Pastors respond to uptick in violence

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Whenever Rev. Ira Acree of Greater St. John Church, 1256 N. Waller, learns of a young life snuffed out as a result of reckless gun violence that is now commonplace throughout Chicago urban neighborhoods, he can’t help but feel somewhat responsible.

Whenever Rev. Ira Acree of Greater St. John Church, 1256 N. Waller, learns of a young life snuffed out as a result of reckless gun violence that is now commonplace throughout Chicago urban neighborhoods, he can’t help but feel somewhat responsible.

“Anytime a child is gunned down my heart crumbles,” Acree told the Defender, adding, “A piece of my soul dies…every time. This is a collaborative failure.”

Acree, suggests local and state officials could do more in working alongside churches to provide much needed resources to curb acts of violence. “Churches, schools, families, we all share the blame,” he said.

After yet another bloody weekend that left seven dead and more than 30 wounded, locals are grasping for both answers and solutions to stifle the seemingly never-ending cycle of violence that continues to plague countless communities.

According to police statistics, from Jan. 1 to June 11, 228 homicides were reported compared to just under 170 during the same time frame in 2011. Additionally, the city’s murder rate has spiked up to 35 percent in 2012, while overall shootings have jumped more than 10 percent.

The recent 72-hour surge in violence was nothing compared to the 40 shootings and 10 murders over Memorial Day Weekend or the cluster of shootings that soon followed in many sections of the city where churches outnumber mom and pop shops.

This is a relationship not lost on those demanding religious sects be more proactive such as Fr. Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina Catholic Church who held a massive rally last Friday in Englewood along with Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy and Chicago Public School CEO Jean Claude Brizard calling for peace.

“It is time for pastors to come out from behind the pulpits,” said Pfleger, who urged the large group in attendance to place their fears behind and contact police if they are aware of violence. “It is time for the righteous to stand up.”

At Second Birth Baptist Church, 7254 S. Racine Ave., the Rev. Terrence Willis maintains violence will only cease if individuals have a change of heart.

“I’m not a crime fighter. It is not our (pastors) jobs to stop crime,” Willis said. “The only way to help people is to continue to spread the gospel. When something happens I call the police. That is what everybody should do.”

Like most clergymen, the Rev. Christopher Harris of Bright Star Church, 735 E. 44th St., holds steadfast to the belief that God places pastors and churches in positions to serve. That’s why the Bronzeville institution, one of 100 designated Safe Haven churches, offers after school, outreach and advocacy programs to assist the underserved.

“Churches need to open their doors,” Harris said, who also acknowledges churches have to evolve to address the plethora of issues congregations struggle with such as the lack of employment opportunities and poverty.

South Side resident Jamel Weston 28, however, is under the impression that even an active faith community can do little to completely stop outbreaks of random violence.

“I don’t think the church, the police, the government, or any other outside source can help what’s going on in the streets of Chicago,” Weston said. “We have to figure out how to change the mentality and provide options for youth.”

McCarrthy agrees that it will take a collective effort.

(It’s not just church community (that can help police) but everyone, including the police, needs to stand up and be accountable. “Everyone in the community has to speak up,” Chicago’s top cop said.

Copyright 2012 Chicago Defender

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