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A Step Forward in Kansas City

May 4, 1993



THE objective of stemming the tide of urban gang violence has come a small step closer with the end of last weekend's National Urban peace and Justice Summit in Kansas City, Mo.

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Current and former gang members from 26 cities, along with government officials and business, community, and religious leaders, gathered for three days to focus on extending a truce that followed last year's riots in South Central Los Angeles. The riots were touched off when four L.A. police officers were found not guilty of charges stemming from the beating of motorist Rodney King.

Comments from some participants suggest that three factors helped prepare the ground for the meeting, which was organized by Mayor Emanuel Cleaver: economics, as some gang members and former members open legitimate businesses, giving them a greater stake in neighborhood stability; demographics, as older members begin to raise families and become acutely aware of the danger their children face from drive-by shootings; and battle fatigue, as some members see the futility of burying increasing numbers of th eir friends who have fallen to gang violence.

The remedies offered are familiar: jobs in the inner city, a more effective crackdown on police brutality, and sufficient funding for local groups trying to provide alternatives to gangs. But they deserve added attention coming from members of opposing gangs who make these points together and at summit tables rather than in the streets.

It remains to be seen how effectively the sentiments expressed in Kansas City find their way to the streets. Organizers have called for a similar gathering in Washington, although no date is set.

Gangs are unlikely to vanish. Some argue that if they can be turned to constructive, nonviolent activities, they can become vehicles for service rather than suffering. But if society fails to respond to the legitimate needs of inner-city America, the Kansas City gathering and the truce run the risk of becoming footnotes rather than turning points.