Gun violence discussion sparks laments, but also hope at screening of Trigger

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Written by Paul Seebeck. Originally published by General Assembly News, June 18, 2014.

As they gathered in one of America’s major cities with a reputation for violence, some of those attending the 221st General Assembly (2014) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) watched a denominationally produced documentary on gun violence, and then tackled how to address the issue.

“It’s insane really,” said Saul Green of Ceasefire Detroit, which works together with law enforcement and community service groups to impress upon young people the price they will pay for criminal activity. “Why are young people killing each other over mundane things like shoes, or cell phones?”

“We have them talk with victims of gun violence, like the mother in Trigger who suffers because her daughter is gone forever,” he said.

Green was speaking about Trigger: The Ripple Effect of Gun Violence, produced in part as a response to the 219th General Assembly (2010) resolution “Gun Violence, Gospel Values: Mobilizing in Response to God’s Call” and to shed light on the growing issue. The documentary is the result of a collaborative effort of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, Presbyterian Peacemaking Program and the Compassion, Peace, and Justice Ministry of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

Tuesday’s screening and discussion was sponsored by the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program, and featured a six-member panel including Detroit Police Officer Kevin Briggs, a member of Broadstreet Presbyterian Church.

“Forgive me, but watching this just now, it catches me,” he said, choking back emotion. “Kids are killing kids. I see dead people every day.”

The panel listed their laments: No background checks on gun purchases. Gun trafficking. Stolen guns. The “straw purchases,” one person buying a gun for somebody else. The National Rifle Association lobbying effort on behalf of the gun manufacturers.

“As Christians, when we allow politicians to be bought for guns to flow freely, we are directly opposed to the values of Jesus Christ,” said J. Herbert Nelson, director of the church’s Office of Public Witness in Washington, D.C.

“I can say this as an African-American man: When white children are killed and no gun legislation is enacted, the political spheres have been shut down in this country.”

The panel also spoke about dealing with poverty – the lack of education and economic opportunities – and the difficult issue of mental illness.

I’m struck by the lack of value that Emmet felt for his life
Yet the panel exuded hope, and belief in the resiliency of the human spirit.

Emmet Mitchell, founder of Milestones Agency, which serves African-American males from 5 through fatherhood, was shot at for the first time when he was 15.

“It was my badge of honor,” he said.

Mitchell dropped out of school, joined a gang and did drugs. Even though someone tried to take his life when he was 19, he was willing to take the chance of getting killed.

“How much value did I place on my life?” he asked.

Gradually Mitchell realized his violence was a learned behavior; it didn’t have to be a response to conflict resolution.

He grew in relationship to God, began to reflect on the kind of legacy he wanted to leave his children, the impact he wanted to have on his community.

“The women in prison tell me that long before crime happens, guns are a huge part of their lives,” said Mary Lynn Stevens, a volunteer sponsor for National Lifers of America who works with individuals in prison to reform their lives and prison culture.

Stevens said that women also told her that being threatened by guns, and the fear of being targets, was normal to them.

“I’m struck by the lack of value that Emmet felt for his life,” said Laurie Kraus, coordinator for Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, which works with first responders to communities suffering after mass violence shooting.

“There’s always an initial outpouring that comes, shattering any differences we have,” she said. “It gives me hope. But we must find a way to translate this into will and courage to sustain change – and then do the hard transformation of addressing the gun violence which has become such a part of daily life –in our inner cities, and across America.”

TRIGGER coming to Detroit June 17th!

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As part of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s 221st General Assembly in Detroit, the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program will host a screening of Trigger followed by a panel discussion on Tuesday, June 17th, from 7:00 – 9:30 PM.

The panel discussion, moderated by Kevin Johnson, pastor of Detroit’s Calvary Presbyterian Church, will include voices from Detroit as well as the PC(U.S.A.)’s national staff:

• Officer Kevin Briggs, Detroit Police Department
• Saul Green, J.D., Ceasefire Detroit
• Mary Lynn Stevens, National Lifers of America at Huron Valley Correctional Facility, Ypsilanti, MI
• Rev. Laurie Kraus, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance
• Rev. Dr. J Herbert Nelson, PC(U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness

You won’t want to miss this powerful and inspiring night of learning and dialogue. To reserve your ticket to this free event, please RSVP to trigger@pcusa.org.

PC(USA) documentary on the ripple effect of gun violence shown as part of MLK Week

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Community gathers in the Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church during MLK Week in Atlanta for a screening and discussion on gun violence.

As part of a weeklong celebration in honor of Martin Luther King Jr., Trigger: The Ripple Effect of Gun Violence was shown to more than 100 attendees at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta last week. The hour-long documentary, which was developed with funds from Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA), aims to shift the conversation about gun violence prevention from the polarizing extremes that often dominate the debate and to frame the dialogue as a public health issue that needs to be addressed from various angles.

