Nobody knows exactly when Louisville turned into a 21st century incarnation of Dodge City. But nine shootings in a dozen days — shootings that resulted in five deaths — will do that to a place’s self-perception.
Everybody agrees that something is terribly wrong. Too many guns, an illegal drug industry that is far too vigorous, too many unemployed young people in a world of few jobs. All that has left a segment of our population with too little hope, with little expectation that their lives can ever change.
The wrongs are easily identified; making things right, of course, is a far more complicated undertaking.
But here’s something important to remember: While we’re tempted to focus, for now, on the West End as the birthplace of this recent violence, we should also realize that this problem belongs to everyone. It’s a city issue, not a neighborhood issue.
Remember last July when The Record carried a series of stories about four members of St. Martin de Porres Church who’d lost family members to violence? Assistant Editor Marnie McAllister provided a compelling narrative that showed these women — Kathryn Gaines, Rita Shoulders, Victoria Cox and Ruth Lowe — were like mothers and grandmothers, sisters and aunts all over this community. They were all victims of violence but had raised their voices in opposition to the death penalty and to the continuing carnage.
They wanted — they prayed — for the violence to end and one of them, Ruth Lowe, noted last summer that “human beings without love are capable of anything.”
That’s a verity that has been proven again and again in recent days. Television and newspaper interviews of those surrounded by the recent shootings have indicated that many are living in fear, and residents say the people involved in the violence are filled with anger, with a palpable rage.
One man, the uncle of a recent shooting victim, spoke with a forlorn resignation about what’s been happening.
“All the reporters and the city officials will come down and pay attention to us for a little while,” he said. “Then they’ll move on to something else and nothing will change.”
So what’s to be done?
Father John T. Judie, pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary and Christ the King churches in the West End, said the first thing we all must do is ask God to intervene in this situation. “Those of us who know God, the faith community, need to pray and to encourage people everywhere to do the same thing,” he said.
“Secondly, we need to look very seriously at what’s going on in society … what contributes to these kinds of things,” he said. “There’s always a story behind the violence — we need to ask, ‘What brought (our city) to this point?’ ”
And we need to realize, he said, that when something such as this violent outbreak happens in our town, it affects all of us.
“I’m getting calls from out of town; people throughout the nation are hearing about this,” Father Judie noted. “My point is we all need to learn how to share in the concern and responsibility for the factors at play, the factors that create these situations within our community. No one is exempt from these problems or from the responsibility of trying to find solutions.”
Deacon James R. Turner, pastoral administrator for St. Augustine and St. Martin de Porres churches, agrees that this is a community-wide issue, one that will take the involvement and engagement of the entire city to find a solution.
“For an argument to escalate to the point where life is lost, well, that says a lot about the value some people put on life,” he said. “If parents are acting out this kind of behavior, what kind of a role model does that provide for their children?”
He noted that the recent spate of shootings comes at the beginning of the summer months — and during the heat of July and August violence often seems to erupt more easily.
“When we reflect on it, we have to wonder what the summer is going to be like when the weather gets more heated,” he said. “It’s going to take our churches, our schools, our community centers, our leaders to find ways to give young people something to do. We have to develop ways of deflating situations before they escalate.”
Last week Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz said, in a statement he released about the shootings, that “the best antidote to violence is hope.”
Hope may be hard to find these days, but we all have a responsibility to help people discover it once again. We all need, as Archbishop Kurtz said, to make “determined efforts to instill a deep respect for human dignity and a commitment to solidarity and the common good.”