Five days after a 4-year-old boy was shot and killed in a Bronx playground, a coalition of clergy members and politicians gathered at City Hall on Friday to call on city churches to play a larger role in preventing gun violence in their neighborhoods.
The clergy members, all leaders of black or Hispanic churches, pledged to build personal relationships with local police officers, to use their pulpits to speak out against carrying guns and to steer local youth away from gangs through mentoring.
“We’re asking them to not just have their activities on Sunday mornings,” said the Rev. Joseph Mattera, the senior pastor of Resurrection Church in Brooklyn, standing in front of a crowd that held up signs with anti-gun slogans. “We’re encouraging them to be more holistic to serve their communities.”
He and the other speakers pinpointed family problems and the lack of jobs for young people as root causes for the violence — issues that community leaders could work to address, they said. Mr. Mattera said he hoped clergy members could persuade local business owners to hire young people to keep them busy and off the streets.
But most important, they said, clergy members could use their influence to draw awareness to the issue and serve as intermediaries between the police and youth, turning churches into safe spaces where people could turn in guns or report gun possession. Others suggested using churches as places where those convicted of misdemeanors could perform their community service.
“There is power in the pulpit,” said the Rev. Michael Faulkner, the pastor of New Horizon Church in Harlem. “That power has to be used to bring stability and security to our community.”
Several of the clergy members spoke about the gun violence that has broken out across the city this summer, like the gunfight on Sunday that killed the 4-year-old, Lloyd Morgan.
State Senator Malcolm A. Smith, a Democrat from Queens, who is pushing for state legislation that would prohibit people with certain mental health issues from buying guns, said the city’s shootings were reminiscent of the crime that gripped the city in the 1980s. “We won’t go back, and we can’t go back to the way things were,” he said.