Statement on Gun Violence

Rev. Lewis W. Stewart, President

September 25, 2018

Good morning.

Gun Violence is a persistent plague which continues to engulf the nation and our community.

Just this past week alone, 5 people were shot in a 4 hour period in 3 separate shooting incidents.  Two of the victims, ages 24 and 26 were killed. The other shooting victims were ages 22, 20 and 17.

The pain of the surviving family members of the murdered victims is persistent, deep and horrible.

We grieve with you.

I know, because I have had several members of my immediate and extended family shot to death. murdered by black perpetrators of a senseless and evil crime.

Our hearts are locked together in this unending hellish suffering of hurt, depression and trauma.

Likewise the families of the shooters are also prisoners of this vicious circle of distress, loss, guilt and shame.

In Rochester, from January 2018 through September 23, 2018, there have been 22 murders thus far.  15 individuals were killed with a firearm.

There have been 115 shooting victims, 15 of them were fatal.

100 of the shooting victims were non fatalities.

80% of all shooting victims are African American males.

Specifically, African American males between the ages of 15- 24 account for almost 40% of all non-fatal shootings and shooting homicides annually.

African American males of all ages represent roughly 85% of all shooting homicides in the last year.

60% of all shootings in incidents in Rochester are dispute related.  Meaning an argument ensues and it is settled by gun violence.

This gun violence is a public health disease.

It is a pandemic.

This gun violence is a public health disease.

It is a pandemic.

In 2016, nationally, black homicide victims totaled 7,881.

The increase in black homicides in 2017 comes on top of a previous 900 victim increase between 2014 and 2015.

Last week in Syracuse, New York, 5 people were shot including an 8 year old girl.

The shooting happened at a memorial service for a man who died of cancer.  The shooting victims are black.

Gun violence plunges neighborhoods into fear.  Many residents have mentioned to me that they are fearful to emerge from their homes in the evenings.

One man stated, he is so afraid that when he arrives home from work, he shuts himself in his house.  He fears what the night brings, outlaws with their illegal firearms shooting in the neighborhood.

An elderly black woman complained that she placed pillows to her windows and walls to prevent herself from being shot by stray bullets.

Residents should not have to live in fear of being shot by emboldened criminals.  This is not normal.

Of course most of the shootings are confined to poor black and brown neighborhoods.   However, being poor does not make one violent. There are good families who are working poor and who live below the poverty line, but who do not shoot and kill.  Besides grappling with entrenched poverty, and joblessness, we must eradicate gun violence.

We cannot continue to tolerate the lawlessness that is rampant in our neighborhoods.  The shootings and homicides are painfully impacting, and traumatizing families, individuals and neighborhoods.

This is the time that our religious leaders and community need to speak out with a collective and unified voice and say “We are sick and tired of these shootings and murders.”

In this awful environment of bloodshed, people tend to become numb, paralyzed by fear, or not know what to do to address the problem.  Children go to school in fear; they cannot play outside. There humanity is paralyzed. I am calling upon our religious leaders to give voice to the community’s need for hope to save lives and to combat this scourge of evil.

If we believe that human beings are created in the image of God, and the murderer is one who destroys the image God in his brother or sister, by taking that person’s life, then we need to address this problem wholistically.  That is spiritually, culturally, economically and criminally.

Here is a call to ACTION.

  • Reclaim your neighborhood block.

  • Engage people on your block through community outreach:  have neighborhood residents take responsibility by organizing Community Safety Healers Initiative.

  • Offer short term counseling and/or Crisis Intervention in church.

  • Offer a support group.

  • Identify areas of potential conflict and assess the situation before intervention, offer comfort and advice to neighbors. Help to prevent violence from occurring.

  • For crisis intervention training, call Pathways to Peace or UCLM.

  • Convene community block meetings and forums to empower people.

  • Join as a volunteer in UCLM’s Light the Way Initiative and Muhammed Mosque’s “Squash the Beef.”

  • Parents must become involved in teaching their children the value of non-bullying, and how to respect other children and adults.

  • Parents and families with religious institutions must lead the way if we are to save our community.

  • Don’t be afraid to relate information on a shooting/killing.  If you are afraid talk to your pastor.

  • There needs to be a collaboration of efforts between religious institutions and public safety agencies to formulate a long term intervention plan to root out and decrease homicides due to gun violence and stabbings.

Finally, we must organize and confront the Monroe County Legislator to pass Safe Gun Storage legislation.

Law Enforcement must stem the flow of drugs and stolen weapons into the black and brown community.  We must press the Bureau of Alcohol, Forearms and Tobacco to investigate, interdict and arrest those who supply illegal weapons into communities.

Penalties must increase and be severe for gun runners, and gun store owners where weapons are stolen.

The Black community must say that Black Lives Matter when it comes to Black victims being shot and killed by black perpetrators.

We as preachers are called to minister, but we also called to heal and bind up the wounds and comfort the brokenhearted.

We are called to deliver, to set free those who are captives to gun violence and fear.

We are called to the prophetic and proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord:  To offer hope to the hopeless and a future to those who see none.

This is UCLM’s mandate and it is what we will continue to do.

Jason Wolf