Had those wishing to name Kansas City’s Paseo Boulevard after Martin Luther King gotten their way a year ago, the headline in the Kansas City Star might have read, “Woman killed in early Saturday shooting on Martin Luther King Blvd.”
But then again, it might not have. In deference to local sensibilities, the Star might not have mentioned the street in the headline, maybe not even in the body of the article. This deference would not have mattered to the 24-year-old “woman” in the headline, Kindrea Brown.
The debate about the name change has reached the august pages of the New York Times. As John Eligon of the Times relates, Kansas City is the rare large city without a street named after Martin Luther King. A coalition of black leaders would like to rectify that. That coalition includes Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II. If Cleaver has volunteered to have the street named after him renamed after King, Eligon did not mention it.
These activists have focused on the Paseo Boulevard as the street they would like to see renamed. “I think, maybe it would bring some of the prestige back to the Paseo,” one advocate told Eligon. As Eligon, concedes, however, the name “Martin Luther King Blvd.” all too often evokes images of “blight, poverty, crime.”
On the same day as the Times article, the Star went into more depth about Kindrea Brown. Brown took classes at UMKC and Penn Valley while working at UPS. She was fatally shot in her sleep. Not much more is known about the killing, and not much more will likely be known. A murder on the Paseo is a little too routine to attract the attention of the media.
On the day after the Times article, Kansas Citians learned that a man was shot to death “just east of the Bruce R. Watkins Drive.” Watkins was the first African American elected to Kansas City’s city council. The “Drive” named after him is colloquially referred to as “Felony Freeway.” That is not an honor that Watkins would have wished for himself or for the city.
The murder near Watkins Drive was the 36th of the year. At this time last year, there were only 30. As the eponymous Tony points out, that is a 20 percent bump. Kansas City would go on to record a near record 149 homicides in 2017. 2018 promises to be more lethal.
Ignoring the realities on the street, black leaders worry instead about the names of the streets. This frivolousness helps explain why, although all real barriers have fallen since King’s death, the homicide rate has not fallen at all.