The good news about a reclaimed gang-infested neighborhood may have been a bit premature.

Pushing the Pushers 

The good news about a reclaimed gang-infested neighborhood may have been a bit premature.

Last November, residents who lived near the corner of 24th Street and Cyprus Avenue were celebrated as heroes. Rachel Riley and her neighbors were hailed by The Kansas City Star for their yearlong series of marches, which were credited with all but stopping a dismal series of crimes. In less than two years, 19 black men, ages 15 to 24, had been murdered as four gangs warred over turf in a 10-block sector around 24th Street. But since Riley had organized the marches and convinced the Kansas City Police Department to send a task force into the area, the number of homicides had dropped to just one.

Local ministers, representatives from the Boys and Girls Club and City Councilman Alvin Brooks attended a rally on November 13 to pay tribute to Riley and to hold up the 24th Street turnaround as a rare victory against urban crime.

But after the hoopla died down, the Pitch learned that not everyone was convinced that real progress had been made. At a meeting on November 23, KCPD Deputy Chief Rachel Whipple admitted that she was concerned that 24th Street's crime may merely have shifted a few blocks away. And she noted that while murders in the area had decreased, aggravated assaults in the city as a whole had actually increased after police had focused on Riley's neighborhood.

"I don't know why they're up, but they're up," Whipple said at the meeting.

Crime statistics recently obtained by the Pitch show that Whipple's hunch was correct. Although Riley's marchers have made an impact in her immediate area, for the larger region that surrounds her block -- known as the 23rd Street Political Action Committee -- overall crime reports not only didn't go down but actually increased a little over the previous year. The area stretches from Myrtle on the west to Van Brunt on the east and is bounded on the south by Interstate 70 and on the north by Truman Road. Murders and robberies declined in the area by significant numbers, but rape, burglaries and arson were all up. In a 10-month period of 2003, a total of 771 crimes were reported to police. Over the same period in 2004, 801 had been reported, an increase of 4 percent.

Sgt. Jay Pruetting supervises the Kansas City Gang Squad and oversees the task force that focused on crime in the 24th Street area. He says the squad targeted about 170 young men thought to be associated with the gangs, logging 1,254 hours of surveillance. Forty-three search warrants were served, and 11 drug dealers were arrested. The task force recovered 14 handguns, 7 assault rifles. 4 other rifles or shotguns and 3 bulletproof vests.

But Pruetting acknowledges that some of the gangsters have merely relocated. "Some of them did move to other parts of the city, but that doesn't mean we're not still actively investigating them," he says.

Dennis Carroll, 49, a member of the Sheffield Neighborhood Association, says four neighborhood groups to the north of the 23rd Street PAC have seen a sharp increase in auto thefts. There were 150 car thefts one month last summer in the four neighborhoods. Carroll says community leaders have come together to discuss how to protect themselves but haven't found an answer. "Nobody's really coming up with one idea that will really do it," he says. "I really feel like I'm chasing my tail some days."

Riley, meanwhile, leafs through newspaper clippings from last fall celebrating her crime-fighting marches. She's glad that her efforts attracted a tougher police presence -- which in turn has resulted in some gang members facing prison time -- but she's afraid that now that the media spotlight has dimmed, the city will go back to forgetting her corner of the city.

In particular, Riley has a beef with Kansas City Mayor Kay Barnes. "There has to be a problem when your mayor puts millions into a zoo," Riley says.

"She picked the wrong zoo," her mother, Joyce Riley, adds.

Joyce Riley says that when she moved to the area 34 years ago, there was a grade school, a middle school and a high school. But now the schools are gone, replaced with bars and homes with broken windows, moldy furniture on their porches, and trash-strewn yards. The middle class vanished, and gangs started slinging drugs on the street, she says. But the community doesn't offer the kids much hope at advancement out of the ghetto. "Dope dealers are the role models," Rachel Riley says.

A Boys and Girls Club moved to the corner of 24th Street and Quincy on December 1. It's been broken into twice since it opened.

Rachel Riley, 39, finally decided to take a stand against local gangs after her 18-year-old son, Larry, caught in the middle of a dispute between rival gangs at Truman Medical Center in October 2003, was shot and killed. She continues to hold weekly marches when temperatures aren't below freezing.

But she says she's worried that the neighborhood's efforts will be wasted unless real political players start paying more attention to them. With the state's overcrowded prisons, some of the young men who once ran the streets are being paroled and returning home to the neighborhood. "Like they are falling out of planes," she says.

Told that areas nearby may have seen an increase in crime after the marches she helped organize, Riley says she has a message for their leaders: "It's up to those areas to push them [criminals] out until they are in the woods," Riley says. "Scream out so our voices can be heard."

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