Updated: June 10, 2021 06:21 PM
Created: June 10, 2021 05:03 PM
Minneapolis pastors shared an update with 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS on the "21 Days of Peace," their grassroots initiative to help curb the growing violence.
"Every place that we've planted our feet, we got the results we wanted to have," explained Rev. Jerry McAfee, of New Salem Missionary Baptist Church in Minneapolis.
In May, McAfee organized an impromptu community meeting, which was attended by hundreds of people, including Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and Police Chief Medaria Arradondo.
The meeting was held in response to a significant uptick in shootings and homicides, including three separate incidents involving young children being hit by gunfire.
McAfee and other faith leaders in the Twin Cities launched the initiative later that week.
They describe it as a community-wide effort to place volunteers in hotspots of crime, in the hopes of having a positive presence on the streets. They said the goal is to deescalate any potential violence.
About two weeks in, McAfee said he believes the program is working.
"When we went into this, certainly we would love to have no issues, period, but that would not be realistic. The 21 Days of Peace is to affect change where we are planted and we're seeing that," McAfee said.
He said hundreds of people have volunteered across nearly a dozen different sites in Minneapolis, St. Paul and Brooklyn Park. Each site hosts seven to 15 volunteers daily, in shifts starting in the late afternoon and extending through the evening.
"I don't think it's working — I know it's working," said Jeremi Thomas, who coordinates volunteers at the site outside Merwin Liquors on Broadway Avenue in north Minneapolis.
Thomas's team passed out snow cones to people in the parking lot on Thursday.
"If we can provide those services such as snow cones on a hot day like today, maybe, just maybe, we can enjoy another day without a gun being fired," said Bishop Richard Howell of Shiloh Temple. "This is the right time to do the right thing for our community, to band together."
Homicides in Minneapolis are at their highest rate in more than a decade and are 85% higher than the same time period last year.
McAfee said he is shocked at the number of children and innocent bystanders being killed in shootings this year.
"We are in a state of emergency. The realistic thing is, the police don't have enough resources and we've got to do what we need to do," McAfee said.
Coordinators said no volunteers have been harmed or hurt during interactions on the streets.
Thomas said he personally has played a role in diffusing a potentially violent situation.
"This man, he got out of the car, and he was really, really mad. I had just gotten through praying and I walked up to him and I put my hand on his chest and I said, 'Aren't you tired of all this blood spill?' And he kind of got mad, but as soon as I said, 'Don't you want peace?' He completely dropped down. His whole demeanor changed. And in that change, I said, we're doing the right thing."
Thomas said the role of the volunteers is to simply interact with the community.
"Sometimes I go to the liquor store and pray with anyone that's up there. Sometimes I just sit in front of the liquor store with people who sit in front of the liquor store, just kind of change the atmosphere," Thomas said. "And I think that's the start. Just one day at a time. And if we outnumber the people that are causing this, by default, they leave. It's a numbers thing, strength in numbers."
KSTP asked what will happen when the 21 days is over next week.
"Well, just like seven days of the week or 31 days of the month, you start over," McAfee explained. "We're anticipating we're going to have to be out here as long as it takes."
Coordinators hope more churches and volunteers will get involved. For more information, click here.
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