Baghdad Lite

So today I was berated by some angry woman for comparing the situation in Kansas City to the situation in Baghdad and calling for Baghdad-like violence control measures to restore peaceful life East of Troost. Of course I exaggerated a little – I don’t expect the troops to break down doors in people’s houses in the middle of the night and perform house-to-house searches and warrant-less arrests. Maybe just a few. My point was that in their current form the attempts to control the crime in that area are not effective. There are many reasons for that from social to economic, but in my opinion it’s mainly the denial that the use of force is the only way to quickly restore the area to at least livable conditions, so some work can begin to further the improvements.

Let’s go back to my Baghdad comparison for which I was cursed at, called stupid and maybe a racist. People of Baghdad did not bring these conditions upon themselves,their city is a war-zone because of the misguided policy of the previous administration in this country. People of Kansas City did not bring this upon themselves, their situation is also a result of years of misguided policies, mis-allocated funds and systemic decline of the school district. Majority of the people in Baghdad want nothing more than the return to peaceful life. I don’t have any doubt that the people of Kansas City want the crime to stop. In Baghdad the only supposedly safe place is the heavily guarded Green Zone; in Kansas City the safe(r) zones surround the crime-ridden area (by the way, lady, you live in the Green zone, don’t kid yourself). In Baghdad the Green Zone is protected by concrete walls and check points. In Kansas City the check points exist in people’s minds. We stay away from these areas if at all possible and the last points of attraction like the Zoo and the Starlight Theater are quickly becoming off limits. There is a curfew in Baghdad. There is a curfew in Kansas City, except here it’s enforced by TV and print news, blogs and just word of mouth. How many times have you heard “I wouldn’t go there after dark” – that’s a curfew if I’ve ever seen one. In Baghdad people are forced to live in constant fear of death, kidnapping, robbery, etc. In Kansas City there is a measurable chance of death, robbery, injury and now even an alleged kidnapping and rape. How do you go to a bus stop where a person got shot the night before without fearing that it may happen again. People of Kansas City may have a theoretical chance of moving out of this area, but most of the time it’s negated by their economic situation.

I think that the recent deaths from “stray” bullets in Kansas City should be the turning point of the crime-fighting effort. Until then one could say that there was at least some twisted reason for the crime such as drugs or money problems or crappy life. Shooting at random people for no reason is a sign that that the time of reasoning, education and financial assistance is over. You can’t reason with people who just shoot their fellow citizens for sport like deer. Even the most hopeful tulip-planting well-wishers should see that. These were not the only two random deaths this year, there were others. Then of course there is the subject of racism. There was a lot of discussion of why the death of a white lady was a bigger tragedy than the death of a black lady at the bus stop few days earlier. It wasn’t. I can’t speak for other people but when something like this happens I tend to think “could this happen to me?”. I don’t normally sit at the bus stop in the dark, so this technically couldn’t happen to me. On the other hand I was at the Starlight just a few weeks ago, I even used to have season tickets, so it totally could have been me getting shot in my car in front of my kid with my brains splashed on the windshield. I think the phrase is “to hit home”. That’s why the deaths of thousands of people in the flood in China do not resonate the same with me as the deaths of 3,000 people in Twin Towers. Chinese victims are no less or no more worthy than any others, but it doesn’t hit home. Few months before the towers went down, I was there inside the lobby and in the courtyard. I have a photo. It could’ve been me. A person can’t experience every death in the world as a personal tragedy, there won’t be any time left to live.

One can say that the citizens should not cower to the crime, this only empowers the criminals, we should be walking tall and not be afraid. I disagree. I am not afraid to die, if anything I am afraid to die slow, but being shot like an animal in the dark will not change anything unless it will inspire a rebellion where everyone will stand up against the relative minority of criminals who are turning this city into a Baghdad-like war zone. And by “stand up” I don’t mean put a sticker on their car or wear a t-shirt. Being an eternal pessimist I don’t think this will ever happen, so the best I can count on is a mention in the Pitch and a plastic flower tied to the nearest tree.

This country is not a stranger to using force to subdue the criminal element. There are precedents, they may be not entirely successful, but they were better than inaction. No matter how many stores, attractions and soccer fields will be built in this area they will not be even remotely successful until people feel safe enough to come out of the Green Zone.

You don’t need to accuse me of  having a stupid plan, for one I don’t have a plan, but I am also not in the business of crime fighting or running a city. Of course, I live in suburbia and that automatically makes me a racist idiot, whose opinion doesn’t matter. I am sure it doesn’t, but I am not alone weighing my love for Broadway against my chances of getting shot. So far not getting shot seems like a better choice.

