SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - A group of more than 50 pastors in Savannah hopes the families of murder victims can help them create positive change in the city's violent crime. The Savannah Alliance of Pastors is holding that meeting and a prayer vigil next week.
They're also meeting with city leaders hoping to enact meaningful policy change to address the poverty and crime in Savannah. The pastors said that with their influence, together they can make a difference.
"Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ said, 'Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God,'" said Reverend Da'Henri Thurmond Sr., pastor of St. Paul CME Church.
The first step towards peace-making happened several months ago when the Savannah Alliance of pastors formed. Their singular mission is to address gun violence. They've met with the mayor and city manager on ways to change policy to address poverty and crime.
"Our influence has to leave the four walls of our churches. We believe that we can do more together than we can do individually. So that's why we have a diverse group," Rev. Thurmond said. "We preach hope. We live in hope, and so we believe that we can make a difference if we just join together and do what God has called us to do."
"The relationships with the community are paramount. We rely on the community to provide us with information that helps us, points us in the right direction," said SCMPD Violent Crimes Division Sgt. Hiram Rivera Jr. "One of the things that we are continually challenged with is how do we get ahead of the violence, how do we stop the violence? The End Gun Violence Initiative is great because, for the first time, we're able to get ahead and try to address retaliatory violence."
In those discussions, Rev. Thurmond says he realized they had been neglecting families of murder victims. This formal invitation is an opportunity for families to open up to faith leaders.
"We are seeking to hear the pain of those who hurt. We are seeking to earnestly pray to our God with a diverse with a diverse cross-section of our community," Rev. Thurmond said.
Thurmond said the meeting will be unique in that the pastors will be there to listen and not speak. Tuesday's meeting will be at the Coastal Georgia Center on Fahm Street at 5:30 p.m. That's specifically for families of murder victims. Wednesday's prayer vigil will be at Burroughs and West 35th Street at 5 p.m. Everyone is invited. He hopes what they hear will help them present policy changes to city leaders.
"We want to hear the situations and the circumstances that create an atmosphere for what has happened. We can never stop listening to those who have been impacted by gun violence in our community," Rev. Thurmond said.
When it comes to violent crime – some of the most significant statistics are down. Homicides are down almost 30 percent. Home robberies and street robberies are also down. The most significant increase is in commercial robberies. They're up 30 percent in 2017.
"We don't believe this is a problem for one area of the city or another. We believe this is a problem for all of us, an issue for all of us," Rev. Thurmond said.
When asked if Rev. Thurmond thought the pastors were late to the discussion of gun violence, his response was—if they save one life, they're not too late.