Kansas City activists press on despite Sunday killing 10 hours into ceasefire pleas

·6 min read

Activist groups and faith leaders challenged the Kansas City community to resolve conflicts without violence for 21 days — starting at 12:01 a.m. Sunday through midnight on July 3.

Less than 10 hours into the initiative, called “21 Days of Peace,” police said a woman was fatally shot by her children’s father.

Dionne Harris sat on her daughter’s porch Monday afternoon on East Linwood Boulevard. She said she couldn’t think straight after hearing that the woman who lived next door, Andrea Dean, had been shot the day before.

“People should think before they get a gun and kill somebody,” said Harris, 51, as her young grandchildren ran around the yard, giggling.

Her daughter, Destiney Harris, 25, sat beside her. Both women held fliers that said “ceasefire” in large words across the page, given to them by faith leaders who took their message up and down the block Monday afternoon.

Destiney Harris said she was shocked when she heard the news, but she was happy that the community and faith leaders stopped by.

“How you doing son? You doing OK?” Vernon Howard, President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City, asked Harris’s son, 6, as they shook hands on the porch.

“You’re not alone,” he told the Harrises. “You’re not by yourself. And anytime that you feel that way, you can call us. Any time you feel at risk, or in a situation that’s tense, or in a situation of conflict at all, we’re here.”

Shootings aren’t just traumatizing for families involved, they’re also traumatizing to the community, said Howard, who grew up about half a mile down the street on Linwood.

Dionne Harris started to choke up, telling the group that there was a time when she felt utterly alone before leaving her abuser.

“You can be a part of that growing army that helps other people out of situations like that,” Howard said.

“That’s where the healing comes,” added Bishop Frank Douglas, founder of Heart of the Father.

Harris said she’d be happy to share her story with someone in a tough situation. As the group of faith leaders moved on to the next door, Harris said their stopping by was “a blessing.”

“What I went through, I would’ve wanted somebody to reach out to me,” she said.

The shooting

On Monday, Christopher Spears, 33, was charged with second-degree murder and armed criminal action in the killing of Dean, 32, who was found shot before 10 a.m. in a residence in the 4300 block of East Linwood Boulevard, according to the Kansas City Police Department.

When officers arrived, three children said their parents were arguing over a phone when their father, identified as Spears, shot Dean, according to the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office.

The kids ran to a neighbor’s house. Dean died at the scene.

About three hours later, Spears walked into a fire station at 1505 E. 9th St. and said he had “just killed his baby mama,” according to charging documents. He then gave a handgun to one of the firefighters, court records show.

Speaking to detectives, Spears said he and Dean were arguing over him sleeping with another woman.

He told police Dean had reached for his gun, which was in his lap, and they tussled over it. The gun “went off,” Spears allegedly told police. He then said he “got control” of it and shot Dean in the head, a detective wrote in a probable cause statement.

At the crime scene Sunday, Dean’s loved ones clutched babies and each other. A neighbor and relatives at the scene said the victim was the mother of three school-age children.

“We wake up to too much of this,” neighbor Jannine Owens said, adding that she lost two stepsons to gun violence in Kansas City, as well as one of her son’s aunts.

Dean’s death marked the 68th homicide this year in Kansas City, according to data maintained by The Star.

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A call for a ceasefire

Howard said the shooting on Sunday hasn’t discouraged them, but rather emboldened them and their message that a ceasefire is needed.

On day two of the ceasefire, they stood on the sidewalk in front of Dean’s home. A camping chair sat empty on the porch beneath purple heart balloons. A small cross was placed in the front yard.

“I know the pain that that family is experiencing,” said Douglas, the bishop, who lost his son, Cameron Douglas, to gun violence in Kansas City in 2019.

He said with summer, and the easing of many COVID-19 restrictions, “it is seeming like we are swirling out of control already with the community not understanding how to deal with conflict.”

Last Tuesday, three people were killed in separate incidents across Kansas City in a one-hour span. One other person was shot and survived.

As part of “21 Days of Peace,” conflict resolution experts from the Center for Conflict Resolution are available, as well as licensed and ordained clergy from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City and the Concerned Clergy Coalition to provide spiritual counsel. Additionally, a 24/7 prayer ministry from St. Mark Church, led by church matriarchs, is organizing prayer shifts.

Other groups involved in the peace effort include the Urban Summit, the Urban Council, Sankofa for KC, the Heart of the Father Initiative, Ad Hoc Group Against Crime and Healing Pathway Victim Services.

In the first two days of the program, Howard said no one had yet reached out to the Center for Conflict Resolution or AdHoc seeking peaceful conflict solution.

Janay Reliford-Davis, the founder and CEO of Camp CHOICE (Children Having Opportunities in Creating Environment), said the community can’t lose sight of the root causes of violence in urban cores across the U.S.

They are seeing the residual affects of slavery, Jim Crow laws, mass incarceration and redlining, she said.

Last year, Kansas City suffered the highest number of homicides in the city’s history, recording 182. Missouri as a whole has led the nation in the rate at which Black people are killed in shootings for most of the past decade. In Kansas City, 75% of homicide victims are Black, even though less than 30% of residents are.

“All of this is not happening by accident or because the people of the urban core are just a violent group of people,” Reliford-Davis said.

Howard said their conversation is about more than promoting peaceful resolution.

“The inability for government to respond to issues of healthcare and mental health and social services and poverty contributes to the murder that took place here,” he said. “There are other policy shifts that need to take place in order for us to receive the help that we need.”

Gun violence is the subject of a statewide journalism project The Star is undertaking in Missouri this year in partnership with the national service program Report for America and sponsored in part by Missouri Foundation for Health. As part of this project, The Star will seek the community’s help.

To contribute, visit Report for America online at reportforamerica.org.

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