For an intelligent analysis of this and other subjects please visit my friend Midtown Miscreant.

  • You’ve given this a lot of thought and expressed those thoughts very well. Great post.

  • I travel for JOOLS

    Hey, my favorite bloggers are really outdoing themselves this week with great writing. There’s been a drought of late and I’m happy to see y’all taking the bull by the horns and providing thought provoking commentary.

    I’m becoming a hermit. I wouldn’t even think of going to the neighborhoods some of these people have to live in. Unfortunately, I think the criminal element is ensconcing itself in my stomping grounds too and it’s going to be real interesting to see how our police deal with it.

    On the bright side, at least we don’t live in New Jersey where we’d be paying outlandish taxes for the criminal element to actually govern us or steal and sell our body parts.

  • Your comments seem perfectly reasonable to me. For the time being I’ve suggested to my daughter that she totally avoid Watkins Drive and that general area. I’m thinking that perhaps it wasn’t terribly bright for the council to cut police funding when the bullets are flying.

  • Sophia

    Contrast with your original comment:

    That’s exactly right, same goes for the school district, you can’t tie people’s hands with racist crap and expect them to get on with their job. when a place is like Baghdad you should be able to take Baghdad-like measures to clean it up or just retreat to the “green zone” and see what happens.

    Congratulations. You’ve managed to put in enough effort to make some thoughtful points. Your man-pride apparently prevents you from abandoning the stupid Baghdad comparison. Please note, no one tied your hands with racist crap and stopped you from retreating to the remotest area of the “Green Zone” to see what happens. That’s exactly what you’ve done.

    For all your thoughts on crime, how it effects you and your choices, your basic point about use of force is mundane. Government is the use of force. Law enforcement is the use of force. See, it’s right there in the word “enforcement.”

    There are two major problems with policing the east side: lack of resources; and lack of trust from the community. We don’t need some new brand of ass-kicking cop who isn’t afraid to take things to the next level. We need more decent cops on the streets doing the same things that decent cops are already doing. And suggesting more force is directly contrary to solving the second problem. So, you’ve managed to retain an element of stupid in your response.

    Living in the suburbs doesn’t make you a racist idiot. But when your balancing test is show tunes vs. getting shot, you’re pretty far away from the problem.

    You and others can make as many tulip jokes as you want, but people actually investing, financially and emotionally, in the community makes things better. A new business opens up on Troost, nags the city to replace the street light that’s constantly getting shot out, keeps its doors open and voila – less crime on that corner. Of course the hookers and dealers just moved east. But that’s how these things are done at the community level. Little things matter at the end of the day.

  • sorry, I don’t get it -why is healthcare and global warming need to be fixed RIGHT NOW and people dying in real time should be satisfied with incremental change.

  • midtown miscreant

    Glad to see I’ve stirred the soup pot. Heated debate is always a good thing. Let me just say that I think both you and your antagonist are decent people with opposing views. Just needed to get that in to pander to my readers in order to maintain my huge audience. I tend to agree with you on this one Meesha, sorry Sophia. I think it’s the implication of heavier handed police that has you two divided on this subject. The cops know which houses are slinging dope. I can take you to a dozen right now , today. I don’t know any of these guys personally, I dont know more than a couple specific locations, and I dont need to. All I need to do is start hitting the residential streets. See a dozen cars parked in front of a shitty house, a couple of guys trying to act nonchalant while eyeing the street. Are most of the cars worth 3 or 4 times as much as the shack they are parked at? Are people coming and going at all hours, yet nobody stays long. Guess what, thats a dope house. With resources stretched thin, with community activists screaming racism where its not warranted, that is a big part of the reason things are out of control in the city ,especially the east side. The cops know who the heavy hitters are, and it is those individuals who should be feeling the pinch. But they are constrained by lack of funds, manpower, and often unfair accusations of racial profiling. Small things matter, a small business on troost is a start, but that business cant thrive if the guy at the counter may get shot, robbed, or killed. As long as a small minority ,the bad guys, are allowed to flourish, the east side will just wallow in it’s own blood, in the blood of innocents. Im speaking as a guy who spent most of his life disliking the cops for obvious reasons. More black and hispanic cops would be a good start, but theres no money. Distrust of the police, and rightfully so in many cases, is an instance of a community cutting off its nose to spite its face. If people on the east side dont want anything to do with the cops, how can the cops help them? Its like praying for rain, then complaining you got wet.

  • Sophia

    I don’t get the references to global warming and health care. Both are serious problems that are being addressed with incremental change. The debate on those issues is so limited, it’d be like if we were discussing policing the east side and still debating whether or not the cops should be allowed to carry guns.


