Six homicides in September in the city of Columbia. We are now setting an unwanted record for the most homicides in the city since 2000.
On Oct. 3, KOMU aired a special broadcast titled, “Community under fire: a search for solutions.” It was a half-hour conversation with city leaders, clergy and those who have been directly affected by the gun violence.
But it was a report that offered no real solutions to viewers and the people whose loved ones have been killed. It did touch on community policing, but generally the report did not live up to my expectations.
Not that I have the solutions to solve the problem of escalating gun violence. I do not, but I do have ideas to fill in some blanks.
From police and news reports, it appears that much of the situation involves gang affiliation and retaliation. I have not seen a preponderance of new gang graffiti lately, but my visits downtown are limited and I don’t often travel to the neighborhoods that are directly involved.
I do know that the violence is not limited to the one city ward. I also know that the violence seems to be targeting African American youths.
I also know that at least 100 firearms were stolen from two dealers in Columbia in September. Who knows how many were put into the hands of those who cannot legally purchase a firearm through a dealership?
Missouri has some of the weakest gun laws in the United States, along with Mississippi and Kansas.
According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Injury Prevention & Control: Data & Statistics: Fatal Injury Data,” between 2007 and 2016, “Missouri’s rate of gun homicides, particularly in urban settings and communities of color, was among the highest in the nation.”
City-Data.com reported that Columbia’s crime rate “was higher than in 83.8% U.S. cities.”
The report concluded that between 2012 and 2017, Columbia saw “increasing violent crime and decreasing property crime.”
But back to the question at hand: How do you stem gun-related violence when the city cannot impose gun laws greater than those set by the state?
Unfortunately, per section 21.750 (1), RSMo, Columbia and other political subdivisions in the state cannot pass ordinances that have greater gun restrictions than those adopted by the state, with a few exceptions.
As pointed out in the KOMU special, there is little for youths to do in our fair city: one bowling alley, two commercial movie theaters and no mini-golf or batting cages within city limits. No public transportation after 7 p.m.
Kids cause mayhem in Columbia Mall because that is the closest thing they have to an amusement park.
May I suggest a starting point if, indeed, the problem is related to gang activity?
I would strongly advise the city or one of the churches to call a peace conference among the “warring” factions and create a formal method of resolving disputes without fear of arrest or retaliation.
Second, find meaningful work for kids. Austin, Texas, and San Diego have started city/corporate programs to provide jobs to the homeless and others in need or at risk.
Austin pays the homeless $15 an hour to clean the city streets. San Diego pays $13 an hour to pick up trash and attend job training, while providing transportation for up to 20 individuals living in a shelter.
In Columbia, we have sanitation jobs to fill collecting recyclables. I see a possible solution there.
As for community policing, we are all aware of the situation there. The Columbia Police Department is woefully understaffed.
This is a matter of money available, but there is also a possible solution.
It is time the state and the city pass laws to collect “use” taxes on retail goods generated by online sales. It is only right that all citizens in our city pay their fair share of taxes on these purchases.
Thoughts, prayers and do-nothing meetings will not stem violence, and these approaches need to stop.
We need an action plan that involves those who are perpetuating the violence. I may not have presented the best solutions available, but they may open the door to consider other ideas and stop the violence we are witnessing.