Several weeks ago we announced the relaunch of PrayForRochester.com. It’s an initiative we began in July of 2006 to call the Greater Rochester community into regular prayer for the peace of our city. While the increased attention in the community our effort is receiving should be cause for encouragement, the ongoing need for this a spiritual “call to arms” remains a heavy burden on our hearts.
Rochester’s poorest neighborhoods consistently rank among the most violent in the country. With nearly 30 homicides per 100,000 residents, Rochester’s per capita murder rate is the fourth worst in the United States. Sadly, the vast majority of the victims of violence are our city’s young people – the highest percentage of which are African American men under the age of 25.
Thankfully, the past couple of weeks have been relatively peaceful in our city. But this seemingly quiet stretch has come at a tremendous price.
On September 29th a young woman named Latasha Shaw was brutally stabbed to death in front of her mother and daughter by a group of women as dozens of witnesses looked on. Even more difficult to understand than this senseless killing is the fact that none of the witnesses have cooperated with the investigation, and to this date no arrests have been made in her vicious murder.
A few days later, James Slater – a community activist known as a “foot soldier for change” – was robbed and shot to death on the very streets he worked so hard to help keep safe. He was a volunteer with Action for a Better Community, and was walking home from a meeting which addressed the issue of violence when he was murdered. The price for his life: An iPod, a cell phone and a few dollars in cash.
While the city mourned the loss of a great community leader and activist, police arrested 19-year-old Henry J. Cox in connection with Slater’s murder. Cox is the step-grandson of Darryl Porter, a close friend of Slater’s who is not only the former President of the Rochester City School Board, but also an assistant to Rochester Mayor Bob Duffy.
The surge in violence enraged Duffy, who called for immediate action by approving any necessary overtime for police as they beefed up their presence in Rochester’s troubled neighborhoods. While operation “Zero Tolerance” has largely been successful in removing large amounts of guns, drugs and suspected criminals from city streets, many are questioning its long-term viability. Others feel they are being unfairly targeted as a result of the aggressive presence by law enforcement, which is no doubt causing some tension in city neighborhoods.
With the air of tension and despair at near toxic levels, many people are beginning to ask questions about what the long-term solution might be to ending the violence in our communities.
At their core, the social problems that contribute to violent conditions – poverty, high teenage pregnancy rates, drug abuse, etc. – are spiritual concerns. When the spiritual condition of a people – both individually and as a community – is maligned with God’s hope for reconciliation, righteous living and peace, the result is catastrophic. Where hope is lacking, anger and despair emerge. When righteousness and justice do not reign in our hearts, we make way for suffering and injustice. Where there is no peace, there can only be violence.
But I am hopeful that long-term, sustainable peace is possible.
The other night I met a local pastor for coffee. The purpose for our meeting was to discuss plans for promoting an event called The Gathering. It will be a night of prayer and fasting for the City of Rochester. He had the vision for the event after the recent stretch of violence. He sensed the Lord calling him to do something that would bring Christ followers from different churches together for sole purpose of praying for our city. Our connection to this pastor’s vision and the heart of what he’s been called to do is obvious.
It would seem that there is a movement building. God is calling his faithful to be united in prayer as we seek him to bring peace, reconciliation and revival to our city. And by the power of his Spirit he is bringing together like-hearted people as he lays the groundwork for this movement of prayer.
So, I ask you to please remember Rochester in your hearts and in your prayers. We have no doubt seen some difficult days. Our streets have turned violent, and our hearts have been broken. But we hopeful that out of this brokenness will emerge a people united in prayer. Please join us as we Pray for Rochester.