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In the wake of a spate of fatal shootings across the Washington area, a veteran prison chaplain has organized a meeting in an effort to find long-term solutions.
Last month, eight people were shot, all with non-life-threatening injuries, in two separate locations in Southeast D.C.
Seven adult men were shot in the 500 block of Lebaum Street SE; in another scene, a 12-year-old girl was found suffering a gunshot wound to her lower extremities.
The Rev. Dr. Elwood Gray Jr., a former corrections facilities chaplain, said despite the fact the shootings were not in his neighborhood, he had to get involved.
“There will be an incident, followed by a press conference, but there needs to be more follow-up,” Gray said. “That’s why we and other community leaders need to come together to address the pending problem.”
The first four-and-a-half months of 2023 have included 22 mass killings across the U.S., more at this point in the year than in any other recent year, according to a database maintained by the Associated Press, Northeastern University and USA Today.
According to the Metropolitan Police Department, as of May 19, there have been 85 homicides in the District of Columbia compared to 77 homicides at this time last year.
In terms of robberies, MPD said there is a 20% increase with more than 1,023 this year, compared to 851 at this time last year. There have been 1,693 violent crimes this year, compared to 1,488 last year at this time.
While law enforcement officials have talked about solutions, Gray said he plans to solicit veteran groups as well as church and civic leaders in Montgomery County. Similar efforts are taking place in the District and Prince George’s County.
“We need to forge a unified effort of logistic strategies to address psychological and physiological effects of these unjustifiable shootings in our schools and neighborhoods,” said Gray.
The spiritual leader, who has worked in prisons, explained families and organizations from various segments of society must be involved.
“Everyone must be a factor in bringing forth a solution,” said Gray, adding that on June 1, leaders from various organizations will gather at People’s Community Baptist Church in Silver Spring, Maryland for an organizational meeting.
The Rev. George Gilbert, pastor of Holy Trinity United Baptist Church in Northeast, D.C. said he supports any effort to build relationships.
“Despite what is going on, our faith gives us hope for a brighter day,” Gilbert said. “The violence and crime is directly related to desert economics and spiritual despair.”
“Our city took away vocational options in the midst of a failing school system, and many churches are focused on preaching great sermons instead of making great people. We can’t help but to wonder how we got to this time,” Gilbert added.
While pastors of all genders have waged war against gun violence for years, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser is using the faith leaders on her team to work with women pastors to light a particular fire under an old issue.
Linda Harllee Harper, executive director of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement said the District’s initiatives to stop gun violence and improve outcomes for all residents are already bearing fruit.
“We just graduated 25 young people from a nine-week program who have turned their lives around,” Harper told The Informer.