Gov. Bevin calls for groups to walk, pray in neighborhoods hit hard by gun violence in Louisville

06/01/2017 07:16 PM

Gov. Matt Bevin received a mixed reaction Thursday to his call for prayer groups in response to rising gun violence in Louisville, with some at Western Middle School standing and applauding the idea while others left the packed auditorium in disbelief.

Bevin urged the hundreds of faith and community leaders who assembled at the West End school to form groups of up to 10 people and pick a block in areas of the city impacted most by gun violence to walk and pray for residents there at least twice a week for a year.

The governor, who read scripture during his remarks, said he hoped those groups “take ownership” of their selected blocks as they come to know and embrace those who live there, adding to reporters afterward that he’s a believer “in the power of prayer.”

“Approach it with a spirit of humility so that that block can take ownership of you and that a piece of your heart and soul is left around the edges of that block every time you walk around it,” Bevin said at the middle school.

Bevin suggested meeting at a regular time before embarking each day, using 7 p.m. during the summer months as an example.

He his proposal is a piece to the solution to Louisville’s rising gun violence. The Courier Journal has reported that the 52 homicides through May puts this year on pace to surpass the previous high of 124 homicides last year.

Reaction to Bevin’s call for prayer in neighborhoods in and near Louisville’s West End from those in the audience Thursday varied.

Community activist Christopher 2X — who attended the meeting with Micheshia Norment, mother of 7-year-old DeQuante Hobbs who was killed by a stray bullet while eating cake in his home May 21, and Cierra Twyman-Miller, mother of 16-month-old Ne’Riah Miller who was fatally shot on her front porch in August 2014 — said he was happy to hear Bevin appeal for a spiritual response to gun violence in Louisville.

“Here’s the way I look at it: I think all tools are needed,” 2X told Spectrum News. “I know many people with good-faith efforts are trying to tackle this issue. No doubt in my mind about that.

“What I believe he’s doing right now is pretty simple: He’s just asking people to consider being a part of trying to motivate as far as a spirit-building process to get people to see the sanctity of life in each other.”

But others left the meeting frustrated at what they heard from the governor. The Rev. Tim Findley said Bevin “should be ashamed of himself,” adding that faith leaders are “already marching and we’re already praying” in the community.

“If the governor wants to see change in this area, he ought to send money, opportunities and different things of that nature,” Findley told Spectrum News. “This was a waste of time.”

Terra Epps echoed Findley, saying residents in Louisville’s West End are starving for economic progress.

“These people have no jobs, they’re looking at dilapidated housing, their schools are failing,” she said. “What are we going to march around and say? Sometime is coming? We need opportunities. We need to be able to physically meet these people’s needs and then we can deal with the hope issue if that’s what we’re going to say is the problem. There’s no hope. Look at what we’re looking at in our neighborhoods.”

State Sen. Gerald Neal, whose district includes west Louisville, also said he had hoped for additional resources dedicated to the area as part of the governor’s plan, adding that he thinks Bevin “doesn’t understand what’s going on in this community.”

While he applauded the spirit of Bevin’s proposal, he said groups have assembled for prayer “for decades in our communities.”

“I’ve got three blocks myself, but that’s not going to solve this problem,” said Neal, D-Louisville. “It’s too complex. It takes resources. If his message was, ‘I’m bringing resources and I’m going to coordinate them with your organizers like the mayor’s office and community leaders and community initiatives,’ then that makes sense to me.”

But Bevin, who said that his idea would not include spending when he announced Thursday’s meeting, said “no amount of money from any source” would end violence in Louisville.

He encouraged state and city leaders to continue initiatives that have costs, such as his administration’s efforts in skills training for recently released felons as they transition back into society.

“We’re using that document like it has never been used in our lifetimes in this state to address this issue,” Bevin said during a post-meeting press conference at Shawnee Park, referencing the biennal budget. “That’s a straight-up fact. People can agree with it, disagree with it, but that is a numerical fact.

“But the point of today was to talk about something that wasn’t financial. Those things are important. They need to continue, no question, but so too are other things that cost only time, consistency and attention from people.”

Asked about potential legislative action to address gun violence, Bevin said the sight of lawmakers from both parties in the audience Thursday “encouraged” him on that front.

The governor noted that he has often spoken in support of offering second chances for those who make mistakes.

“It’s been a highlight of mine,” he said. “It will continue to be.”

Rep. Darryl Owens, D-Louisville, sponsored a bill in this year’s legislative session that would have allowed consolidated local governments like Louisville Metro to regulate firearms and ammunition, noting that a group of local faith and community organizations included reforming gun regulations in its 10 recommendations to help curb gun violence.

“But the governor wouldn’t support that nor would the Republicans support it,” Owens said, referring to the GOP-held General Assembly.

Bevin said he and his family would participate in prayer walks in West Louisville, as did Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton. He encouraged others from elsewhere in the state to start similar initiatives in their communities.


Subscribe to email updates.

Subscribe and get the latest political intelligence delivered to your inbox.