It takes a village to curb violence, according to Bishop Jon Bruno and others at the first in a series of diocesan regional public safety forums, held August 10 at St. Augustine by-the-Sea Church in Santa Monica.
The bishop’s newest “Hands in Healing” initiative drew 75 people from congregations across the greater Los Angeles area and featured as guest speakers Sheriff Lee Baca and city attorney Mike Feuer. All agreed that education and community partnerships are key to deterring gun violence.
Bruno launched the Hands in Healing initiative in 2002 as a humanitarian and educational effort to bring hope and healing to communities struggling with violence throughout the world.
“Today the Santa Monica College shootings loom strongly in my heart,” Bruno told the gathering, about two miles from the June 11 shootings, where a former student shot and killed three people and injured others. He died of wounds after a gun battle with police.
“We want to inspire each and every one of you to go out and start a new ministry or participate in an existing one,” he said. A former police officer who was involved in gang diversion, he added: “If we do nothing, nothing’s going to get done. We need to act as catalysts for change.”
Gun violence affects nearly everyone and entire communities on multiple levels; at least one-third of the forum’s attendees responded affirmatively when Feuer asked for a show of hands by those whose lives had been personally touched by gun violence.
At a similar gathering recently at the City of Refuge church near downtown Los Angeles, when asked the same question, “one-half the congregants stood up,” Feuer said. “Over one thousand people rose that day.”
Both he and Baca, who has served as the Los Angeles County Sheriff for 14 years, said the faith community has a huge role to play in efforts to reduce violence.
“One of the great public safety tools is faith, probably greater than law enforcement, if you get right down to it, because there are only one million or so law enforcement officers in the United States and about 300 million people, so what’s the glue that’s keeping society from being violent? That’s faith, and that’s what you do. It’s the tool of sustenance; it’s like food. Your body needs it; your mind needs its food,” Baca told the gathering.
He has created an interfaith council of “over 500 imams, rabbis, pastors,” and cited the efforts of Tony Blair, former prime minister of Great Britian who in 2010 created a “faith foundation” because “in the last 30 years most of the wars in the world were with faiths, amongst faiths, against other faiths, or within a faith — and that is wrong,” Baca said.
Educational programs — from teaching life skills, to recovery (12-step) skills, to GED-equivalency programs — in the jails have yielded results, he added. “In most cases they (inmates) are so intently interested in turning their lives around that … we have perfect attendance,” he said. “They start feeling like, ‘I can turn my life around.’ There are no acts of violence in that 6,000 person domain in jail,” he said emphatically. “None.”
The Rev. Vanessa McKenzie, rector of the Church of the Advent in Los Angeles, asked Baca how young men of color can avoid the “school to prison pipeline,” a topic recently addressed in an Episcopal News Service article.
“One of my young parishioners was arrested because he went to school with scissors for an art project,” McKenzie said. “They arrested him for a zero tolerance issue. So in terms of the school-to-prison pipeline, how do we prevent our young people from getting to your people and making sure that the education you were talking about really helps?”
Community partnerships are one way, replied Baca, adding that he instituted programs for parents and youth that help to develop public trust.
Feuer said his office is prepared to use specifically targeted injunctions to stop gang activity in communities as well as in vacant dwellings. The gang injunctions would be issued to a person, not a community; they would be limited in duration, and include an appeals process.
He advocated a multi-layered approach involving schools, public officials and congregations, job training, preventative programs, intervention programs, better street services and lighting in a community, as well as an anti-gun violence unit he has founded to help enforce existing gun laws. He sparked applause when he said he’d like to pursue civil litigation against gun manufacturers as well.
“This is a call to action moment in this room,” Feuer said. He urged participants to connect with state and federal lawmakers regarding gun violence legislation, and said he favors community courts as a model of justice because “neighborhoods need to see the positive impact of the intervention of the justice system on community life. If they don’t, we question why the courts and public officials even matter.”
Dennis Hernandez, an All Saints, Pasadena, parishioner, drew applause when he told Feuer that lack of resources in the past and now “seems to be the constant battle from city hall in trying to direct the resources where the greatest problem is, and to me the greatest problem is in the black and Latino community.”
All Saints’ associate rector, the Rev. Francisco Garcia, added that missing from the discussion was a conversation about “what happens when violence is committed by law enforcement itself, especially in communities of color. How do we include this issue in the discussion and hold authorities accountable to good policing?”
Virginia Classick, a member of the diocesan peace and justice program group, told the gathering that although it is often considered a crime issue, “it is important to frame gun violence as an public health epidemic (because) … public health focuses on prevention.”
A January 2013 Huffington Post story cited Center for Disease Control and Prevention statistics that there are typically 30 gun-related murders and 162 people wounded by firearms each day in the U.S. Another 53 people kill themselves with a firearm each day.
Prevention could include such tools as parents, asking “when they send their child to play, if the child is going to a gun-safe home. It also trains health care providers to be alert” to clues that children affected by gun violence might need counseling.
“If any other public health issue took 83 lives a day, we would be mobilizing all our resources as a nation to find a solution,” she said.
“This characterization is very valuable,” agreed Brother Tom Carey of the Church of Epiphany in Lincoln Heights. “Lots of money is made by selling people guns. We did it once with tobacco — we’ve got to take the profit motive out of weaponry.”
Canon Bruce Linsenmayer, former president of the diocesan standing committee and a 32- year veteran of the Pasadena Police Department, described plans underway for a diocesan disaster preparedness initiative (DPPI). The Very Rev. Canon Michael Bamberger chairs the diocesan disaster preparedness commission, he said.
Eventually, the commission hopes each congregation will have created disaster preparedness plans (DPP) in conjunction with local businesses and community leaders, as well as crisis response plans.
The DPPI was created by Episcopal Relief and Development (ERD) to better equip dioceses and parishes to respond to disasters. A 2011 pilot phase trained representatives of 40 U.S. dioceses in areas prone to floods, tornadoes, and hurricanes. The initiative has been extended to all of the dioceses within the U.S., he said.
Additional information is available on the ERD website and will be made available to the diocese in coming months, including an article in the upcoming Fall 2013 issue of The Episcopal News magazine. Congregations are asked to check the ERD website, to designate someone to be the contact person for their DPP and to be in touch with Bamberger at email@example.com.
Additional regional public safety forum dates and locations are:
Santa Barbara County
Saturday, August 17, 10 a.m. – 12 noon
St. Michael’s University Church
6586 Picasso Road, Isla Vista (at UCSB)
Congresswoman Lois Capps, representing the Central Coast area of California, will be the opening speaker
Saturday, August 24, 10 a.m. – 12 noon
St. Paul’s Church
3290 Loma Vista Road, Ventura
Saturday, September 14, 9 a.m. – 11 a.m.
All Saints’ Church
3847 Terracina Drive, Riverside
Saturday, October 5, 10 a.m. – 12 noon
St. George’s Church
23802 Avenida de la Carlota (at Interstate 5), Laguna Hills
San Bernardino County
Saturday, October 12, 10 a.m. – 12 noon
St. John’s Church
1407 N. Arrowhead Avenue, San Bernardino