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Breaking Through: Police and Activists Work Together to End the Cycle of Violence

DES MOINES, Iowa  --  In 2017, Des Moines’ homicide rate was the highest it has been in decades, which shook the community to its core. As a result, local rapper Will Keeps decided to use his music to fight back against the violence.

Sgt. Paul Parizek with the Des Moines Police Department said the city saw 25 homicides total last year.

“It’s the highest number we’ve had in close to 30 years. It’s definitely not something we are proud of, but again, the police can only do so much," he said. "There’s a lot of frustration when our detectives don’t get cooperation, when they get people lying to them or turning their backs on them or shutting doors in their face. They may only see that part, we see the victim side of it, also."

The violence pushed Keeps to use his music as a tool to reach the community.

“There was a lot of killing going on. A lot of drive-by shootings. A lot of young people dying. A lot of innocent people dying, and I just want it to stop. I didn’t care about what people thought about me, I didn’t care about what the streets thought of me. I just wanted people to have a voice and let them know there are people that are really working hard to try and stop the violence in our city,” Keeps said.

Parizek said out of the 25 homicide cases, only four are still open.

“There’s always, on these open cases, you can always look and you can pretty much see that there’s one common denominator, and that’s somebody knows something and they’re not telling,” said Parizek.

Keeps believes people aren’t speaking up because they’re afraid.

“Fear. The streets has put fear into our youth and into our community. If you say something, you’re a snitch,” he explained.

He wants to change that narrative with his music video called "Droppin."

“I wanted to show in that video that they are trying to, people are out there trying to help. You have to stop listening to the streets who are trying to brainwash you into thinking there’s no one out there that can help us,” Keeps said.

Local law enforcement and Governor Kim Reynolds came together to be a part of the video.

“It was a good way for us to reach some kids we might not be able to reach just with our police commentary. Will’s got a way of automatically legitimizing us a little bit to some people who don't think that we understand or think we really care about the issues that they're dealing with,” Parizek said.

Parizek said the officers involved in the video want to make sure people understand the emotion connected with the violence and loss.

“It’s the families that get torn apart that hits you the most," he said. "We’ve seen that within our organization on too many occasions within the past two years. The families and the crushing sorrow and the constant lingering."

One moment in particular motivated Keeps to make his music video.

“There was a friend of the family, his name is Terry Harris, and he got shot in his own home in front of his little brother, and he was real good friends with my kids. And when he died, it really hurt them a lot,” he said.

Terry Harris died June 9th, 2015, at 16 years old.

“Terry was the life of house. He was exciting. He was about the music. He was our DJ. He was just goofy, silly, so that was him,” Terry’s sister Ashley McGregor said.

McGregor said their lives changed forever that day.

“In June it will be three years. So one day at a time. I don’t know if you ever get over anything like that because he will never be back,” she said.

The man who killed Harris, Kenneth Moore, is serving time for second degree murder, but McGregor said her life will never return to normal.

“As far as closure goes, I don’t know what closure is when you lose somebody so close to you," she said. "I mean, I’m really going to say that, like, him going to jail and getting served time, that’s what he deserves, was to go to prison. So of course that was comforting a little, I guess, but it didn’t bring our brother back. It’s not going to. It’s not going to bring our lives back to where it was."

McGregor hopes this will serve as a wake up call to the young people committing these crimes.

“I think it really starts in our homes, but hopefully somebody can reach out and get through to the kids because it’s a lot. And money and materialistic crap just doesn’t equal up to the lives you’re tearing up and the families," she said. "The boy doesn’t know at all how much he took from our home. He didn’t know what that life meant to all of us."

Keeps said he’s trying to reach impressionable kids by visiting schools and being someone in whom they can confide.

“There’s a lot of kids that are alive. That are looking for people to be there for them. Be able to talk to them. Be able to help them. I don’t want it to where they die and then all of a sudden everybody comes together. Why we gotta die first for everybody to come together? Why can’t we come together alive?”

Keeps recently started his nonprofit, Starts Right Here, to reach more kids at schools all over central Iowa and empower them to be more than the violent example.

Click here to watch Keeps' newest music video called "Get It," featuring students from the Des Moines Public School District.