Official Urges Churches to Confront Gang Problems

Find out about the man who travels the country to encourage people of faith to fight crime, particularly gang violence, and what his tips are to help embolden communities of faith.

“The church should be on the frontlines to bring peace to violent neighborhoods.”

It seems like an obvious statement rooted in the Word. But when church leaders are killed in gang crossfires, church folks also adopt the code of the streets, “No snitchin.’”

“No snitchin’” is a troubling concept that says, “Why cooperate with police if it means I could be shot and killed out of retaliation? Better to just let “street justice” handle it.”

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Eugene Schneeberg, Director, Center for Faith-Based & Neighborhood Partnerships

It’s a big challenge faced by Eugene Schneeberg, director of the Center for Faith-Based & Neighborhood Partnerships for the U.S. Department of Justice. Schneeberg (pronounced “Shnay Bor”) travels the country to encourage people of faith to fight crime, particularly gang violence. A native of Boston’s tough Roxbury section where he escaped gang violence, Schneeberg brought his message to Newport News, VA, where at least two church leaders were recently shot and killed in the city’s predominantly black and poor Southeast neighborhood. Invited by U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott, Schneeberg spoke at Gethsemane Baptist Church to a group that consisted of about 30 city officials, law enforcement, and members of the clergy.

Violent crime in Newport News has decreased from 2012 to 2013, but the killing of two deacons this year has alarmed the faith community in particular. In January 71-year-old Joseph Henry Williams Jr., a deacon, was fatally shot by a stray bullet. He was caught in the crossfire between two gunmen. In April, Clinton Stonewall Jackson Sr., a 79-year-old deacon was shot to death in his car. Police say the shooter was inside of Jackson’s vehicle. Both shootings are believed to be gang-related.

Before joining the Justice Department, Schneeberg, who is an ordained minister, worked with a faith-based group in Massachusetts that focused on preventing gang violence. He told the Newport News gathering in February that he can help the church learn how to calm gang violence and get grants to fund its efforts. He touted his agency’s website for having a wealth information to assist faith-based organizations.

Schneeberg credited pastors who, instead of focusing on erecting lavish sanctuaries, build facilities that can be used by the community at large. Churches can start after school programs and advocate for prison reentry programs, he said. Churches must build bridges between the community and government officials. But mainly, church folks have to get out of the pews and into the streets to show love to young people, particularly gangbangers, he said.

“Gangs are just groups of boys trying to teach each other how to be men,” Schneeberg said, adding that he never met his own father. “If dads are not there or if there are not healthy men in the community, gangs become the next logical step.”

If young people don’t find love in a healthy way, they’ll fall for its counterfeit in unhealthy places, Schneeberg said.

“Churches can provide a neutral place where clashing teens and gangs can resolve issues,” he said. “Without a safe place they are constantly in ‘protect your turf’ mode.”

And it is this “mode” that typically leads to senseless random shootings and murders of innocent people, like the deacons in Newport News.

The church leaders were attentive to Schneeberg’s strong pitch. Pastor Beverly Ashburn of Friendship Baptist Church in Newport News asked the question on most people’s minds: How can local churches get involved without becoming targets of violence? In other words, how can the church avoid being labeled as “snitches” and the consequences that comes with that?

Schneeberg suggested churches do community events that make them highly visible, such as prayer walks.

“Presence brings crime reduction and the more visible you are the less likely they are to victimize you,” he said. The approach has worked in cities such as Lynn, MA, Fort Myers, Fl., and Baltimore, where gang violence has declined, he said.

After the meeting, Ashburn, who gave the invocation at Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s inauguration in January, said she believes churches need special training to minister specifically to gang members.

“I think you have to have training and be knowledgeable of what is the right approach,” she said. “Even though our intent may be good, a lot of people are dead because of what they simply didn’t know how to do.”

The Rev. Dr. Dwight Riddick, Sr. pastor of Gethsemane Baptist Church is also a member of the city’s task force that is addressing a strategic plan to fight gangs.

“We’ve always had communication (with the city), but it has not been clear in terms of what the church’s role is,” Riddick said. “Many churches are doing a lot of things. The question is whether what we are doing is effective. We want what we do to have impact and that most importantly lives would be changed.”

