FBI report on Missouri hate crimes is sobering. But Kansas City knows this story well | Opinion

Missouri prides itself on being the Show-Me State. And there’s always something for Kansas City to compare with St. Louis, our Interstate 70 rival.

But sobering data from the FBI show something none of us can take pride in: Missouri reported more hate crimes in 2021 than it’s ever had before. And, in the competition for which big city saw the most of them, Kansas City has the misfortune of “winning.”

In 2021, Kansas City had 39 reported hate crimes and St. Louis had nine. Kansas City is not four times the size of St. Louis.

So why is our easygoing metropolitan area, closer to the Western plains, having a harder time dealing with the volatility of bigotry than the other side of the state? And why is Missouri seeing a statewide increase of racial bias?

Sociologists and political scientists will speculate for decades to come on how the confluence of the COVID-19 pandemic and the George Floyd protests in 2020 created a whole bigger than its parts when it came to demands for justice. But an ongoing ripple of demonstrations where hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets probably triggered an inevitable backlash — and add in a bitter 2020 election cycle that led to the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

There were 119 racially motivated incidents reported in Missouri in 2021, with the FBI classifying 63 as anti-Black hate crimes. That’s no coincidence. Anti-Black hate crimes go to the times when we didn’t designate them that way — back then, they were often just called lynchings.

In fact, even acknowledging the hate crime of lynching is something Kansas City seems incapable of doing. In 2018, a memorial plaque was put up to acknowledge the racial terror lynching of Levi Harrington in 1882. Harrington’s commemoration was part of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice project of the Equal Justice Initiative. The marker was originally placed at a low-traffic corner of Chase Park near West 10th and Summit streets, overlooking the location of the old Bluff Street Bridge where Harrington was lynched.

The plaque was vandalized with graffiti in 2019. In 2020, it was cut down and tossed down the bluff. The memorial was so badly damaged, it had to be stored until a new one was made.

That’s just a marker — an inanimate object, in a part of the city that most people have to make an effort to see — that was the target of such pernicious destruction.

Just over the state line in Kansas City, Kansas, a statue of abolitionist John Brown has been repeatedly defaced, once with black markers drawing swastikas and the n-word on it.

This same FBI report showed that in 2021, Lee’s Summit reported 10 hate crimes. Independence reported the same number of hate crimes as St. Louis — nine — despite being less than half its size.

Clearly, our metropolitan area doesn’t seem to have a good grip on respecting differences. Worse, there is a nasty element who think it is acceptable to destroy any acknowledgment of differences and cultural reality.

The rise of white supremacist groups in recent years is a big part of this wave, but it’s too simplistic to write that off as the reason, especially when we know hate crimes are underreported.

What is it about Kansas City that attracts this kind of comfort with hate and violence? What is in our water that makes people think striking out against others is acceptable citizenship?

In addition to Black Missourians, the FBI reports shows hate crimes against Hispanic, Asian, Pacific Islander, Jewish and Sikh people are on the rise. But it’s not just race: The FBI report showed 26 anti-gay or anti-LGBT incidents in 2021, too. Six were incidents of “simple assault” against transgender people — another new state record.

Obviously, prejudice, discrimination and hate can’t be legislated away. The worst of human behavior can’t be switched off because the law says so. If that were the case, we’d live in a crime-free society. We don’t.

But we as a community have to acknowledge that there is something tragically broken about us when entire groups of people have to be on red alert just to leave their homes. We have to be willing to listen to our neighbors who don’t look, live, or worship like us when they describe the different ways they experience this place called home.

We’ve got to get it into our heads that teaching the truth about the documented atrocities in America’s complicated history doesn’t create division. It does help explain our divisions, though, and gives us benchmarks on what not to do again, and how to heal where we are.

That FBI report should be a loud, clanging alarm: We have a citywide emergency to address.