Blacks and Whites at Two Savannah Churches Look at the Epidemic of Gun Violence Through the Gospel

4798 Shortly before 6 a.m. June 9, a rented silver 2013 Ford Edge traveling at the northwest corner of Savannah's Daffin Park was pierced with 14 bullets from one end to the other on its driver's side.

Participants of the joint "Gun Violence, Gospel Values" study series between First Presbyterian and Butler Memorial Presbyterian churches hold hands and pray at the end of their third session. Marcus E. Howard/Savannah Morning News
Like a scene from a Hollywood movie, the woman behind the wheel of the now-stalled SUV on Waters Avenue at East Victory Drive somehow managed to escape amid more gunshots, taking cover a few yards away behind a parked car on Ott Street, where she called 911.

Only a few hours later, members of the 186-year-old First Presbyterian Church of Savannah, four blocks south of the shooting, were greeted that Sunday morning with a crime scene teeming with shell casings and forensic investigators, with traffic blocked on Victory Drive.

The violence reached perhaps as close to home as some of the predominantly white members of the church, many of whom live in the neighborhood of stately homes along graceful streets dotted with spacious parks, might ever experience.

"We're not on the front lines of shootouts or something," the Rev. Stephen Williams had said of Savannah's gun violence in an interview only weeks before. "But it concerns us just as if it were."

Williams could not have predicted how close the church he has led for 19 years would come to an issue that has grown increasingly troublesome for many in the city.

All 14 homicides this year, mostly in the downtown and midtown areas, involved guns, compared to nine of the 10 killings that occurred by this time last year.

Overall, violent crimes are up 3 percent and 5 percent from 2012 and 2011, respectively, according to the most recent Savannah-Chatham county police data. That includes 95 aggravated assaults with guns this year, which is above average and up 50.8 percent and 66.7 percent from 2012 and 2011, respectively.

More than half (50.3 percent) of the total 189 aggravated assaults this year have involved guns, according to police.

Nationwide, firearm-related homicides declined 39 percent (18,253 to 11,101) from 1993 to 2011, according to a report released in May by the U.S. Justice Department. Still, gun violence accounted for about 70 percent of all homicides in the same period.

At First Presbyterian, a four-part study series titled "Gun Violence, Gospel Values" was only in its second week that Sunday of the shooting, and some parishioners were making their way over to Butler Memorial Presbyterian Church, a predominantly black congregation less than 2 miles west on Victory Drive.

Source: Savannah Now | Marcus E. Howard
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