Twelve bullets and 1,100 mourners get little notice.

Murder Uncovered 

Twelve bullets and 1,100 mourners get little notice.

Early Saturday evening, May 19, an assassin pumped more than a dozen bullets into Lamont Sherman's Cadillac and left him bleeding behind the steering wheel. The car rolled to a stop, and Sherman died a few hours later at an area hospital. But the cold-blooded execution of the 25-year-old man would go virtually unnoticed by local media.

As night fell on the impoverished neighborhood at 33rd and South Benton Avenue, squad cars and an ambulance blocked the street. Flashing red lights reflected off the locked windows of nearby homes. But no television reporters hovered with cameras and notepads.

"The TV camera people weren't there at the scene," says Josephine Nash, Sherman's older sister. "I figured that they should have been." Nash has her own ideas about why her brother's violent death wasn't newsworthy. "Usually they would have something on the news about a murder like this. But it's just another black person shot down by another black person, and they just don't care. It happens every day."

Sherman's murder was briefly mentioned in a couple of paragraphs in the Monday Metropolitan Digest of The Kansas City Star, and again in a later story about a rash of recent murders. His Memorial Day weekend funeral, which was attended by 1,100 people, went unnoticed by local media. The Reverend Samuel Williams, who officiated at the service, isn't surprised.

"If this heinous crime would have happened in Overland Park or North Kansas City or anyplace outside the inner city, there would have been more coverage," says Williams, "and there would be a more detailed search to find the people who did this."

At 27th and Troost, where Williams is pastor of the nondenominational Jesus Is the Way Church, "life is cheap," he says. Williams has officiated at five funerals for black men between the ages of eighteen and 25 in the past year. He hears of violent deaths in his neighborhood every week or so but rarely sees significant news coverage.

"If there was enough pressure on the news, everyone in the neighborhood would get involved, and the police would have to take action because there would be the camera showing what's going on in the inner city," he says. But the murders can't be solved unless the community cooperates. Too often, that doesn't happen, says Williams.

Brian Bell, the police detective assigned to Sherman's murder, says he has a few leads but no suspect in custody yet. Although Bell sees little difference in the percentages of murder cases solved in the inner city as opposed to other parts of Kansas City, a crucial factor in solving such cases often is the cooperation of the family and friends of victims, he says.

"In other parts of the city, we get more cooperation. A lot of times [in the inner city], we don't get cooperation," says Bell. "I have no idea why." Bell doesn't think that inner city crimes are covered any less by local media than those in other parts of the city. "Look at the girl that was found at 59th and Kensington," he cites as an example.

For the past six weeks, local television stations and The Kansas City Star have had extensive coverage of murder victim Precious Doe, the unknown four-year-old black girl whose decapitated body was found in a wooded area in April. That case's compelling details -- horrific violence, an unidentified child as the victim and a mystery perpetrator -- gripped the attention of area newsrooms.

Detective Marcus Regan, who also works in the homicide division, agrees that many murders are not covered by local media. "We get a lot of black males eighteen to 25 years old," says Regan. "Nobody ever writes about it. But let it happen on the Plaza or in Westport, and it's going to be in the newspaper and on TV."

Geography has nothing to do with which stories KMBC Channel 9 decides to air on its newscast, says assistant news director Gerry Roberts. "We cover stories in the inner city as much as we do any other stories," Roberts says. News coverage of murder victims depends on the individual cases, whether a family is affected, when the crime happened and what else is going on that day, he says. "We don't ignore stories in the inner city."

The night of Sherman's murder, KSHB Channel 41 wasn't at the scene, says Laura Clark, news director at Channel 41, but of seven murders in Kansas City urban areas that weekend, six were noted on Channel 41 news.

"I can understand how anyone who has a loved one injured or killed in a crime would feel that their family member deserves coverage and justice," says Clark. "But to suggest as a larger premise that we don't cover enough [urban crime] is untrue. Part of our commitment is to try to give perspective to some of those stories and help people understand who these people were."

Clark frequently hears from people in urban communities that Channel 41 covers too much inner city crime. "They fear that people will think that all that happens in the urban areas is crime," says Clark. "Most of the feedback is from people who want their community reflected in a positive light, not just that there is crime."

The day of Sherman's funeral, parked cars lined the streets by Williams' little brick church on Troost. A somber crowd milled about on the sidewalk. The tiny chapel was packed, and another room with 200 chairs was crammed full. "Let's stop the violence. It doesn't have to be this way," several teenagers at the podium pleaded. Toward the end of the service, security guards cleared a path in the crowded hallway for mourners to enter the chapel and file by the casket.

"I looked out and saw a lot of hurting people, a lot of angry young folk," says Williams, who recalls one young man in particular who stood before the coffin and whispered, "I'll be next."

"That's what I saw all around the room that day," says Williams, "no hope." But Williams hasn't lost faith in his community.

His church -- which is across the street from one liquor store and a block away from another -- also serves as an outreach center. He offers a program to teach children and adults in the poverty-stricken community how to read. Speakers educate about drugs and AIDS. Williams wants to work with other churches to create jobs for young men who otherwise turn to crime in a desperate attempt to survive and support their families.

For now, says Williams, his top priority is to find a way to stop the killing that tears apart his community. Inner city violence is not getting covered by local media, says Williams, because people who struggle daily just to survive are considered second-class citizens. That makes him angry, he says, because lives on the east side of town are no less valuable than any others.

"We may not be the most influential people in the city, but we are Homo sapiens," says Williams. "These young men are dying, and they're not coming back."


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