About the author, Wil LaVeist

Wil LaVeist is an award-winning journalist, professional speaker, and author of Fired Up: 4 Steps to Overcoming a Crisis, Including Unemployment. Contact him at www.WILLAVEIST.com, and listen to The Wil LaVeist Show Wednesdays at Noon to 1 p.m. on 88.1 WHOV in Hampton, Virginia.
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  4. The Church can solve the problems associated with the gang violence but the churches as organized in the Black Neighborhoods cannot because they are a major part of the problem. There is no influential Church in the African American Communities, there are local churches that act more like social clubs than they do as organizations with the best interest of the community in mind. The local churches are the major cause of the fragmentation that currently exist within these communities and many times the leaders of these churches (Pastors) does not reside inside the community. The Church should be the leader against the negative activities that are maintained within these communities but first the churches must redefine themselves and accept the responsibilities associated with being the moral protector of the community. ” We have a right to look to the church for leadership, because the church is suppose to be the moral protectors of the community”. —DR. KING (interview with Mike Wallace,1958)

  5. I agree that churches have a role to play in fighting gang violence in our neighborhoods. But I think our society has too many and too high expectations of the church. You can’t fix a problem until you get to the root cause of the problem. Promiscuity, fatherlessness (brothers who make the babies but don’t stick around to take care of them), drug dealing, drug use, etc. are the real problems. Too often churches try different programs to try to address these problems but it ends up being like putting bandages on gunshot wounds. What really needs to be done is to confront everyday individuals about the choices they are making. Things like choosing to have sex outside of marriage without having a solid way to support a child that could be the result. Brothers, why are you willing to do the crime but choose to avoid the time of helping to raise that child. Many of the brothers and sisters who make these babies are caught up in gangs and drugs themselves so they end up bringing children into the world (that’s if we don’t murder these children through abortion) who are raised around all of this. By the time the church tries to address these problems it’s way too late.

    But there is one solution that can completely turn this around. The preaching of the Gospel of Christ accompanied by the Power of God that brings true repentance and change. This is our only hope! The suggestions in this article will only serve as more band aids that may appear to temporarily stop the hemorrhaging, but the bleeding continues and finds another way out.

  6. Well spoken, however you overlooked the fact that much if not most of these problems can be traced back to the lack of religious cohesion within the Black Neighborhood. The Churches has a philosophy of individualism which promotes selfishness in regards to behavior and does not offer any restraint nor does the church set a standard and promote positive behavior. In other words, the churches speaks more of soul salvation which occurs after death than it does in the earthly salvation that is need presently. What you said is “our only hope” “The preaching of the Gospel of Christ”, has been stated and followed for over a hundred years and conditions are getting worse, not better. The Power of God is manifested through people being doers of the word. The Word however, must be consistent and relevant to the community. One example on why the churches are a big part of the problem, they promote family disunity by accepting a man and his wife to be members of a different church, and also parents and kids to be members of a different church. There are numerous other problems associated with the churches and their non attention in the social affairs of the Black Community. What you are suggesting is not even a bandage but an acceleration of the, out of control negative behavior of the present conditions. Its a shame that our largest institution will not accept any responsibility for the current plight of our people. The Church should bring the community together, not keep them divided, “divide and conquer”

  7. I would contend that the full Gospel is not being preached because I know personally how the Gospel of Christ and Power of God has changed my life. It will change your choices which of course will change your outcomes.

    I guess what you’re saying is that there needs to be more “community” in the church. That very well may be true. If you study the book of Acts, you will see the Gospel of Christ preached accompanied by the Power of God which brought about the community you seek.

    • Sir, you have brought out one of the problematic utterances that we have to deal with and which will go a long way in our finding solutions to the current problems. You use the word “me” which together with I and my are central to the runaway negative behavior. Individualism and selfishness are at the root of the problem. Everyone is doing what is right in their own eyes and not concerned with the effects on others. Because something worked for you does not mean that it will work for everybody, however, there is something out there that will work for others and they can still be in harmony with you in developing positive attitudes and behaviors within the community, Loving one another means to be able to accept and appreciate differences in others and still unite to confront the activities that is negative to both you and others. Finally, we do not have to go to the book of Acts to see examples of the community we need to imitate. Right here in America, right now, there are plenty of communities that does not possess the problems of the Black Neighborhoods. Allow me to suggest something to you, visit your city or any city and observe the number of churches located in them. Where you find the most churches per capita, you will find the most crime, broken families, broken homes, less education, higher unemployment, more deteriorated housing rundown neighborhoods and the list of negatives go on and on. As the number of churches increase in any neighborhood, the negatives in that neighborhood increases. Now, because of the inconsistencies in the Gospels themselves, the full Gospel cannot be preached, but what is being preached is still inconsistent and leaves out the neighborly daily activities and relationships that are missing from the communities that are in trouble.

