DAVID ROSMAN: Columbia needs to recognize growing gang problem

Wednesday, May 9, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 7:05 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, May 9, 2012

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.

I promise I will write more about that stupidity online.

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.


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Gary Straub May 9, 2012 | 9:49 a.m.

I applaud Mr. Rosman for bringing this again to light. I share his beliefs and his concerns. It has been obvious by all who don't have their heads in the sand that this has been a problem for some time now. Likely at first it was gangsters from KC and Stl, but they didn't just stop by to pick up some quick money. It seems they were searching for new territory, and found it. Now heroin use is on the rise - a sure sign of gang infiltration - both in Columbia and Jeff city. I do not know what is in the minds of the police chief and the city council but it is past time to take some aggressive action, or it will be disastrous to our city. Driving black SUV's and trying to look more like a military than local police will not scare the gangs away but will probably make more regular citizens fear them. Probably the only real way to solve this invasion is to get public cooperation and that cannot be done until they learn to trust the police not fear them.

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield May 9, 2012 | 1:13 p.m.

"Columbia needs to provide more evening activities for our youth"

No, their parents need to take that responsibility.

(Report Comment)
Sally Willis May 9, 2012 | 2:18 p.m.

I agree with you on almost all points, almost you failed to mention most of these shootings have been acted out by teenagers. In that respect I agree with Jimmy, it is not the citys job to parent the kids it's the parents job. Where are the parents, and why do these kids think this activity is okay? Some parents just want to believe their children can do no wrong so they look the other way or choose not to see what is going on right in front of them. Could it be because there are so many parents who don't want to get up off the couch take some responsibility and do your job as a parent? Even those of us who work fourty plus hour jobs still have jobs to do when we get off. As for entertainment there are always things to do in this city I have children and we never have a lack of activity most of which are free of charge.

(Report Comment)
Justin Thomas May 9, 2012 | 2:35 p.m.

Is the increase in "shootings" related to a similar increase in the number of victims of violent crime?

Where do the estimates of gang membership reported by KMIZ come from?

So, the police are seeing activities all the way down in middle schools now; but, they don't know how to tell gang members apart when they go to parties? Wonderful, police surveilling and speculating in the hallways of our schools.

Should we really act as if we are so sure of what we are looking for when that might not be the case? I get it that there is a problem, and we are afraid that if we don't do something that it will get worse. The diagnosis needs to be accepted so that we might be allowed to ramp up efforts to eradicate the problem. If we are not absolutely certain, though, of what we are really looking at, might we not just be playing into their hands?

In case you want to go there, remember, the questioning of one's methods is not the same as denying there is a problem. It might demand a re-framing, or different description, of the problem, though.

(Report Comment)

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