Updated 07/23/12 – 4:31 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) – Dozens of local ministers have declared this upcoming weekend “Peace Weekend,” and are asking people to work together to end street violence.
CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine reports it’s part of a major offensive against gun violence in Chicago. The initiative includes urging Chicagoans to attend religious this weekend to promote respect for human life, a lobbying campaign to get guns off the streets, and efforts to provide safe havens for young people throughout the city.
Rev. Ira Acree, pastor of Greater St. John Bible Church, said “The madness must end. It must cease. We’re just grateful to God that, this weekend, the moral leaders are declaring open doors, and we’re praying for peace, and preaching messages on peace. Not only that, we cannot just preach on peace, we must go into the streets and we must touch residents, we must touch the community.”
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In announcing their initiative on Monday, the ministers prayed, and sang, and noted last week’s mass murder in Colorado and other shooting massacres in the U.S.
“When in Aurora, Colorado, 12 people are shot to death and 58 are wounded, we call it a tragedy. When it happens in Chicago, we call it Saturday night,” said Rev. Philip Blackwell, senior pastor at the First United Methodist Church in the Loop. “We prayed after Virginia Tech. We prayed after Columbine. We prayed after Northern Illinois University. We pray now. But if, as the Christian scripture says, all of life is a prayer, then we have to put our words into action.”
Rev. Michael Pfleger, pastor at Saint Sabina, echoed those sentiments.
“We cannot, as a nation, come together and be outraged with what happened in Aurora, Colorado, and be silent and ignore and turn our backs to what’s happening in Chicago every single day,” Pfleger said.
Pastor Paco Amador, of New Life Church in Little Village, pointed to the March shooting death of 6-year-old Aliyah Shell, who was killed while sitting on her front porch. Two teenage gang members were charged with shooting Aliyah. They were allegedly gunning for members of a rival gang.
Amador said the outrage over the murders of innocent youths should be more than temporary.
“When a little girl is gunned down at her doorstep, the community rises up, comes together, and says ‘We can’t have this happen.’ But afterwards, we all go back to our homes,” he said.
Priests, pastors, rabbis, ministers from all over the city gathered at First United Methodist on Monday, not only to pray for peace, but to sign a covenant vowing to do something to stop the violence. This time, they promised, it’ll be more than words on a placard.
One example of the safe havens the ministers want to provide for children is found in the West Garfield Park neighborhood, where the Summer Haven program provides local youths more than just a safe place to play, and a healthy lunch every day.
“They learn about bullying, what’s bullying, what’s not to bully. They learn the rules of not hitting each other, don’t disrespecting each other,” volunteer Jemia Simpson said. “It’s difficult, nonetheless, but if you start young, they can grow up to learn it even more.”
Such programs are especially important in West Garfield Park, because just a few blocks away, at the same time, police were responding to a shooting that left one person dead and two others wounded.
Rev. Cy Fields, pastor of New Landmark Missionary Baptist Church, said, “the city of Chicago is quickly becoming the violence, or the murder capital of America.”
Pfleger has been waging the battle against gun violence for years, but he said things have changed, saying he feels “a tremendous sense of optimism” at Monday’s show of unity by ministers from across the city.
“There’s something that comes in numbers, and in support, and in coming together. There’s a power in that unity, so I think it becomes a new movement,” Pfleger said.
The ministers all said violence in one community is violence in every community. They said they plan to follow up the “Peace Weekend” with a violence summit the weekend after.
They already have a website to provide local youths with a list of activities similar to the Summer Haven program. They also vowed to increase political pressure for stricter gun registration laws, and outlawing high-powered weapons whose only use is to kill people.