he said, drawing thunderous applause from the audience.
James indicated that the search for a new police chief for Kansas City, which is currently underway, is focused on finding someone who will be tough on curbing homicides and other violent crime.
“Whoever the new chief is, they better have a plan to address that or they won’t be chief in my city,” James said. “We have to take care of crime or it won’t matter what we’re doing in business.”
James praised Councilman Scott Taylor for taking a leadership role in council committees to foster business development, saying Taylor, being a newcomer to the council, was able to question business-as-usual and bring fresh ideas to the table.
James also thanked Councilman John Sharp for taking a tough line on crime in public safety committee meetings.
“We don’t always see eye-to-eye, but I really respect him,” James said of Sharp.
James blasted the state of Kansas for poaching jobs from Missouri.
“You’re going to spend $47 million to move some jobs 5 miles across the state line?” he asked incredulously. “Think of what we could do with $47 million to create new jobs, if we were working together.”
He joked that because of all the up-front money Kansas is offering businesses to leave Missouri for Kansas, he was considering making a move himself.
“I’m going to call Kansas and see how much they’ll give me to move City Hall,” he said, drawing laughter and applause. “But I’m not going for a penny less than $500 million. Then after that 10 years (of a tax break) is up, I’ll come back to Missouri and get $500 million more.”
His tone soon turned serious, however.
“I don’t know how we’ll compete with Dallas, with Chicago, with Denver, when we’re busy fighting each other over the border. We’ve all got to change our attitude and work together for the good of the region.”
James said his current focus is on protecting children and reducing crime, but that Kansas City’s Economic Development Corporation would do all it could do foster entrepreneurship and small businesses.
“That’s where the jobs are being created,” he said. “If we can’t keep our small businesses going, we will fail.”

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