Aug. 10, 2019

From COMBAT Director Vince Ortega

The death toll continues to climb, but I reject the notion that “this is just the way things are.” We cannot accept that a seemingly ever-increasing homicide rate is our new normal in Kansas City.

COMBAT is committed to turning the tide—to bringing people together to find ways to reduce this violence. But we must start by facing the stark reality.

When I heard two men, apparently stabbed to death, were found near a church in Northeast Kansas City in the early-morning hours Tuesday, I realized that wasn’t far, about three miles, from where another homicide victim was discovered lying in a grassy area Monday afternoon. Then I did the grim calculations in my head:

Three homicides in 15 hours
Seven in eight days
Nine in 10 days
22 since July 1
87 thus far this year

That puts Kansas City on pace for its highest homicide total ever. The stats are staggering, but the numbers can also be numbing.

Behind Each Number Is A Name
Remember this: behind each number is a name. As I am writing this, I wonder how soon will it before the Kansas City Police or another one of our law enforcement agencies in the metropolitan area will be notifying the next victim’s next of kin? The surviving families are never the same.

Frank Douglas’ son was fatally shot Martin Luther King, Jr. Day; Cameron Douglas was the seventh homicide victim in Kansas City in 2019. Frank has since met other parents of murdered children.

“For some of them, it was 20 years ago that their loved ones were killed,” Frank told a member of our COMBAT staff this spring. “You’d look at them and listen to them, and you couldn’t detect that this terrible thing hadn’t just happened yesterday. Their life has just stopped.”

How do we stop the violence?

Police, Alone, Can’t Solve Violence
We depend on law enforcement to solve crimes, but we can’t ask the police, alone, to solve violence. No one individual or single agency can stop this.

That’s why in recent years COMBAT has started bringing together people from across multiple fields—school administrators, elected officials, social workers, mental health professionals, drug counselors, religious leaders and concerned citizens—to begin addressing violent crime in an all-encompassing way. We need people from these diverse professions and backgrounds working together. It’s going to take a collaborative, comprehensive effort to reduce violence, save lives and make our community safer.

We’ll be posting more information about this initiative in the coming weeks. (

What’s imperative as we move forward is to not lose hope and, just as importantly, not to become numb to the numbers—to shrug and sigh at the report of yet another homicide. I fear that might be becoming the case, however. It seems to take a massacre, mass shootings like those in El Paso and Dayton, to really shake us.

Maybe if we think of the totality of 87 homicides—87 lives taken since New Year’s—we can better recognize the magnitude of what’s happening in our community. We should be shocked by it.

Nine Killed In A Minute
I’d be remiss if I ended this without mentioning, while other weapons are sometimes used, guns account for the overwhelming majority of homicides in Kansas City and across the nation. (Three in four murders in America are committed with a firearm, according to the FBI.)

With today’s guns, one person can inflict horrific harm, spraying multiple bullets per second. The Dayton shooter was stopped 30 seconds into his rampage, but in that half-minute he killed nine and wounded another 27. He used an AR-15 style .223 caliber firearm, with legal-to-own 100-round drum magazines, and in 30 seconds fired 41 high velocity rounds. The Atlantic described the “killing power” of the AR-15 “is that its bullets were designed not to pass straight through an object but to ‘tumble’ when they hit, destroying flesh along the way and leaving a large exit weapon on departure.”

A trauma doctor put it this way: the ammunition from this weapon “doesn’t create a hole, it creates a cavity in the body.”

To those who say, if not a gun, the perpetrator would use something else, I respond with the simple fact our modern firearms have made it, horrifying as this may sound, too easy to kill—and to be killed.

Making Every Neighborhood Safe
There are no easy answers for stopping all this violence, but we must keep seeking solutions.

So many lives have been lost. We are left to mourn not just the victims’ senseless deaths, but to also grieve what might have been. Who could they have become and what might they have done, had someone else not taken them from us?

We will remember the names behind the numbers. And COMBAT will continue working with our partners in the community today and tomorrow—however long it takes—to reduce violence. Together, we can make every neighborhood a safe place to call home.