This post is a participation in “Presbyterian Bloggers Unite: Gun Violence.” To read more posts on gun violence by other Presbyterian bloggers, click here.
As a New Church Development pastor, I’ve been spending the past year or so getting to know my new neighborhood, and searching for needs which the church might meet. Frankly, gun violence is not one of them in Squirrel Hill. In fact, Squirrel Hill has one of the lowest crime rates of all of Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods. A critical factor in this is the Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition’s “Cizizens’ Patrol” program. Every night, a Squirrel Hill resident or family drive the streets of the neighborhood and report any suspicious activity to police. Since the program was initiated, gun violence and other crimes have been steadily on the decline.
I recently attended the most recent Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition meeting, though, and was somewhat saddened by what I heard. The coordinator of the Citizens’ Patrol appealed for more volunteers and stressing the need to take action in our neighborhood. He also remarked (quote not verbatim), “Someone once criticized the Citizens’ Patrol, saying that what we should really be doing is patrolling neighborhoods like Homewood (a less wealthy neighborhood with a higher crime rate). That person misses the point. People in Homewood should be patrolling Homewood.”
This comment made me cringe. I immediately thought, “Well, yes. Ideally, Homewood residents would patrol their own neighborhood. But does that ideal excuse us from responsibililty?” Afterall, is it reasonable to expect a neighborhood with a higher rate of poverty to have the same financial resources to start a Citizens’ Patrol? Can they afford the vehicle signage, radio equipment, and training programs that are necessary? Does anyone in that neighborhood even have a vision for such a program? Couldn’t we provide some resources, or at least the creative inspiration for them to create such a program in their own neighborhood?
The coordinator of this program then acknowledged that the Citizens’ Patrol has effectively pushed crime out of Squirrel Hill… and into neighborhoods like Homewood. It seems to me that as long as we only take care of our own, the problem of gun violence is only going to shift from one neighborhood to another. Jesus calls us to love our neighbors, and he also redefined who our neighbors are. The problem of gun violence is not just a problem for churches in high-crime areas to solve. It’s a problem for the whole Body of Christ to face together.