Billy Irvin, a popular Christian radio preacher, took the pulpit at Montgomery's City Hall on August 29 to address the city's murder rate. He talked about a documentary he had recently seen about young, wild elephants running amok who were tamed by an older elephant.
“Once the older elephant was introduced to the pack, the younger elephants had somebody to look up to,” Irvin told the crowd. “They had someone to guide them. And that's what our youth needs: someone to guide them. Without that, how will they know about moral structure?”
Irvin was speaking at the graduation ceremony for Operation Good Shepherd, a publicly funded Christian outreach ministry started by the Montgomery Police Department that puts Christian pastors on crime scenes to counsel and pray with victims and witnesses. Police claim the program is a way to regain trust in the community, but there's another motive, which they aren't at all coy about:
evangelism—they believe a stronger sense of Christianity will reduce crime.
So far this year, 39 people people have been murdered in Montgomery, Alabama, the vast majority of them black. With a population of only 200,000, those numbers make Montgomery among the most violent cities per capita in the country. If the pace keeps up, 2013 will be the city’s most violent year in four decades. And if numbers specifically by race are taken into account, this could be one of the most violent years for Montgomery's black population since slavery ended.
|Operation Good Shepherd... hasn't stopped the black violence|
A carnival Saturday morning on Selma Highway appeared to be just a small church event, but for the people of Macedonia Miracle Kingdom and Worship Center, it's part of a larger initiative they hope will address Montgomery's rising homicide rate and black-on-black crime.
Children enjoyed inflatables, kickball, football, refreshments and a soccer demonstration as one aspect of a weekend of activities. Pastor Leo Lewis calls the church's program "Lord, Save the Black Seed," and it included a Friday night play that addressed the plight of urban communities.
It will take leadership by churches to make an impact in these communities, Lewis said.
"In the African-American community, all of our major strides were done religiously," he said. "When we arrived at where our confidence in our God brought us, we started to declare independence from our deliverer. Then we went into a much worse form of slavery," referring to the disproportionate number of black men who are in prison today.
The weekend of activities will conclude today with a worship service at 11 a.m., and the goal is to bring 300 black men who are not saved to the service. The church also set a goal of 3,000 hours of prayer as part of the initiative.
"I think that we have to, as black folks, take responsibility for our community, as opposed to projecting. Because God's going to hold us responsible for our children," Lewis said.
Alabama State University Assistant Professor and clinical psychologist Earnest Blackshear said poverty drives crime, and those living in poverty are less likely to get an education.
Desegregation in the South left behind islands of concentrated poverty, which can be seen in Montgomery, he said.
Blackshear said parts of west Montgomery are “like a third world.”
And, poverty especially with the current state of the economy isn’t an easy thing to fix. Poverty leads to a lack of education and lack of access to mental health care.
Blackshear said it is going to take the assistance of the government to fix the problem.
Blackshear, who has partnered with the Montgomery Police Department, is working in his area of expertise to find a more immediate fix to growing crime in the young black male population.
Because these young men are growing up in poverty and on the streets, they grow up feeling like they don’t have the opportunity to live the American dream, he said.
They live by a street code, a value system learned in prisons, Blackshear said. They don’t go to school because they don’t have the means, and they buy guns because they don’t feel safe.
“If you get disrespected, you must retaliate immediately,” he said.
Many young men are “walking on a tight edge in fear” and develop post-traumatic stress disorder as seen in military combat veterans.
“Their entertainment is idols who preach this violence and this code of conduct through their music, which is gangster rap,” Blackshear said.
He said 10 percent of the black community communicates in this manner.
Blackshear said his job is to make sure young black men see that they do have options. He is now mentoring small groups of boys attending a Montgomery elementary school.
He is trying to teach them that education is cool and try to develop a “black pride” by telling them things like the first universities were in Africa and show them role models.
|Operation Good Shepherd: Only you, black clergyman, can prevent |