    I agree with 90% of what you’re writing. And I agree that heavy handed coppery is the bone of contention. I think meesha is having a simplistic “problem SMASH” impulse, but yours is more sophisticated. I’d like to have more data on complaints of racial profiling to better understand how it is in play. I’d expect those complaints to arise more in the area of car stops and street frisks than in busting drug houses. You’re right the houses are easy to spot. A few years ago I saw a map of where all the drug search warrants were served. One of the highest concentrations was within walking distance of my house. I can sit on my porch and spot which passersby are probably carrying. And I’m happy they’re just walking through and not dealing on my street. And frankly, I don’t care that they’re dealing drugs. I care about the violence.

    You think the tougher cops of your youth could make a difference. I disagree. I’ve dealt with these wannabe gangstas after they’ve been caught. They have zero sense of consequence. It usually takes them a few months in prison after conviction to fully grasp what is happening to them. Forget random shootings, people would be horrified if they realized how many young dumb kids are wandering around the city living life like it was a fucking video game. You seem to be arguing that roughing them up on the streets will drive that point home sooner, hopefully before the kids start hurting people. Even if that did work, the cost in community relations would be too high. People aren’t going to start trusting the police when they see them beating kids for dealing pot. And there’s no way to put a meaningful limit on the intimidation in play so that it’s only directed at wrongdoers. It’s just another step in the direction of being a police state. You may be right, it might work. You certainly have more insight into the criminal mind than I do. But I think the costs to liberty and civility are too high.

    There’s all sorts of issues to be addressed on the east side. But before we start experimenting with going medieval, can we all agree that more resources to pay for more (decent) cops to patrol the streets and make arrests based on the probable cause right in front of them is a good idea? It’s not fancy. And it’s not easy, committing the money or making sure you’re not recruiting jackasses. But it seems like the obvious place to start.

    • re:global warming and healthcare (in no relation to local issues) are being introduced as urgent issues, with deadlines and scary thing that will happen if they don’t pass. in my mind that’s were incremental change would work the best. on the other hand, here every day means another dead person or three and there doesn’t seem to be any urgency, plan of action, whatever. probably a bad comparison but I am trying to say that there is a place for incrmental improvement and there is a place for urgent action and they seem to be reversed.

      • Sophia

        Most serious problems can only be solved incrementally because there’s so many moving parts and competing interests that you’re frequently not sure what is going to work until you start doing it and there’s always going to be people who will benefit from not fixing the problem.

        Arguing for a sense of urgency in dealing with health care or climate change isn’t the same thing as fixing the problem in one fell swoop. All proposals on the table for those issues involve incremental change. Precisely because the average person doesn’t have the sense of urgency about those issues to support monumental change. There’s all sorts of problems in society that we should probably be working harder to fix. Crime is certainly one of them. But it’s not one that is going to be fixed by a legislative body since their only response seems to be to increase penalties and create new crimes.

  • midtown miscreant

    agreed, more cops, especially black or hispanic, would be a good start. To answer your question, if the cops from 20 or 30 years ago would make an impression on todays thugs. I think yes they would. Todays thug isnt any harder than yesterdays, they are just more flambouyant, in your face, and quicker to pull a trigger, and dumber thanks to KC schools. Would it stop the dope and related crime, of course not. But it would make todays thug do what yesterdays thugs did, it would make them be more low key. Rolling gun battles would be frowned upon for drawing attention. Spraying houses with bullets, the random shit they do now wouldnt happen with such regularity. John & Jane Q would be safer. Most criminals conduct is based on immulation, they parrot what they saw in the criminals they looked up to. I did it, we all do it. Right now the mentality is, it’s a badge of honor to shoot people. I hate to say it, but 3 or 4 plain clothes cops, or the guys in ninja suits putting a gun to your temple, and an accidental foot or two in the ribs, will change your whole attitude about attracting their attention by doing stupid shit. It wont make all of the crime stop, but it would make the streets safer.While I agree it leaves the door open for innocent people to end up unfairly treated, then again thats already happening, It’s a tough subject, with no easy answers.

  • I travel for JOOLS

    It occurs to me after reading all the comments above that if we had disciplinary policies in schools like we had 30 years ago (kick ass, take names), we’d also solve a lot of problems with failing schools and students. Instead, we have tied their hands and look at the result. You reap what you sow.

    • Sophia

      Your memories of the 70s are different than mine. The nuns handed out plastic rosaries more regularly than beatings.

      Ah, yes, 1979, when we were ruled over by a figure so authoritarian, the masses were cowed into submission by the sight of him in a cardigan sweater.