      • What inconsistencies in the Gospel are you referring to? I don’t know what neighborhoods you’re referring to but where I live churches are all over and we do not have the problems you speak of. Also, you have unrealistic expectations of the church and I believe that is because you do not understand the Gospel. The heart of the Gospel is that Christ came to die for sinners and to establish His kingdom. You enter His kingdom by repenting of your sins and turning to God in Christ. The Scriptures say that God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that “whosoever” comes to Him will not perish but will receive eternal life. That is an individual thing, not a community thing. At its heart, the church is not an organization you join but a family you’re born into individually.

        • Mr. Edward, you have revealed the major problem that exists within the African American Communities and that is Individualism. There are exceptions to every rule. Because you know of a Black Neighborhood that does not have problems, does not mean that all of our Black Neighborhoods do not have problems. The statistics bears out to what I am saying and that the highest crime rates, the highest percentage of broken homes, the highest school drop-out rate, the highest unemployment rate, the highest HIV infection rate, the highest incarceration rate, the highest poverty rate, the highest out of wedlock child birth rates and many other negatives too numerous to mention here are all in the African American Communities. Another problem that I would like to bring to your attention is we as a people refuse to open our eyes and see what is all around us. The next problem is our refusal to open a book and read what is going on around us. I will not at this time point out the inconsistencies within the Gospels because it is apparent that you will not and/or cannot objectively consider what is being presented to you. Faith is a beautiful and wonderful thing, but it does not solve the problems that face us now. James chapter 2, 17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. What I am trying to say is that the Church should be the center of the community and the epic center for the works to improve the conditions that currently exists within our neighborhoods. A casual study of American History will illustrate the dynamic role of the church in the development of this nation. Please remember that Jesus Christ said John 13:34 “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” John 15:12 ” This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.” John 15 17″ These things I command you, that ye love one another” Love is action, its motion, it makes good things happen.

          • First, all of the problems you point out concerning the Black community may be community problems, but they’re committed by individuals. Unless individuals repent, it will not matter what the church does, these problems will still exist and grow. I’m not trying to clear the church of any guilt, what I’m saying is that you expect too much from the church and you place very little responsibility upon the Black community. I know the role the church played in the development of America and believe me, I wish we could have that kind of influence again. But it’s not possible with a people who refuse repentance. If you know anything about America and the church’s role in its growth, then you also know that the reason the church had such a great impact was due to the fact that the impact was normally preceded by a great move of God which was accompanied by great repentance from the people. I’m sorry Mr. Goodwin, but there is NO substitute for turning from sin to God. No amount of good works by the church is going to change that. Just about every problem you point out that’s affecting the Black community is due to some type of sin, be it fornication, drug abuse, drug pushing, gang warfare, fatherlessness, not taking education serious, etc. The downward spiral you see in our community will continue until there is a true turning unto God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

            Second, why do you bring my objectivity into question and not your own? I asked an honest question of you which was to point out the inconsistencies in the Gospels and you refuse to present them. Is it possible that I might be able to explain these so called inconsistencies and you may not be ready to hear it? Again I ask what inconsistencies are you concerned about in the Gospels?

  8. I would also like to ask, what is “earthly salvation” vs. “soul salvation”? There is only one salvation according to the Scriptures. This salvation does occur in stages, but there is only one.

    • Mr. Edward, please excuse me for taking so long to attempt to answer your question, what is “earthly salvation” vs. “soul salvation”? As I understand Soul Salvation is the saving the soul from eternal damnation. Earthly salvation is saving the individuals from earthly damnation. A lot of what goes on in the African American Community is damnation to the individuals that resides within these communities. Too many of our youth ‘s lives are cut short. Too many of our youths have no valid prospect for future changes that will enhance their ability to rise above the gutters of this society. Too many of our people of all ages are trapped into a cycle of violence, drugs, broken families, poor education, poor opportunities for advancement and much more. Earthly salvation will save these people from having to continue to face these deplorable conditions and bring about the necessary changes to afford them the same quality of life as enjoyed by most other Americans. Scripture is full of Earthly salvation and I will share a few scriptures with you and request that you read them in context. Exodus 14:13, 2 Samuel 2:1, 2 Samuel 19:5, 1 Chronicles 16:35, Psalm 13:5, Psalm 53:6, Psalm 98:2,3, Psalm 144:10, Isaiah 11:3, Isaiah 52:10, Luke 1:69, Ephesians 6:17.
      Should you like a more detailed discussion, I am available.

