When the order to stay in place was lifted Friday after the worst mass shooting incident in the United States this year, residents of Lewiston, Maine, did what people often do in communities shaken by violence – they sought comfort in one another. They held early Halloween events to bask in the joy of children. They gathered for interfaith services in their places of worship.
Responses like those can have a welcome healing effect at times of acute mourning. Yet they also point to the storehouses of quiet strength behind a significant shift in thinking about public safety. Increasingly, communities are marshaling their own civic and religious resources to push beyond stuck and divisive political debates. Their solutions often start with qualities like compassion and empathy.
By staying “focused on the things that invite peace into our communities,” the Rev. Allen Austin, a pastor at Pathway Vineyard Church in Lewiston, urged residents at an interfaith service last night, what arises from tragedy is a “kinder people, a more compassionate people, a more merciful people.”
According to The Chronicle of Philanthropy, a focus on gun violence prevention among foundations and private donors has helped shift more public funding toward community-based approaches to public safety. These strategies focus on the building blocks of healthy communities, such as safe public parks and affordable housing. They emphasize caring for those most vulnerable after gun violence.
Approaches like these, involving faith leaders, police departments, local politicians, and residents, helped Indianapolis achieve a 15% reduction in gun-related homicides during the past year. Violence had declined in New York City and Oakland, California, through similar strategies. Congress has taken note. The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act last year earmarked $13 billion to address the root causes of gun violence. It included funding for community-based solutions.
The key, according to a community leader surveyed by The Chronicle of Philanthropy, is to treat potential offenders as human beings who are “not to be thrown away as if they’re of no value.”
“Having empathy isn’t about being a pushover,” a Security magazine study found. “It is about remembering that most people who threaten violence do so because they are in crisis and looking for ways that security leaders can help them solve that crisis or ride it out through support.”
Nearly three decades ago, Boston’s Black clergy responded to high rates of gun violence by engaging gangs and drug dealers. They recovered communities block by block. Their example has now become a model adopted across the U.S. One effect is to replace resignation with individual agency. “We will not be defined by the tragedies that happened,” the Rev. Todd Little, a Pentecostal minister, told residents gathered at the vigil last night. “Fear, anxiety and trepidation will not dictate our present or our future.”
Like communities elsewhere, Lewiston may now discover the resources it needs to heal from violence by turning to a greater love of community.