A group of local clergy and community organizers will hold a “Fathers Peace Walk” for the first time after dark Friday, throughout some of St. Louis’ most dangerous neighborhoods. The event, held two days before Father’s Day, aims to confront high levels of crime in the area.
Fathers will lead the walk, beginning at 7:30 p.m. in front of West Side Missionary Baptist Church, 4675 Page Blvd., in north St. Louis, while mothers lead prayers inside the church.
The Rev. Ken McKoy of the Progressive A.M.E Zion Church organized the walk. He said peace walks have been done before, but usually during earlier hours in the day.
“We’re hoping that people will come out, but we understand the risks,” McKoy said.
A public health crisis
St. Louis has seen 78 homicides this year. That includes a recent shooting that led to the death of 7-year-old Deniya Irving, along with three others involved in the same incident.
McKoy said the recent spike in gun crime has caused a greater sense of urgency for groups like NightLIFE, a violence prevention group, to continue its work. He calls the issue a “public health crisis” that needs to be addressed and cites Cure Violence’s model of reducing crime as a starting point. The Chicago-based organization uses disease control and behavior change methods to reduce violence and crime globally.
“You have to go in those communities during those high crime hours and you have to figure out a way to make the right kind of connections and right kind of relationships,” McKoy said. “Otherwise, you really won’t make a difference.”
McKoy founded NightLIFE, a group that conducts walks through neighborhoods heavily affected by crime every Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 10:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. They offer prayer, food and education and training opportunities to those they come across.
Public Official Response
St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson addressed the issue of gun crimes this month by proposing more money for police and advocating for more gun control. McKoy said he agrees that Missouri needs tougher gun control laws and applauds law enforcement officers for what they do.
But he said additional funding is simply not enough. He advocates for more police officers assigned to work in beats.
“You can’t necessarily hurt anything with more police officers but I’m more concerned about what the church can do, what community organizers can do, what we can do to reduce crime ourselves,” McKoy said.
He encourages people of all backgrounds and faiths to attend Friday's event and says it’s open to anyone who is passionate about ending gun violence in the community.