Last week’s community-wide screening brought together leaders from across Atlanta to participate in a post-screening discussion about local issues of gun violence and to facilitate conversations about how groups can begin to work together to address the issue. Panelists included:

  • Lucy McBath, mother of gun violence victim Jordan Davis and spokesperson for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America;
  • Sgt. Corey Andry, Atlanta Police Department (APD);
  • Local rap artist and community organizer Mike “Killer Mike” Render;
  • The Rev. Raphael Warnock, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church Horizon Sanctuary; and
  • Alice Johnson, executive director of Georgians for Gun Safety and Community Affairs Liaison (APD)

The screening and discussion in Atlanta was one of more than 100 events that have taken place across the country in the last year.

“We were encouraged by the thoughtful dialogue, which included a discussion about responsible gun ownership, and we believe our efforts were advanced by the event. We know that many in the audience expressed their desire to become involved,” Johnson said.

Trigger was produced in part as a response to the 219th General Assembly (2010) resolution “Gun Violence, Gospel Values: Mobilizing in Response to God’s Call” to shed light on the growing issue in an effort to “take responsibility to build public awareness of gun violence and the epidemic of preventable gun-related deaths.”

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s gun violence prevention initiative, including the production of Trigger, is a collaborative effort of PDA, the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program and the Office of Public Witness, which are all programs of the Compassion, Peace and Justice Ministry of the PC(USA).

To learn more about how to host a similar event in your community, order a screening kit.

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Attendees were given the opportunity to ask panelists questions about gun violence prevention in their community.

Panelists

L to R: Rev. Raphael Warnock, Lucy McBath, Sgt. Corey Andry, Alice Johnson, Ronnie Mosley of Georgia Millenial Movement, PC(USA) Filmmaker David Barnhart, Mike “Killer Mike” Render, Sara Lisherness, Director of PC(USA)’s Compassion Peace and Justice Ministry.

 

Trigger in Iowa City: Ripples 2 Waves

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In April of 2013, members at First Presbyterian Church of Iowa City viewed the documentary, Trigger: The Ripple Effect of Gun Violence, as part of an adult education study. Moved by the film, members of the church’s peace and justice committee began discussing how they could initiate a conversation about gun violence within the wider community.

To accomplish this, they formed a committee called “Ripples 2 Waves,” after a Mother Teresa quote: “I alone cannot change the world but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” President Obama’s remarks on the anniversary of the Sandy Hook massacre also inspired their movement: “We can’t lose sight of the fact that real change won’t come from Washington. It will come the way it’s always come – from you. From the American people.” In building this grassroots movement, Ripples 2 Waves soon became an interfaith coalition, drawing members from Presbyterian, Methodist, Jewish, and agnostic backgrounds. They knew that a meaningful conversation would require having many voices at the table.

One founding member, Martha Schut, noted, “In the beginning I too thought, let’s just get rid of assault weapons and high capacity magazines.” However, through the committee’s research and discussions with community members, it became clear that responsible gun owners weren’t the enemy. “I would recommend having responsible gun owners as part of the process,” Schut stated. After all, Ripples 2 Waves wasn’t seeking to eliminate the Second Amendment, but to find middle ground. For this reason, they adopted the slogan, “A Community Effort for Sensible Gun Use.”

Ripples 2 Waves decided to use Trigger: The Ripple Effect of Gun Violence to start the conversation. They planned a free community screening and panel discussion at the Coralville Performing Arts Center and devised a promotional plan that included newspaper ads, letters to the editor, invitations to partner organizations and community leaders, a website (ripples2waves.org), and interviews with local television and radio stations. They invited panelists representing sectors of the community that deal with gun violence on a regular basis:

• Kristie Doser, Executive Director, Domestic Violence Intervention Program
• Joe Bolkcom, Iowa State Senator, 4th District
• Jim Claypool, Attorney/gun owner
• Bernie Frank, Co-pastor of Gospel Explosion Ministry/gun violence victim
• Joan McMillan, Retired substance abuse counselor/gun owner,
• Lonny Pulkrabek, Johnson County Sheriff
• Stephen Trefz, Executive Director, Community Mental Health Mid-Eastern Iowa
• Mike Willey, MD, UIHC Orthopedic Surgeon.

On a cold January night, over 265 people turned out to view the film, hear the panelist, and connect with local organizations. The evening’s program was filmed and shown on the local public television channel several times the following week. Since then, the committee has received a strong, positive reaction from the community. Ripples 2 Waves members believe the event was a success, but also know that their work has just begun. To follow their progress, visit ripples2waves.org.

Panelist Bernie Frank recounts her experience as a gun violence survivor

Panelist Bernie Frank recounts her experience as a gun violence survivor

After the film, viewers were encouraged to connect with local organizations, like the Domestic Violence Intervention Program

After the film, viewers were encouraged to connect with local organizations, such as Iowa’s Domestic Violence Intervention Program