      • I’m not sure I would agree with your distinction between earthly and soul salvation, but I will say this: All of the conditions that plague the African-American community are conditions which can change if each individual decides to stop going down the wrong path. If that choice is never made, then the plagues will never leave, the cycles will never end, and the deplorable conditions will continue. This is the essence of repentance. All of the scriptures you point out were either preceded or followed by obedience or repentance and obedience. The “earthly salvation” you seek will not come any other way. I will end by quoting Isaiah 59:1 – 3 which says,

        “Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save: neither His ear heavy that it cannot hear: But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you, that He will not hear. For your hands are defiled with blood, and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies, your tongue have muttered perverseness.”

        • Sir, I do not disagree with all that you are saying, however, not everyone is of a level to understand what you are saying. Let me put it this way. Not everyone that does things that contribute to the negative behavior knows that they are contributing. We have leaders and persons of education that should inform and enlighten people in the proper behavior patterns to follow. It should be known also what will be expected and accomplished when certain behavior patterns are followed. God spreads out the talents and gifts to the people and our people should have the intellect to harness and use these various gifts and talents for the betterment of the community. Scripture Luke 12:48 …… For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required….., now when you read this in context, you will understand what I am saying. Remember, God worked through persons to teach other persons and that was a way of making sure that each person had the necessary understanding to abide by or reject the messages based on their own free will. Many of the persons who are caught up in this negative spiral do not comprehend their position in this counterproductive attitude that prevails within the community. Without proper guidance, they will continue to take part in their own destruction. Obedience is a key factor but it raises the question of, obedience to what:? What are the tangible assets for being obedient? Can I afford to be obedient? We must remember that we are dealing with an unorganized community and the residents are showered with so many different opinions and solutions that raises the confusion level so high that the people are afraid to pursue either way or they continue to bump heads doing the same thing or they are trying to institute too many ways at the same time. The consolidation of churches can be the remedy for dealing with the ills of our communities by harnessing the available resources and directing them into the highest and best use and with it size and strength, results can be seen almost immediately. The Community Church can be a major weapon against the gang violence and disruptive social and criminal behavior that is touching all of our lives. The Israelite cried out to God who heard their cry and brought them out of Egypt before they were given the law to be obedient too. This was Earthly Salvation.

  9. Although I would agree to many of the PRACTICAL APPROACHES Black churches could use to
    face community problems–including more church-based outreach, better youth and children’s
    activities, etc.–every problem in the Black community cannot be laid at the door of the Black Church. No officials demand that all WHITE CHURCHES or LATINO CHURCHES solve all the problems in THEIR respective communities, nor are these churches blamed for all the problems found among THEIR kids, including drug use, births to teenage mothers, and rampant crime! News media always find ways to concentrate on “high murder rates in our inner cities”, but turn blind eyes to the “domestic terrorism” practiced by countless white males
    in small towns, cities and suburbia–young white males between 12 and 16 years of age who routinely slaughter teachers, classmates, friends, family and strangers with high-powered assault weapons! And let’s not forget those white male domestic terrorists aged 16—30, who commit serial murders on schoolchildren and stalk our shopping malls and movie theaters…Yes, the Black Church should preach the FULL GOSPEL and YES, the BLACK CHURCH can and should develop more effective outreach to the young and YES, the BLACK CHURCH can and should impact their communities positively for Jesus Christ. However, most of the ills of the younger generation are characteristic of our society, which is NOT controlled by people of color. BAD PARENTING is typically an AMERICAN problem across the board, and UNDISCIPLINED, UNCIVILIZED, FERAL children and youth of all colors (from both “stable, two-parent homes” and “single parent homes”) are found in small towns, big cities, suburban communities and even little villages in the entire UNITED STATES–and that includes all the middle and upper-class brats/junior criminals/adolescent felons who then grow up to be adult felons specializing in white-collar crimes that rob communities of the very funds they need to repair infrastructure, build schools and administer municipal, county and state government! ADULT CRIMINALS supply assault weapons and firearms to the young and ship drugs to youth gangs. These are SOCIETAL SINS that impact all communities, especially
    communities of color that typically do not have financial resources to adequately address many of the issues affecting our young people. I do not believe that the proliferation of Black Churches is a problem–frankly, ALL PEOPLE OF COLOR NEED TO BE IN CHURCH EVERY WEEK and having lots of small churches can actually be an ASSET, especially in the large, often impersonal space of the urban metroplex. People need the warmth, “family feeling” and sense of connection smaller churches can provide–large “megachurches” often cannot provided this sense of “my second family” that small and medium churches can effectively cultivate. The key is to improve each neighborhood church’s outreach strategies and RETENTION STRATEGIES, so that a church can reach the children and youth within the neighborhood and develop Christian disciples of all ages who are biblically-grounded and
    able to meet the challenges of 21st-century living in our country.

