How can we address violence in our communities? – Daily Press
While on vacation in a neighboring state, I met a mother who told me of the panic she felt the day she learned of a school shooting. where three of his children were students. She talked about the normality of sending them to school that morning with their book bags and lunches before heading to her friend’s house for a reading group.
News of the shooting was broken to her group that morning by someone who was unaware that she had children at that particular school. She remembers leaving in a hurry, filled with fear, not knowing if her children were among those who died that day.
His story moved me. It made me realize how many mothers fear for their children’s safety on a daily basis when sending them to school or to play with friends. It reminded me of how many parents experience fear every time their teenager drives off. Traumatized by the violence, so many communities are suffering. I know it shouldn’t be that way for a parent or a child.
The violence of the world we live in continues to trouble me. More recently, our hearts sank for those affected by the July 4 mass shooting in Highland Park, Illinois, where people were celebrating Independence Day. This unexpected violence during the annual parade caused the senseless death of seven people, including a father who died protecting his son. More than 40 other people were injured by the gunfire or injured in the midst of the panicked crowd.
This tragedy follows a long list of random shootings that have taken place in churches, cinemas, workplaces, concerts, grocery stores and schools. The increase in violent crime continues to impact not only our country, but also Virginia and Hampton Roads. Due to gun violence, countless individuals and families have lost mothers, fathers, siblings, children, spouses, friends and colleagues. They remember them every day.
It may be natural to feel a lack of control and to question our ability to protect ourselves and those we love. Sometimes it can be tempting to feel hopeless, but it’s essential that we work together to find ways to address violence in our community.
Many will say that we need to take care of mental health, and we do. While mental health awareness and treatment is essential to the health and well-being of a community, the truth is that most people with mental illness are victims of violence, not the perpetrators.
Many will say we need to address gun availability and gun control legislation, and we do. Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit that tracks gun deaths and injuries, reports that there are about two suicides for every homicide.
Many will say that we must confront racial inequalities in our neighborhoods if we are to move forward, and we do. The Centers for Disease Control reports that “Black Americans are 10 times more likely than white Americans to die from gun violence. Worse still, black children and teens are 14 times more likely to die from firearm homicide than their white counterparts.
Many will say that we need to address environmental factors such as violence in movies, television, the internet and video games, and we are. Exposure to violence puts people at risk of becoming desensitized to violence and therefore accepting it as normal.
Where do we start? I recently listened to an interview with Dr. Susan Sorenson, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who directs the Ortner Center on Violence and Abuse. Advocating a multifaceted approach, Sorenson named past public health efforts to reduce vehicular crashes on freeways. Reducing speed limits, wearing seat belts, changing the design of cars and introducing driver education in schools were all necessary. Sorenson stressed that mass shootings and gun violence will also require a comprehensive approach.
What role could religious communities play in a comprehensive approach to ending violence? My church recently participated in a workshop sponsored by the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities. The presentation and discussions were inspiring. I was reminded that it is not enough to be sad or angry at hate and violence, we are called to act. Our congregation has been challenged to think about the things we need to start doing, stop doing, and keep doing. I left with the hope that believers can do a lot to promote a positive, healthy and peaceful community.
I remembered the prayer of Saint Francis, which seduced people of various faiths.
“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me bring love. Where there is hurt, forgiveness. Where there is doubt, faith. Where there is light in the darkness, and where there is sadness, joy. O Divine Master, grant that I seek not so much to be consoled as to console, to be understood that to understand, to be loved than to love, because it is by giving that we receive, it is by forgiving that we are forgiven, and it is by dying that we are born to eternal life.
How different our world would be if, instead of aggravating violence by responding with hatred, aggression, and bickering amongst ourselves, we modeled a way of living and being in the world that diminished fear and violence by responding with compassion, courage and love. What would it be like to pass on stories of hope to the next generation?
It turns out that the mother whose children encountered a shooter at their school was able to share a story of hope with me. Her children were among the survivors of that tragic day, although a girl was shot in the arm. Her daughter’s journey to recovery has not been easy, but she is grateful to be alive. Unfortunately, not everyone’s story ends that way.
Reverend Becky Evans Glass is executive director of the Peninsula Pastoral Counseling Center at Newport News. She can be contacted by email at [email protected]