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Responding to an epidemic of guns, violence and COVID-19

Coronavirus case counts continue to increase in the Milwaukee and so does gun violence. More specifically, the Milwaukee homicide is double what it was last year at this time. If we see gun violence continue at this pace, homicides in Milwaukee will be at a level not experienced for decades.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barret stated, "I am very troubled by what I'm seeing in Milwaukee this year." Violence is troubling. Gun violence is troubling. The pandemic is troubling and underlying issues are troubling. Reggie Moore, Director of Milwaukee's Office of Violence Prevention, put it this way. "This (violence) underscores the level of stress and trauma that the pandemic has created, on top of the already ongoing stress and trauma from concentrated poverty and unemployment and other issues that families were struggling with."

Perhaps, at times, we struggle with knowing how to respond to violence and to underlying issues. Willie Murphy, Milwaukee Police Department District 7 Captain, recently reminded members of the District 7 Faith-Based Initiative group of one way to respond. He wrote, "I know you all and your congregations/assemblies are praying. Thank you all for continuing to do so." We can respond by continuing to pray.

We can understand there is a need for the respect and dignity of every human being. I was reminded of this a few weeks ago during a community conversation I attended. Local media was there. The headline read: Key stakeholders hold honest conversation on racism and police brutality in Milwaukee. The reporter wrote: "Together, retired law enforcement, community leaders and concerned residents gathered at a local church on Milwaukee's north side to talk openly and honestly about racism and police brutality. All in attendance weren't holding back. They came together to brainstorm ways they can change the culture, plaguing Milwaukee and the country, a culture where to this day police brutality happens and where people are judged by the color of their skin or background."

During that conversation, retired Milwaukee Assistant Chief of Police, Ray Banks, stood up and said: "We need people to understand that all anybody wants whether you're black, white, blue or purple is to be treated with dignity and respect. We're all in this fight together." Ray Banks is right. We are in this fight - this struggle - this work - together. So, together, we can respond by continuing to stand up, stand for, and work for the dignity and respect of all human beings.

Another human being said, ". . . the pandemic has brought financial hardship and a host of other uncertainties and stressors. Kids are out of school, parents might not be working and people may be stuck at home with abusive partners. Nationally, the pandemic has also spurred an increase in gun sales."

Bishops United Against Gun Violence is a national network of nearly one hundred Episcopal Church bishops that urges our cities, states and nation to adopt policies and pass legislation that will reduce the number of people in the United States killed and wounded by gunfire.

Milwaukee's Sojourner Family Peace Center is the largest nonprofit provider of domestic violence prevention and intervention services in Wisconsin. Sojourner provides an array of support aimed at helping families affected by domestic violence achieve safety, justice and well-being.

These are two examples of a seemingly endless list of national and local entities that provide individual participation possibilities and congregational involvement opportunities. We can participate and we can be involved.

We can also listen. As we think about where to participate or mull over how to be involved or want to know what to do, we can listen. And I invite us to listen to this proverb.

Listen to the wind, it talks.
Listen to the silence, it speaks.
Listen to your heart, it knows.

~The Rev. Kevin Stewart, Missioner for Community Engagement