Walk for Hope takes stand against gun violence
The scores of hands raised above the dark brown pews on Friday night poignantly proved how much gun violence affects people across Metro Detroit.
To start the second Walk for Hope at Gesu Catholic Church, U.S. District Judge Terrence Berg, who was shot last year outside his home in the city’s University District, had asked the audience of 150 to 200 how many had experienced such brutality -- or knew anyone who has. The response, the jurist said, underscored the need for the rally.
“We’re here today to walk in solidarity with all of those who have been touched in some way by gun violence,” Berg told the crowd. “We all know how terrible and difficult this.”
The gathering at his longtime church on the city’s west side came as the judge continues to recover from the incident that sparked widespread attention and while Berg’s alleged assailant faces more court proceedings.
But for Berg and others who spoke Friday, the focus was on uniting a community to somehow prevent gun violence.
“It’s extremely difficult, but the facts are: We have to ... do something,” said Isaiah McKinnon, deputy mayor of Detroit and former city police chief. “It’s important for all of us to take a stand.”
Berg was shot and wounded March 5, 2015, during what investigators called a robbery attempt.
He told police one man demanded to be let inside his house while another shot the judge when he refused. Berg’s wife and teenage son were home at the time.
The two people involved fled in a dark-colored sedan, according to the FBI. Berg has said he didn’t recognize the men and thought the incident was random.
The alleged trigger man, Detroit resident Kevin Smith, was arraigned in December. He has a court hearing scheduled for Tuesday. Another man, “Unnamed Defendant #2,” also was charged in the case. He is being called a “cooperating witness.”
Wayne County Circuit Judge Timothy Kenny has set an April 27 trial date on charges of conspiracy to commit armed robbery, armed robbery, assault with intent to murder, felon in possession of a firearm and felony firearm.
At Gesu on Good Friday, Berg — who last year attended the inaugural walk using a wheelchair and crutches — demonstrated the benefits of his lengthy recuperation by jumping impressively from the podium.
He renewed his call to address carnage in the city, but also to highlight an antidote: community togetherness. Berg quoted his teen son’s speech that addressed the shooting: “ ‘Criminals, bullets, violence and hatred can’t match up against prayers, friends, home-cooked meals and love.’ That to me is the message I also take away from this last year. That love is stronger than fear. That the embrace of a caring and supporting community is the best kind of personal security.”
Teddy Berg, who dialed 911 after the shooting last year and rushed out to his father in the cold, earned a standing ovation when he proposed five measures to curb gun violence — including an assault weapon ban.
“Ultimately gun control is not about taking guns away from people; it is about building a safe and just society in which all of us can be free from fear,” the youth said.
McKinnon suggested extending efforts beyond the walk and reaching out to "touch the lives, the minds of young people who might think they can do something like that. ... It takes people, all of us, to talk to them, to spend time with them, to share with them -- to do as much as we can to have a tremendous impact on their lives so they don’t do what these young people did."
Among the throng walking in bright sunlight and brisk air was Diane Mato, a longtime church member. Stepping near Livernois, she hoisted a homemade sign: a blue banner affixed to a cross with an ivory-white dove above the word “Peace.”
“If we don’t stand for hope, then what do we stand for? I love my city and I’d love to see more of this,” she said, gesturing to her banner. “More peace, less violence.”
That notion also spurred Detroiter Shana Merchant to join her children on the march.
“It’s time to come together,” she said while pushing her young son in a stroller outside the church. “The more we see this coming together, fighting for justice — the better our city will be.”