Michael Aguirre (right) partially blames the COVID-19 pandemic for a rise in crime nationwide and in his own community specifically.



BY JOE ARCE AND COREY CRABLE​

It was 3 p.m. on a sunny day a few weeks ago when Michael Aguirre was playing with his children outside. Suddenly, the sound of gunshots ripped through the peace and quiet of the afternoon in Aguirre’s Argentine neighborhood.

Though Aguirre’s children are young, they already know what most children don’t – that noise, which had become all too familiar. “My kids are ages 9, 5 and 4, and they already know the difference between what a gunshot and fireworks sound like,” says Aguirre, who has lived in the Argentine neighborhood his entire life. “That’s alarming to me. I want to provide a safe environment for my kids and everyone else’s kids in Argentine so they don’t have to worry about that.”

With that goal in mind, Aguirre organized a communitywide boxing tournament and bike walk against crime, designed to raise awareness of the better community that Argentine could become. The events took place Saturday, July 24 the Kansas City, Ks., Police Department and Kansas City, Ks., Fire Department jointly sponsored the event as well.

Aguirre partially blames the COVID-19 pandemic for a rise in crime nationwide and in his own community specifically.

“During COVID, people had so much time on their hands, and there wasn’t much for kids or adults to do, so they find themselves getting into trouble,” Aguirre explains. “This encourages people to get out and support other young people. It’s a good way to show support for our own community.”

Attendees brought their bikes out in an attempt to be seen in the neighborhood and to “show people we’re here and we need change,” according to Aguirre.

“We want our kids, our families, and our businesses be safe,” said participant Desi Coleman, who grew up in Argentine and works at KC Fitness. “That’s good for everyone.”

Coleman said other organizations like neighborhood watch groups have ramped up their activity recently, too.

“We’re all working to lessen the violence,” she said.

Mayoral candidate Tyrone Garner, who also attended the event, urged community support of the police department as another way to combat gun violence.

“We need to support our new chief of police. He has an eight-point plan he’s putting in motion,” Garner said of new KCKPD Chief Karl Oakman. “We need to support the good police officers trying to do good for the community and collaborate with them, because the police can’t do it all. We need to pitch in where we can.”

As cyclists wound their way through the event’s route, boxers between the ages of 5 and 18 slipped on their boxing gloves at the American Legion Post #213.

“We hope everyone comes together,” said Leo Moreno, attendee and owner of the Leo Moreno Jr. Boxing Club, named for his son, who was killed in the path of gun violence on Aug. 25, 2019, in the Power and Light District. Moreno suggested the addition of boxing after the success of last year’s bike walk.

“I told (Aguirre), ‘Hey, gloves up, guns down,’ and he liked that,” Moreno said. “I lost my son and I want people to understand there’s an alternative. Put on those gloves and do like we did back in the day.”

Moreno said he still grapples with the loss of his son.

“(The pain) is never going to go away. Some days it feels like it was yesterday,” he said. “(Our children) are supposed to be burying us, not us burying them.”

Though he stopped short of calling for gun reform, Moreno said those wielding weapons must think of the people their actions are affecting.

“They should put those guns down because it puts a lot of families at risk,” he said. “This needs to stop.”

Aguirre said he wants those who would commit acts of violence to see the peaceful members of the community and know they refuse to take violence lying down.

“This (event) allows us to show people that we’re here and we need change,” he says. “This is to help show them another way, to show them positive role models. I think young people may see other options and think, ‘I want to do better for myself and my family in the future. Let’s give the good side a try.’ I’ll help them as much as possible, but I’m not going to sit back and let them take over.”

Aguirre says he will protect the place he loves as long as it takes.

“I feel like Argentine is a great community to grow in because of the diversity. It’s very important to me – lifelong relationships,” he says. “It’s been a great place to grow up and I want the same thing for my kids.”