Shootings shock city; religious leaders search for answers

Record Editor

This makeshift shrine was erected near the corner of 32nd and Kentucky streets at the site where 24-year-old Makeba Lee was shot and killed May 17 in Louisville’s Parkland neighborhood. Lee was one of three people who died in shootings that day, and the violence in recent weeks has galvanized community and religious leaders into talking about ways to help our wounded city. (Record Photo by Glenn Rutherford)

After the May 17 shootings that left three people dead and three others wounded, the city’s leaders — including representatives of the Catholic Church — began looking for ways to respond to what has become all-too-frequent street violence.

Last Thursday’s shootings on 32nd Street were just the latest in what has been a particularly violent prelude to summer. Ten shootings have occurred in the last two weeks — all of them within a 20-block area in the city’s west side. On the very next day, May 18, two young men began shooting at each other near Shawnee High School shortly after noon.

That situation resulted in the Louisville Metro Police Department deploying its SWAT — Special Weapons and Tactics — team, but it ended peacefully with an arrest. Then there were two more shootings over the weekend and early in the week that resulted in one additional death.

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz responded to last week’s events in a statement released May 18. It said:

“On behalf of all Catholics, I extend my deepest sympathy to the families of those who have been touched by the recent violence in West Louisville. Please know that our prayers are with you as you struggle with the senseless loss of those you love.

“I join with all in our community in a deep sadness about this loss of life,” his statement said. Then it quoted the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ 1994 publication called “Confronting a Culture of Violence: A Catholic Framework for Action” which said “Our families are torn by violence. Our communities are destroyed by violence. Our faith is tested by violence.”

The archbishop said he joined “people of faith and good will in seeking to promote peace within our neighborhoods.”

“I pray that joint efforts among our parishes and congregations, social service and civic agencies, and all of the fine ecumenical and interfaith activities in our community can work together to address and prevent what we have seen over the past several weeks,” he said. “Ultimately the best antidote to violence is hope, along with determined efforts to instill a deep respect for human dignity and a commitment to solidarity and the common good.”

Father John T. Judie, pastor of both Immaculate Heart of Mary Church on 34th Street and Christ the King Church 10 blocks further west, noted that street violence — especially gun violence — isn’t a problem for just a single neighborhood. It’s a problem for the entire city, he said, and it will take the efforts of the city as a whole to find a solution.

Deacon James R. Turner, pastoral administrator at St. Augustine and St. Martin de Porres churches agreed.

“People who have this happen in their community don’t want it to occur there any more than anyone else wants it in their neighborhood,” he said in a telephone interview May 18. “It takes every individual — it takes the entire community — working to deflate this kind of thing.”

Father Judie suggested that the first thing the people of the Archdiocese of Louisville — and the city as a whole — can do is to pray. “We need to ask God to intervene in this human situation,” he said, “this violence that affects us in so many wrong, negative and destructive ways.

“We need to employ the power of prayer more often and more strongly,” he suggested. “This is an issue that is obviously a lot bigger than people’s human reasoning power.”

Father Judie also noted that Louisville is a small, close-knit community, one that has been frightened and shocked by the continuing violence. “You cannot imagine the number of people who are related or close to those involved in this issue,” he said. “We have to pray that there is no sense of a need for retaliation or vengeance. We have to pray that it doesn’t spin even further out of control.”

The second thing the community should do in response to this outbreak of gun violence is to “look seriously at the different layers of what’s happening in society that contribute to this type of thing,” he suggested. “There’s always a story behind it; we need to look at what brought things to this point, and I’m sure there were lots of contributing factors.”

But this much is certain, he noted: A child has, in a matter of a few pulls on a trigger, become an orphan.

“There are indications that this was a stable, intact family situation,” the priest noted. “We have, at this time in our history, a lot of children being brought into the world by parents who aren’t married. That’s common across the nation.”

And it’s just one of a series of cultural situations that contribute to lives that are less than stable and sometimes prone to a sub-culture of violent activity.

“It’s not just a West End issue,” Father Judie noted. “I spent 10 years (at a parish) in the East End, so I know there is violence there, too. There is violence in all parts of this city.”

But when shootings or other tragedies occur in neighborhoods other than our own, he said, “people often don’t see the need to call themselves into prayer.”

We all need to share concern and assume responsibility for fixing the factors that lead to violence on our streets, he said.

“No one is exempt,” Father Judie added. “We’re all in this together.”

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