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Bevin: Prayer, Community Walks Can Help Curb Violence In Louisville

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin believes prayer, coupled with community block walks, can help reduce violent crime in Louisville.

He pushed the importance of both during an event organized by his office Thursday at Western Middle School in Russell — a neighborhood that's accounted for more shootings than any other this year.

"We've seen throughout history, biblical history and world history, the power of prayer," he said.

The event came in response to a fatal shooting earlier this month, in which a 7-year-old boy was struck by a stray bullet while he sat inside his home.

Some 400 people packed into the school auditorium Thursday. Some shouted back at Bevin as he spoke from a lectern, citing crime statistics for West Louisville neighborhoods.

Bevin encouraged people to get out of their homes and walk their blocks, to pray with and talk to anyone that's willing. Doing so, he said, will lead to less violent crime and make communities safer.

"There's nothing difficult about it," he said. "Nothing complicated."

While Bevin drew some applause during his speech, some local leaders were not impressed.

State Sen. Gerald Neal, a District 33 Democrat, represents areas in western Louisville plagued by gun violence. He said faith-based groups in Louisville have for decades turned to prayer and community engagement efforts with hopes of reducing violent crime.

"As long as I've been alive," Neal said.

What's missing, he said, are resources to help further existing programs aimed at eradicating violence.

"There are all kinds of things we need in the community (that) we're not getting enough of," said Neal. Those things include jobs, housing and fresh food, he said.

"The greatest moral document that we have, at the state or federal level, is the budget," he said. "Good work is being done, but they need resources."

Louisville's criminal homicide tally is outpacing last year, which ended with the highest murder count in history, according to local police data.

Shootings disproportionately impact neighborhoods in western Louisville, which are plagued with poverty and blight.

Rashaad Abdur-Rahman, head of the city's Office of Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods, said Bevin "oversimplified" the complexity of violence eradication.

"It's unfortunate that he doesn't know what's been going on in the city, it's unfortunate that he hasn't cultivated the relationships locally in such a way that he doesn't know the people already doing this work," he said. "He's not really in touch."

Abdur-Rahman praised Bevin's interest in and dedication to felon re-entry efforts in Louisville. But he added that without additional resources, the impact of those priorities is limited.

'We need money'

Metro Councilwoman Cheri Bryant Hamilton, who represents District 5, which includes the Russell and Shawnee neighborhoods, refused to comment on Bevin's proposal.

"I don't feel like it," she said.

Councilman David James, from District 6, which includes some areas of western Louisville, said Bevin's message has long been pushed in Louisville.

James said he'd like to see Bevin commit more resources to growing job opportunities in the city and back away from efforts to overhaul the state healthcare policy and "dig even further into people's pockets."

"As the governor has done," he said.

Charles Elliot, a longtime pastor at King Solomon Baptist Church in Park Hill, said Bevin's message was hollow — "like a hook with no bait."

"We need money," he said. "Where we can renovate these houses, create some jobs, then you can give us some Jesus."

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer did not attend the event and his spokesman said he was not invited.

Councilwoman Angela Leet, a Republican from District 7 in eastern Louisville, offered more praise than most for Bevin's speech.

Leet has led the charge calling for the resignation of Louisville Metro Police Department chief Steve Conradand has displayed the city's murder count in her office window at City Hall for months.

She said Bevin was "courageous to make it about prayer."

"We have to provide some hope," she said. "I thought he displayed leadership."

Following the event at Western Middle School, Bevin held a news conference with reporters at Shawnee Park.

He said the point of his discussion Thursday was not meant to be financially focused.

"The things that cost something will be saved for another day," he said.

And asked about people that may be fearful of venturing out into neighborhoods already plagued by violent crime, Bevin was blunt:

"For those that are afraid, they should not take part," he said.

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.