Local Church Leaders in Florida Come Together With a Plan to End Gun Violence After Recent Mass Shootings

As six clergy leaders unveiled a countywide coalition Monday to stop local gun violence, Vangeline Ward spoke of her sister, a 24-year-old shot to her death decades ago at a Boynton market.

“You need to come quickly,” urged the April 1972 phone call to Ward from her husband.

Ward, now an associate reverend at Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church, said she had just been visiting with her sister that day, but later, a woman “stood over her, and she emptied the rest of her gun in her, to make sure she was dead.”

It’s something Ward has never forgotten, and the recent mass-shooting sprees that have flooded the national consciousness make forgetting unlikely:

– A 21 year old brandished an assault-style rifle on Aug. 3 and shot to death 22 people in El Paso, Texas.

– Less than 24 hours later, a gunman killed nine in Dayton, Ohio, before he was shot and killed.

– About a week earlier, a 19-year-old killed three, injured 13 then inflicted his own fatal gunshot wound at a California festival.

Gun violence in Palm Beach County also continues to torment families. There have been 57 confirmed homicides in Palm Beach County in 2019, according to The Palm Beach Post homicides database.

On Monday, the county’s clergy leaders took a stand to unify and address the violence, joining partners to lift up residents and help facilitate change as they hone in on causes and strategies to cut killings and boost capacities, especially in black communities.

The push started the Monday after the El Paso and Dayton killings when pastors Rae Whitely (Healing Hands Ministry) and Tommy Brown (New Disciples Worship Center) discussed the situation.

“This is just to sound the alarm, that we’re doing something,” said Whitely, who recalled narratives of gunshots that stunned him, including one in which two sisters were killed in their Boynton Beach home.

Whitely said the clergy’s model to address violence encompasses door-to-door conversations, research, meetings, reflections and evaluations.

“Here’s what we do know: Too many young black men are dying because of gun violence,” Pastor Emmanuel Morel said. “Black clergy can no longer just stand by on the sideline and watch.”

Morel said healing neighborhoods is a first step, the goal of the clergy coalition being to establish a movement including faith-based organizations and congregations that work together to solve problems, particularly in District 7 and the Glades.

The clergy leaders have brought in 13 community partners in crafting the coalition. Those on board include Chuck Ridley, who chairs Unify.

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SOURCE: Palm Beach Post, Emily Sullivan