Transcending borders: Neighbors work to help people in Davenport impacted by gun crimes

Published: Oct. 7, 2020 at 10:30 PM CDT
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DAVENPORT, Iowa (KWQC) - On Wednesday, Davenport Bearing Witness held its 17th prayer vigil since July 30. After singing “Amazing Grace,” the locations of each vigil held was read to the group of people that attended.

In an effort to curb gun violence and offer healing after incidents of gunfire, Davenport Bearing Witness, a group of neighbors, gather at the sites of shots fired incidents that are logged and confirmed by the Davenport Police Department.

“One thing about gun violence is it may not be you today, but you could be in the wrong place and it could happen to you,” said Pastor Rogers Kirk, President of local nonprofit, Together Making a Better Community.

The gatherings are part of a much greater goal to bring healing to neighborhoods and people impacted by gun violence, and to work on the preventative front.

“With the prayer services we have now, it’s a mean of praying for those who are affected by the shots fired, those who are doing the shots fired,” said Sister Mary B. Snyder with the Congregation of Humility of Mary.

“For those that are doing it, I hope there will be some way at some point for these people to feel better about themselves to learn… well to experience love, understanding, caring and compassion so that they can have a change in their life and a healthier life.”

Davenport Police Chief Paul Sikorski told TV6 in late August, “In the preventative portion of this is where I think as a community we need to come together and get better on.”

In the first nine months of 2020, Davenport responded to at least 212 confirmed gunfire incidents.

That number, according to data obtained by TV6 Investigates, is more than three times the amount of confirmed gunfire of the other four cities in the metro Quad Cities combined.

TV6 Investigates recently uncovered, through public records requests and conversations with police, trends in the gun violence. Police told TV6 the issue of combating gun violence is too significant to take on alone, emphasizing the need for community and preventative efforts.

“We as a police department or law enforcement in general – we can go out and arrest people that commit these crimes,” Sikorski said. “We do that. We do our best to bring people to justice that are involved in these crimes but we are very concerned with the victims. The victims of these. The people that live in the neighborhoods where these happens. We lose sight of that part of it. We lose sight of the fact that we actually have people that have to live amongst this or that are affected by it by losing their life or a loved one.”

Rusty Boruff, executive director of OneEighty, and part of the group Davenport Bearing Witness, understands the impact violence has on the community.

“Once all of the police cars and once the commotion and TV cameras leave and the reporters, what people don’t realize is the impact of life going through gun violence has,” he said. "We see it every day.

“We see firsthand the impact it causes, the trauma. PTSD. In the worst-case situations, the loss of life. Picking up those pieces is probably the hardest part and trying to rebuild is extremely difficult.”

Tracy Singleton, a volunteer with Davenport Bearing Witness, is also the executive director of Together Making a Better Community, a local nonprofit associated with the Third Missionary Baptist Church. She has viewed Bearing Witness as an opportunity to have a conversation about what the solutions will be beyond praying.

“Especially for children to hear gunshots and to see things happening, there are lasting effects with that so to be able to offer some type of support even if it’s just an ear to listen to so they understand there is someone there for support and it’s okay to feel how they feel and to be able to work through that,” Singleton said.

The first prayer vigil she attended was one that significantly impacted her. Singleton said it took place the day after a shooting, which happened as two young children were trying to set up a lemonade stand nearby.

“I was angry as a mom and member of this community that the innocence of just setting up a lemonade stand and that excitement – because my kids did it and the possibility of having your own money and the spirit of entrepreneurship – to have that be taken away from them made me angry and as a member of the African American community, we understand there is a problem. We talk about the problems but it’s hard to come up with the solutions,” said Singleton.

“It’s about us putting what I call putting legs to the prayer,” Kirk said. “How are we going to empower the neighborhood? How are we going to empower each home in order to do something about the gun violence? When you see something, because change does not come by Osmosis, you have to create change if you are sick and tired of being sick and tired of the gun violence, join in with people in your community doing something. Search it out and become a part of it. Say ‘I’m willing to help make a change.’”

“Part of the responsibility of the community is to come together, support, care and reassure one another, added Pastor Rob Leveridge of The Table in Davenport. There are peaceful ways to respond to violence and there are healing ways to respond to trauma so we don’t keep increasing the harm that has been done.”

Many of Davenport Bearing Witness' volunteers have stories of how gun violence has personally impacted them or members of their separate organizations.

The group meets often with Davenport police to discuss problems in the community.

They said the change will happen over time and hope more people consider becoming involved. Boruff said the issue is bigger than the responsibility of just the police.

“Whatever we think is the problem, it’s worse than that,” Boruff said. “I think that’s part of my advocacy, is saying if we want to see systematic change, it’s going to take every department of the city and the schools to get together. This is a zoning issue, this is a policing issue, this is a community neighborhood issue, it’s a nonprofit issue, a school issue. We have to have every department working together. It’s not just gun violence.”

Leveridge agreed.

“It’s like, you can cut a tree down in a very small amount of time but to grow a tree requires an investment that produces vitality,” he said. “It takes a long time. We need to cultivate that understanding that everyone plays a role support and growing a piece of healing in our community and we have to respond as a collective to instances of violence and harm.”

Singleton said, “I always say before something happens, someone saw something, heard something, knew something wasn’t quite right and they didn’t stop it before it happened.”

“That’s what we have to do as parents, relatives, neighbors, friends. If you shoot someone and they die, there’s no coming back from that.”

“On the front end of it, we have too many funerals and too many memorial services and too many people walking around with RIP shirts on. We can’t control everything, but what we can control, we need to control,” she said.

If you are interested in learning more about the efforts of Davenport Bearing Witness, you can find their Facebook page here.

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