After multiple teenage deaths in Lansing, leaders of the faith-based community felt they needed to help, said the Rev. Terrence King of Kingdom Ministries. King is one of seven members of the Assembly of Lansing Pastors, which recently issued a series of recommendations to address gun violence and other concerns in the city.
“We believe that we carry a unique role, that the resources that we have amongst our congregations, the resources that we have in our own background as faith leaders, and the resource of God, whom we believe can provide the insight and answers for us to resolve these issues in the form and in the practice of love,” King said.
The pastors gave a 25-page proposal to Lansing Mayor Andy Schor on how to reduce gun violence, racial discrimination and housing insecurities in the city. The group also recommended adding a review board to the police department.
“We want to make sure that we’re doing all that we can to help get these issues resolved in our communities so that everyone can live a better quality life and a safer life free from gun violence,” King said.
The faith community is an important partner in addressing these issues in any community, said Edmund McGarrell, a Michigan State University professor at the School of Criminal Justice. He said churches and other faith organizations often are among the strongest local institutions.
“They have a moral voice and can help organize various elements of the community to support prevention, intervention, and neighborhood revitalization efforts,” McGarrell said.
Another pastor in the assembly, Rev. Sean Holland of the Epicenter of Worship Church, said gun violence and homicides are not the root of the problem, “it’s the fruit of culminating issues within the community.” Holland said these issues can be solved by focusing on violence prevention and intervention.
Holland said the assembly is working in collaboration with community organizations that focus on racial equity, youth mentoring, violence prevention and intervention to “pull together all the folks who are making decisions that directly impact these issues.”
Advance Peace is among the organizations the pastors list as a solution to violence. DeVone Boggan, the founder of the organization and a Lansing native, said the program will be coming to Lansing next year to give a caring approach to those at the “center part of the gunfire activity.”
Boggan said he thinks most area residents — and law enforcement leaders — “would argue that certainly things need to be blown up, reshaped, redone, and have more community involved in what it would look like going forward.”
He said many communities have over-invested in the criminal justice system to address the problems causing violence and under-invested in programs to address root causes.
“I think the past, present and event future gun violence in communities of color is certainly a direct reflection of mass incarceration, and even the direct impact of unresolved social justice and racial justice,” Boggan said. “Mass incarceration has beat Black communities down since the ’90s and certainly one could argue even before that.”
Boggan said communities need to have things for young people to do and other programs in place to provide support.
“You’ve got to have support in place for them,” he said. “And you can’t let any young person fall through the cracks.”
Christopher Smith, a criminal justice professor at Michigan State University, said developing intervention programs at these levels might reduce conflicts in neighborhoods.
Nonprofits that focus on violence prevention and the faith-based community are important, but without the help of courts or police it can be hard to make change, Smith said. Additional help from the mayor could mean more resources and a more efficient process to solving the issue.
Schor spokesperson Scott Bean said in an email the mayor is taking immediate action to solve this issue. Schor proposed using city funds to partner with the state and county to bring Advance Peace to Lansing. He also formed a gun violence task force that includes city leaders and community partners.
Bean said another solution is getting illegal guns off the streets.
“We have to reduce the chances of young people getting their hands on these guns in the first place,” Bean said. “Next, we have to provide support to young people. Some of that is simply giving them opportunities like access to recreation or jobs in the community, some others may just need good mentors or life skills, and learning how to cope with tough situations, and that pulling out a gun is not the solution.”
People also need access to safe and affordable housing, said Derrick Knox Jr., lead pastor of Church of Elohim and chairperson of Michigan Poor People’s Campaign.
Knox runs a construction apprenticeship program and grew up working with his godfather, who owned about 50 rental properties in Lansing.
“It’s always been a passion of mine, but it’s also been something I’ve seen as a huge barrier in relation to not only the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of color) community when it comes to housing discrimination, but also all marginalized and disenfranchised folks,” Knox said.
“In this situation, we have a biblical mandate to stand for justice, to stand for righteousness, to stand for morality, to stand for integrity and to make sure we’re saying that throughout any community we serve.”