I warned Columbia five years ago. I knew what was going to happen from my own experience. I told then Mayor Darwin Hindman what to expect and still the city took no action.
I was going to spend my allotted space to rail against state Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield, and her amendment to a section of the state budget that would essentially close down the Sue Shear Institute for Women in Public Life, located on the University of Missouri-St. Louis campus. Why, because she and others see it as a hotbed of a liberal conspiracy.
Something happened to change my mind. It was a special report Monday by KMIZ ABC 17 that changed the direction for this column.
More than six years ago driving through our core city, I pointed out gang graffiti to my wife, Kathy, as we drove to dinner one evening. I told the mayor and other members of the Columbia City Council that we had active gangs in town. I was told that these really were not gangs but “wannabes” or gang members traveling to and from St. Louis and Kansas City, stopping in Columbia to “get a little traveling money.”
When I first came to Columbia in 2003, I heard stories about a dollar cinema at Stadium and Worley and about an arcade in The Mall and other places where kids could hang out that disappeared before I arrived. As the city lost these kid-friendly sanctuaries, the gangs took over.
In 2007, I wrote my first column in this paper concerning Columbia’s gang problem, making my observations and experience known. The final line was my warning, “Columbia needs to recognize the (gang) problem (in Columbia) NOW, though we may be too late. The city must be honest and take immediate action or the wave may crash in on our collective heads. Hard.”
Columbia Police almost acknowledged the problem, as I wrote in my 2008 warning. In initial reports, the CPD call a series of shootings “gang related” but almost immediately downgraded the actors to “wannabes.” “Wannabe” is a weasel word used to soften the impact that Columbia had a growing problem.
There was a third column in 2009 about the street gangs addressed to the yet to be elected new mayor of our fair town. On Sept. 3, I wrote that one major problem in Columbia was “specifically gang violence. Our children enter the world of street gangs, drugs and violence because they do not see any other future when they are at their most impressionable age.”
The evidence included former Fifth Ward City Councilwoman Laura Nauser saying that there were 20 gangs in Columbia. It was the writing on the walls. Literally. But her attack on graffiti was useless.
Did mayors Hindman or McDavid heed the warning? Did city manager Mike Matthes? I am afraid not.
On Monday KMIZ reported that since January there have been some 30 shots fired reports in the city, with more than half gang related.
According to the Columbia Police Department's Major Crimes Unit Detective Jon Logan, that included the bullets that pierced Chuck E. Cheese’s wall while there were children in the store. That included two deaths, a number of people wounded and an untold amount of property damage.
Unfortunately, it is not just the city denying that there is a major gang problem; it is our citizens as well. In April, Bryan Rankin, 17, was fatally shot. A 15-year-old suspect has been arrested. When asked if the shooting was gang related, his father Bryan Rankin Sr. said, “Yes and no.”
Rankin believes that the gangs influenced the shooter but, “I think it wasn't gang-related because my son had nothing to do with a gang.”
I’m sorry, Mr. Rankin, even non-gang members are wounded and killed by gang members. Your son’s death is tragic proof.
With the summer almost upon us and expected to be hotter than the norm, we can expect more gang activity after school is out. Again, I urge the City of Columbia to look beyond the Columbia Police Department to resolve gang activity.
Yes, the city needs more gang unit cops. We also need more programs to prevent the gangs from growing in the first place. Columbia needs to provide more evening activities for our youth and to seek more blue-collar jobs for our citizens.
David Rosman is an editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.