Last Saturday, the friends and families of Kansas City’s murder victims crowded beneath the peaked pavilion in Swope Park. Some had opted to decorate plastic white chairs with photos and words for departed loved ones. Others just came to hear music, share food and be together to enjoy the last bit of the day’s sunlight.
Al Brooks, in a black fedora and black leather jacket, stood on a picnic bench and offered comforting words, as he’s done so many times before at so many of the funerals for homicide victims, though he said, “I don’t like to speak at funerals of homicide victims. I do it because you ask me to.” He closed with his familiar signature, “God is good all the time. All the time God is good.” Families of victims whose murders were still unsolved were invited to give Brooks their information.
The people under the pavilion were in different stages of grief. Some had lost family this year, part of KC’s 79 homicides so far in 2007. Others mourned for loved ones as though they died yesterday -- even if they’d been gone longer.
One such mother, Debra Green, who was featured in this Pitch cover story, spoke to the crowd with tears coursing down her cheeks. Her son, Howard Green III, was shot and killed on January 20, 2005, while driving his mother’s van to a service station to get a tire fixed. His murder is still unsolved.
“It’s been almost three years, and I have no closure,” Green said. She explained that after the murder a woman told her she’d seen the shooting on her street as she walked up her porch stairs but never went to tell police what she’d seen. “How can you be a friend, and you know who did it and you won’t speak up? If you see something and you don’t speak up, you got accountability, too.”
Octavia Southhall organized the day with her community activist group, the Gatekeepers, who tend to victims’ families by helping them through everything from the funeral proceedings to court procedures. She introduced the audience at the pavilion to Jacinda Porter, a baker at Custom Cakes, who created a cake for the event decorated with the faces of homicide victims, the words “Remember Me” in blue icing above the sugar photos. Porter explained that her own family had been touched by violence, which inspired her to donate the cake.
One by one, the mothers of each victim on the cake were invited up to say a few words and cut out the picture. Afterwards, there was a candlelight vigil. – Nadia Pflaum