A small caravan of diverse citizens in the city of Columbus walk together in the middle of the street in the Linden residential neighborhood. Derrick Russell, the group’s leader, barks into a microphone: “What do we want?” “Safe streets!” We shout back. “When do we want it?” “Now!” Every Monday night for the last few months, we have been walking.
Along our route, women from Moms Demand Action pass out materials about their organization; their noticeable presence in bright red tee shirts speaks to their passion to end gun violence. Some young black boys eagerly climb the stairs of neighbors’ houses, handing out postcards inviting people to a block party, or some other resources. This week, Bea Tiboldi, Margie Davis, and Robin Richard pass out snacks to kids hanging out in front of their apartments. Another week, Ellen Coates or other sisters might join us. Gemma Doll is there, as am I. Be Peace tee shirts signal our presence.
We stop the caravan every so often so folks can talk with the neighbors and catch up with one another. It is a slow and steady walk. Different routes in different parts of the Linden neighborhood, always the same message: gun violence has to stop.
Local police walk with us. One white officer holds the hand of a five-year-old African-American girl, they walk together. Another officer trails behind the marchers in a cruiser, lights flashing, adding to a sense of safety or at least, confirming the desire of the police to be present in the community. A small boy admires the big arm muscles of the officer and he hangs from his bicep as if on a swing.
Sometimes a group shows up and passes out lockboxes, as in, here is a safe place to store your gun in the house. Last week we stopped to pray at a house where a mother was killed, and her boyfriend wounded in a drive-by shooting. There were five children in the house at the time. We could see bullet holes in the door and walls, memorial candles on the sidewalk. In the meantime, children peek out from the blinds of other houses, they seem so vulnerable to me. Other adults stay perched on porches, taking it in, hands waving in response to our greetings.
Derrick calls to us again, “Whose streets?” “Our streets,” we call back to him loudly. Last week, a dead animal lay festering in the heat in the gutter as we walked by. Linden is a stark place.
There is a wilderness here, traffic zooming by on their way somewhere else, trash in some yards while other houses are neatly ordered with flower beds and porch swings. Some neighbors are curious about this modest little group moving through their streets, others say thanks for coming by. Some turn to another street to avoid our little band of walkers.
Gun violence will not stop because we are there. And when we first started walking the neighborhood, I wondered if we would have any impact at all. Does one small group make a difference? If we did not believe that there is purpose to our walking, then Jesus’ message of peace and forgiveness would never have made it out of the garden where Mary Magdalen encountered him. I do not begin to understand why violence reigns in our city, why we cannot as a people learn the ways of peace. I do know that being a presence of peace on Monday nights, helps at least one small part of the city. I know it helps me feel that there must be a way, we need the courage to find it. In our walking, hope happens.
Dear God, please keep the people in Linden safe. Help our city, like so many cities, reduce the violence. Help us find a way to end gangs, poverty, lack of opportunity, lack of trust, of compassion, of purpose. Protect our children. Protect our walkers. Light our path to the way of peace.