When business owners and vendors set up for a last-minute Juneteenth celebration June 20, they were beyond excited and by the end of the night, many vendors sold out of their products. Spirits were high. But when news spread of a shooting early the next morning leaving one person killed and another injured, the joy that overcame the community quickly faded.

According to The Trace, 27 people have been killed and 52 people injured from shootings within a mile of 18th and Vine since 2014. Those in the district say they have had enough.

On June 23, the 18th and Vine Development Policy Committee met to hear concerns from the district’s residents and business owners and make recommendations to the city for improvements. The committee’s role is to advocate for people in the district and bring their concerns to city hall for change.

One main concern for most residents and business owners is the lack of KCPD officer presence. It is clear there are disparities of safety between 18th and Vine and other entertainment districts like the Plaza and Westport, and residents voiced that it needed to change.

“This district deserves the same protection as any other entertainment district in Kansas City,” Black Excellence KC said in a petition, demanding increased police presence.

Stacie Minor, who has lived in the district for about seven years, told the committee that she could count on one hand the number of times she has seen an officer patrolling the district. “If that (police) presence was there, there probably wouldn’t be any violence,” she said.

KCPD Deputy Chief Karl Oakman said there is one police car that patrols through 18th and Vine and extra patrols on weekends. Now, KCPD is increasing patrols in the district after hearing concerns from the committee.

But the problem is, any off-duty policing or security in addition to patrolling, are expenses that local businesses are responsible for. Oakman said the difference between 18th and Vine and the other entertainment districts like the Plaza and Westport is that business owners there pay for and can afford off-duty officers – while 18th and Vine businesses have had funding issues, preventing the same resources from being available.

Other community members at the meeting, like Sheila Johnson, disagreed that more police presence is the best answer. Johnson, who has lived in the district for 20 years and owns Gangsta Goodies Kitchen, told the committee, “History has taught us what happens in our community when we’re over-policed.” Ultimately, she said increased police presence could mean more harassment and police brutality resulting in more Black men killed by police. Johnson suggested more community-based policing instead.

Not only has the violence negatively impacted the district, but so has the significant amount of blighted buildings in the area. Carmaletta Williams, the executive director at the Black Archives of Mid-America and co-chair of the 18th and Vine Development Policy Committee, said the city owns all of the blighted buildings in the district. 

“The city needs to take care of its house, too, by investing, and we all need to support private investment and lending in the area,” Mayor Quinton Lucas wrote on Facebook after the committee’s meeting on June 26.

Four years ago, city hall approved $27 million to improve the 18th and Vine District in three separate phases, which would address fixing those blighted buildings, but so far only $7 million has actually been put into the district. Councilwoman Melissa Robinson is working in city hall to allocate those funds to start Phase 2 of the improvement process.

“It is critical that 18th and Vine not continue to be on the back burner of the city’s priority list,” Robinson said in a June 28 press release. “If 18th and Vine is worthy enough to be highlighted as a worldwide tourist attraction it should be equally highlighted in the city’s investment package.”

Other recommendations the committee suggested to the city include more lighting, more cameras, better clean-up services, renovating parking lots and making 18th and Vine a Community Improvement District (CID) which will allow the city to levy additional taxes to fund improvements in the district.

Jazzlyn Johnson is a Report for America corps member based at The Community Voice covering Kansas City’s African-American community.

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Jazzlyn Johnson

Jazzlyn "Jazzie” is the former senior reporter for our team, who joined the company in 2020 in the midst of the pandemic, through the Report for America service program. For the past two years, she covered...

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