Churches can help Crimestoppers by helping victims
The litany of pain is universal. In the last six weeks in Detroit, which in many ways mirrors the violence seen on the streets of New Orleans, mothers have buried three children under the age of 5 killed by gunmen gone mad.
Their deaths, said Bishop James Williams of Spirit and Truth Christian Ministries in Detroit, resulted from drive-by shootings.
One child’s murder was particularly brazen and could not be classified as collateral damage, Bishop Williams said.
“This little boy was out front riding his bike, and his dad was out front with him,” he said. “His dad was shot and the 4-year-old was killed. But the disturbing thing about that one is that witnesses say that the two people who got out of the car actually shot the young boy first. This sounds like they actually intended to shoot the little boy and his dad. That’s a totally different spin.”
Bishop Williams is coming to New Orleans on May 26 to speak with Archbishop Gregory Aymond, other local faith leaders and Darlene Cusanza, president of Crimestoppers New Orleans, about what churches and people of faith can do to stop to cycle of violence.
Bishop Williams got his initial taste of how the church is affected by violence when he conducted his first funeral. It was for a 19-year-old shot and killed by an off-duty police officer.
“I had always been involved in the community, but that began to turn my focus even more toward young people and crime and violence in the city,” he said.
In working with the Detroit Community Clergy Alliance, faith leaders began regular prayer walks in some of the city’s most violent neighborhoods, trying to establish relationships.
In that capacity Bishop Williams discovered that Crimestoppers, a national organization that encourages people to give police anonymous tips on persons responsible for crimes, had a faith-based committee.
Bishop Williams became director of that unit in 2014, and his idea was to encourage congregations to have their members “make the call” when they have information that can get a dangerous person off the streets.
Picking up the phone and reporting an anonymous tip sometimes has to overcome distrust of the police and fear of retribution, he said.
“The reality also is when that grandmother is thinking about making a phone call, she may be making a phone call to report activity by someone who played in her backyard with her grandson,” Bishop Williams said. “That inner turmoil makes it difficult, especially if you see an organization as being outside of the community.”
Bishop Williams said his faith-based initiative is designed to offer another “compelling reason” for people to pick up the phone.
“We’re in touch with hurting people all over the city, people who are around our churches and have real needs, which some of the churches can meet,” Bishop Williams said. “So we started Project Good Samaritan. It’s an extension of Crimestoppers. We can do the touchy-feely work that Crimestoppers was never designed to do.”
The process is simple: Crimestoppers has added a couple of questions to its regular intake form that asks the family of a shooting victim if it is part of a church or would like some help.
“Maybe the person who was killed was the family’s breadwinner, and the family needs school supplies or uniforms or food or clothes,” Bishop Williams said. “We’ve started community response teams. Now Crimestoppers has a relationship with people who sit in the pews. It expands the role of the church to minister to hurting people.”
And then, just maybe, it will be easier for someone to pick up that 500-pound phone and make the call that makes our streets safer.