At the end of last month, hundreds of Kansas Citians were shocked, mourned, and disgusted by the death of personal trainer Gary Taylor, 34, who was killed in a shooting in the 18th and Vine Jazz District. Two other people in the area were injured. Taylor owned a gym called Power House Fitness, was a semi-finalist for Best Male Personal Trainer in Kansas City, recently started a security business, and was known as an all-around good guy, father and boyfriend, but he would still become another life senselessly lost to gun violence.

Taylor’s murder, the 48th homicide in Kansas City this year, reignited conversations among local community members, businesses and city officials about how to combat violence in the historic entertainment district. Some community members say the solution is more police presence. Others say more local security and blockades are better solutions.

Members of the Revolutionary Black Panther Party of Kansas City (RBPPKC) believe the end to violence in the district begins within the community – not with more outside police presence.

“(The 18th and Vine district) has security and police, but there’s still crime happening down here,” said General Indigenous Xi with RBPP-KC. “It’s up to us to protect ourselves.”

The RBPP-KC are organizing a community policing program they hope to launch this year to help curb crime in the Jazz District. Members are focusing on making the district a “no gun zone” named after Taylor, providing mediation, de-escalation and engagement in the area. This isn’t a vigilante movement, Xi says the group plans to work in unison with, not against, local security, KCPD and business owners.

“Community policing is the modernization of policing,” Xi said. “We’ve always asked for the police to live next to us and be in our neighborhoods and actually live in our community.”

The group’s strategy is to use their professional skills as mental and behavioral health professionals, social workers and paramedics to prevent situations from escalating. They also plan on creating a registry of those who are threats to the area and prevent them from entering the district.

Xi said their community policing strategy for the district is going to be a testing ground they hope to repeat in other neighborhoods across the city.

“We look at 18th and Vine as our Black Wall Street and we’re going to protect it from ourselves and foreigners,” Xi said. RBPP-KC is fundraising for community policing gear including flashlights, walkie-talkies and a van. To donate, visit: paypal.me/kcblackpantherparty. 

Resurgence of the Black Panthers in Kansas City

The Kansas City chapter of the Revolutionary Black Panther Party of Kansas City began in 2016 after General Indigenous Xi reached out to original members of the Kansas City chapter of the Black Panther Party to receive their blessings to rebuild the chapter.

The original Kansas City Black Panther Party was founded in 1969 by Pete O’Neal, who was later convicted of transporting a firearm across state lines. O’Neal fled the charge and has lived in Tanzania since. Missouri Rep. Emanuel Cleaver is O’Neal’s third cousin and has been unsuccessfully working to pardon O’Neal since the 1990s.

Currently, RBPP-KC has a little more than 10 members who are continuing the mission of the original Black Panthers as protectors, organizing community service events like their weekly Feeding the Seniors Program in partnership with the Justice and Dignity Center Coalition and providing a Cub Club youth program where members teach life skills, writing and financial literacy to local youth. The group also hosts regular rallies in the urban core against police brutality and gun violence.

“We have not seen a whole lot of advocates against police brutality and police murder of Black people in our community and we took it upon ourselves to stand on the shoulders of history, being members of the Black Panther Party, to be the vanguard and the protectors for our community,” Xi said.

On Sat., May 29 from Noon to 5 p.m., RBPP-KC will host their first annual Stop, Breathe & Think Summer Feast on the Great Lawn on 18th and Vine, “to form unity and revolutionary love,” and of course to work toward ending gun violence. The free, community-building event will have music, dancing and food.

Members of RBPP-KC want Kansas City to know that they are not extremists or terrorists like they have been made out to be in the past.

“We are here for the uplift of the Black and oppressed people in the Greater Kansas City area,” Xi said. “We’re liberated and we’re Black nationalist freedom fighters and we’re unapologetic about it.”

Stay updated on RBPPKC events and volunteer opportunities on their Facebook page: www.facebook.com/RBPPKansasCityMO.

Jazzlyn Johnson is a Report for America corps member based at The Community Voice.

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