    • Sir/Madam, I did enjoy reading your comments and appreciate you taking the time to express yourself. I must admit though that after reviewing your comments leaves me a bit confused. Are you saying that because other communities have problems, the Black Community’s problem is acceptable? Even though the other communities have problems, Blacks should not address their problems which is far greater in rate than theirs? Two things that I would like to express. (1) The other communities have had access and privileges that were never afforded to the Black Community. They have been in an organized, structured neighborhood that had the resources to advance their individuality, promote their strengths and compensate for their deficiencies. The majority of the Black neighborhoods have not been afforded these luxuries. I believe before we can dismiss the future activities of our Black Community, we need to have a better situation in which our individual talents can be developed and nurtured. (2) What assisted the other neighborhoods in developing the organization and structure to afford the opportunities was the Church. Strong and meaningful Churches that was community oriented and a part of the community. Community outreach was and it still should be self evaluation which means the neighborhood is already within reach. The Institution only have to re-evaluate it’s current programs to improve the delivery of services. What you have alluded too is the decline of the influence of the Church.
      The current local churches in our negative neighborhoods only concentrate on the religious service without lending the necessary importance of the other aspects of daily living. Luke 11;17 But he, knowing their thoughts, said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and a house divided against a house falleth. Let me just add, that a person divided within self functions at less capacity than he would if unified. Meaning that when the religious activities is also in harmony with his other relationships, (social, economic and political), what is accomplished is genuine with meaning and purpose that is respected and received. I am afraid you have fallen victim to the religious only Church that does not exert any influence on the social behavior of its members. The Community ‘s Church should have all types of activities for it members to participate. What you are saying about “people need the warmth “family feeling” and sense of connection” can also be provided in a community church’s sub groups without the fragmentation that is caused by too many small churches. Sub groups can develop, cultivate and nature the security of the “my second family”. They can do it better because they have a wider range and a more diverse pool to draw from. Having it done in the Community’s Church will virtually eliminate the inconsistent messages of daily living, while at the same time have a more effective use of the available resources. The average community of Blacks have an abundance of skills and talents that can be used to upgrade the neighborhoods, but most of it is not known to the residents because there is no effective network that connects the residents with each other. The Community’s Church is a resource center and the Christians would be supporting each other while gaining the valuable services that is needed which will at the same time reinvest valuable funds within the community to raise the income and other benefits to the community. “Too many Cooks Spoil the Broth” and Too many Churches Spoils the Neighborhood.

  10. Mr Edward, since the system won’t allow me to reply directly under your comment, I am replying here regarding to the mentioned inconsistencies. Sir, it is with great pleasure that I will present to you some of the inconsistencies referred too, but this is not the forum for a detailed discussion. I am therefore giving you my email address and we can continue with this. The address is prince.goodwin@yahoo.com, don’t forget the dot between the prince and the goodwin. In the meantime, I look forward to you contacting me and I will gladly present the support of my assertions and will deeply appreciate your replies. ” I know the role the church played in the development of America and believe me, I wish we could have that kind of influence again. But it’s not possible with a people who refuse repentance.” Sir this is a quote from you that I would like to reply too. The presentation of the repentance is the same presentation that our Slave Masters presented to us while they had their feet on our heads. They wanted everything individualized in order to keep division among us. They did not want us to establish the kind of religious institution that had elevated other communities into positive success in the social arena, such as education, economic, political unity and strength, for that will diminish their control over the community. Should we continue preaching their message, we will never rise up to their level because we are under the limits set forth by him for us, with the side effect of the acceleration of the negative behaviors that is currently destroying our communities. . In the original scenario with Moses after their leaving Egypt, the tabernacle was the institution established for the effective communication and transferring of core values to the community. If you use the book of Numbers as a reference, you will see that there were over two million people involved and yet there was only one high priest. That set up provided for a more consistent flow of information and a more consistent content and meaning of the information. Please also note that the Catholic Church was set up similar as well as the Lutheran, The Church of England, and most of the other denominations that existed and many who are currently existing. There has been many splits, however, many still have a structure that presents some consistency in both interruption and application. Within each denomination there is no competition with each other within a local community and that gives it a great deal of power in speaking for the community and looking our for the welfare of the community. Most if not all of these Churches, provided basic education, social, political and economic assistance for the local residents. “We have a right to look to the church for leadership, because the church is suppose to be the moral protectors of the community. You have some ministers that are afraid to take a vocal stand, because they fear losing a church, and some people are willing to stand up and lose a church and be damned if necessary, but I’m afraid we don’t have enough people committed—DR. KING (interview with Mike Wallace,1958)”

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