Gov. Matt Bevin urged people Thursday to form prayer groups that walk Louisville’s high-crime neighborhoods as a way to battle gun violence that has plagued Kentucky’s largest city.
The proposal received a mixed reaction from a crowd of several hundred faith leaders and interested citizens who packed into the auditorium of Western Middle School.
“This was a waste of time,” said the Rev. Timothy Findley of Kingdom Fellowship Christian Life Center in Louisville. “Prayer is always good, but we’ve been praying a long time and it’s time government offer some practical help like funding for jobs, education and youth centers.”
Pastor Jerry Stephenson of Midwest Church of Christ said most of the people at the meeting were pleased with the governor “and a small group of people had different expectations.”
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He said Bevin is the only sitting governor he can recall who has come to west Louisville to talk about its problems. “I think his suggestion of starting with prayer will be good for Louisville, Lexington and all our urban areas that have so much crime and violence.”
VanToya Johnson, who lives in west Louisville, loudly shouted out “hypocrite” to Bevin as she left the meeting.
“He was up there running off his mouth and he didn’t give nobody a question or voice their opinion about what to do. I’m sick and tired of this killing,” she said.
Louisville had 123 homicides last year, mostly by gun, breaking the previous record of 110 set in 1971. The city is on pace this year to break the 2016 record.
Bevin, who held a news conference at Shawnee Park after the meeting, said he was encouraged by the gathering and that “maybe 10 to 15 percent” seemed disappointed and started expressing their opinions after the media was allowed to enter about halfway through the meeting.
The Rev. Clay Calloway, founder of the West Louisville Ministers Coalition, said everyone should appreciate Bevin’s efforts to try to curb violence, but he is wrong if he does not think it will take more government dollars.
He said his group has proposed several ideas, such as a more equitable distribution of state government contracts to minority-owned businesses, an educational curriculum that reflects the contributions of blacks, better protections of citizens who cooperate with police, and changing legislation “that has made it easier to buy a gun in west Louisville than a piece of fresh fruit.”
State Reps. Reginald Meeks and Darryl Owens, both Louisville Democrats, said Bevin, a Republican, should offer a more concrete plan of action.
“There’s been people doing for years what he’s talking about,” said Meeks.
MAN UP, a group of men who have been working in Louisville for three years to reduce crime and violence, said in a news release that it supports Bevin’s prayer initiative and apologized for “the unruly people who acted disgracefully” at the meeting.
Bevin, who is open about his Christian faith, said most of the people were at the meeting “because they genuinely want to be part of a solution.”
He said he told the crowd that there was not one solution to the problem and he had no issue with people there who offered different ideas.
As a starting point, said Bevin, his idea is “harnessing people of faith to pray for the community, engage with the community by physically walking blocks in that community, praying for the community for the people in those communities and engaging with them.”
He suggested forming groups of three to 10 people who will quietly walk and pray on a specific block in one of the affected communities two to three times a week for a year.
Bevin asked the media to respect the groups so the walks will not turn into a “media boondoggle.” He said his family and he will participate in the walks.
“I personally believe in the power of prayer,” he said.
He displayed five large maps of areas in Louisville plagued by violence.
One of this year’s shooting victims was 7-year-old Dequante Hobbs Jr., who was killed inside his home on May 22 by a stray bullet shot from outside.
The child’s mother, Micheshia Normant, was at Bevin’s meeting, along with Sierra Tyman Miller, whose 16-month-old child, Ne’Rich Miller, was shot and killed in 2014.
Bevin said he will be looking for other solutions to address the problem and hopes to present ideas to the state legislature in January.