Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin said Thursday that his plan to confront growing violence in Louisville is to have roaming prayer groups.
Bevin urged faith leaders, public officials and residents at a community meeting to take a 10-block span in the city’s West End, walk corner to corner, and pray with the community two to three times a week during the next year.
He said later Thursday that the walks are meant to be organic and won't necessarily be led by his office. He didn't specify a start date but suggested that local churches should get involved with the effort.
"I'm going to ask you to walk that block, do it at the same time every single week," Bevin said. "I'm going to ask you to stick with your block all year."
As of Thursday morning, Louisville Metro Police had handled 52 criminal homicide investigations, according to a Courier-Journal count. That put the department on pace to surpass the 118 investigations last year, the most in the department's 14-year history. An additional 145 people had been shot through April.
Mayor Greg Fischer, who was not at Bevin's meeting, said solutions to violence "are many, but a lot of them require resources obviously" from housing to education and health care. He said his administration always encourages residents to get more involved with the Office of Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods and other community programs.
"This is not going to be solved overnight, so if anybody wants to help, we welcome you," Fischer said.
At least 400 people crammed into a school auditorium to listen to the governor's speech, which was met with hecklers, applause and, occasionally, standing ovations.
Toya Johnson, a retired bus driver, said the problems are not only violence but also drugs and homelessness. She thinks investing money in the West End is a better solution.
During the speech, Johnson yelled out, calling Bevin a "hyprocite." Others called out, asking if Bevin was going to participate in the block walks.
“He doesn't care about the West End,” she said after walking out early. “He is an insult to Louisville. ... He won’t come down and walk with us.”
Micheshia Norment, whose 7-year-old son Dequante Hobbs was killed by a stray bullet last week, was sitting in the front row of the auditorium.
Norment said Bevin's plan was a "good thought" but she was skeptical of how it would work. She said she doesn't see his plan effecting change.
"It doesn't matter if it's practical or not," Norment said. "It won't bring my son back."
Thirty minutes before the meeting, the West Louisville Ministers Coalition held a pre-press conference rebuking Bevin's approach to solving the violence. The ministers suggested 10 ways for Bevin to curb the killings.
"If you are serious about fixing violence in west Louisville, then you must have the courage to address its root causes of injustice and racism," the Rev. Clay Calloway said.
Rashaad Abdur-Rahman, director of Safe & Healthy Neighborhoods, which leads many of Louisville Metro's anti-violence programs, said while going into the governor's meeting that many of Bevin's comments were worrying.
"Unfortunately, I think he's already indicated that he's not interested in bringing resources to the table," Abdur-Rahman said. "He's really having an oversimplified discussion about a cultural and spiritual deficit, which is really irresponsible at the end of the day."
Calloway, an associate pastor at St. Stephen Baptist, exited the meeting with Bevin after about an hour, saying he needed a “barf bag” because he was sick of the governor’s religious overture. He and a group of clergymen admonished Bevin for failing to offer any political solutions as an elected official.
“He didn’t say anything of substance,” Calloway said. “He has a responsibility to produce public policy, regulation and provide resources. We don’t need a sermon or him quoting Scripture, we know the Bible and we’re already praying.”
But some people left the event encouraged by Bevin’s remarks.
Demetrius Gray, CEO of Reliant Exteriors, said the governor was sending a message to faith leaders outside of western Louisville to get more involved. He said his company will seek to adopt two blocks in the Russell neighborhood because of Bevin's remarks.
“We probably could be doing more and I did feel challenged in that way,” said Gray, who attends Southeast Christian Church, which Bevin also attends. “And to be honest, it’s the first time we’ve ever been asked.”
Metro Councilwoman Angela Leet, a Republican who has called for Louisville police Chief Steve Conrad to resign over the homicide rate, said the governor displayed courage by talking so openly about the role faith must play in combating violence.
“For a politician to step out and wear his spirituality on his sleeve I thought was a good thing, and I’m motivated on how to adopt a block and take that first step,” she said.
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