Anti-violence activists pull up to the corner of 27th Street and Benton, cars following as slowly and methodically as a funeral procession. Everyone is wearing the same black T-shirts with the name Aim4Peace printed across the chest as they unload signs from their trunks.
They're here for a march. The plan is to let the neighborhood know there's a new group in town, intent on stemming the violence that has killed, by this point in the year — it's early August — almost 70 people.
Less than 20 minutes before their arrival, a car stopped in front of the E & J Market on the corner, and someone fired a gun out the car window.
People on the street say they don't know who the shooter was or why he fired. At least no one was hurt.
This story gets passed around as the activists congregate along the corner. They all look shocked.
Most of the 50 or so people gathering here aren't affiliated with any particular group outside Aim4Peace, the City Hall program that has organized the march. Today's marchers just want their neighborhoods to be safer. They form a circle in the grocery store's driveway and pass around a microphone, from neighborhood leaders to preachers and then to staffers from Aim4Peace.
Once everyone has had their say, they all start to walk. They wave signs in the air. They scream, "We aim for peace!"
People come out of their apartment buildings and stand on their lawns to watch. Others lounging on their porches sit unmoved, baseball caps pulled low over their eyes. Some of the marchers run up to the onlookers, hand them brochures and shake their hands. The residents say the cops are on their way to investigate the shooting.
The marchers round the third block of the four that they'll circle. A squad car is parked on this corner with lights flashing. Four people are huddled around its passenger-side window.
The parade finishes back at the E & J Market, where a few people are still standing in the parking lot. An old man standing there pulls a drag from a cigarette. Two little girls are standing next to him.
"I appreciate what they're trying to do," the man tells one of the girls, who doesn't appear to be listening. "It's nice. It's nice sentiment. But it doesn't matter. No one's going to save anybody. Not never."
The marchers congratulate one another, get into their cars and leave.
City Hall's anti-violence effort started two years ago. After 127 homicides in 2005, the Kansas City, Missouri, City Council put together a crime commission to look for solutions.
In June 2006, the city's Commission on Violent Crime submitted its final report to the council.
The commission concluded that most homicides were the result of long-standing conflicts and disagreements, and it recommended, among other things, an expansion of mediation and conflict-resolution services.
That commission led to another commission. City Manager Wayne Cauthen created a Mediation Task Force made up of 11 people — community activists as well as employees of city government and the police department.
In late 2006, the task force presented a plan authored by Tracie McClendon-Cole, the city's Justice Program coordinator. (McClendon-Cole, who works in Cauthen's office, declined to speak with The Pitch for this story.) McClendon-Cole based her recommendations on a successful Chicago anti-violence effort called CeaseFire.
CeaseFire was launched in 2000 by the Chicago Project for Violence Prevention, part of the University of Illinois at Chicago's School of Public Health. After studying violence-prevention programs in several cities, the Chicago Project for Violence Prevention designed a program that focused primarily on conflict mediation. If a shooting occurred, trained mediators paid visits to people who had been involved to try to prevent retaliation shootings. Many of those paid mediators were former gang members with inroads to current gang members.