JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – City leaders and pasters are hoping prayers can be answered after recent violence in Jacksonville.
Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Gaffney asked other city leaders, pastors, nonprofits and community members to come together for a prayer rally Wednesday.
“You wake up every morning now and some young kid is losing his life, and out of that, so many parents are hurting right now,” Gaffney said.
The rally began at noon at City Hall and was attended by former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, who had just pleaded guilty in federal court to one count of tax evasion in her fraud case.
One by one, local pastors took turns praying for peace.
“God, we come bleeding the blood of Jesus against the attacks of the enemies,” said Baptist Ministers Conference Pastor Darien Bolden. “Sin and violence run our streets like mad dogs.”
“Satan has not only taken over our country, but he’s taken over this city, and we’re taking ground back starting today,” said Doug McCary, with S.W.A.T.S.
Disciples of Christ Pastor Robert LeCount, with Quench the Violence, said, “We’re trying to get our community to come together so that we can show unity and show that we’re angry enough that we want this gun violence to stop.”
As the prayer rally came to a conclusion, Brown was asked to come up to the podium.
“God is good,” Brown said, to which the crowd repeated. “You could do better than that. God is good. ... All the time. And I’m a living witness that He will show up and show out.”
She then asked for a pastor to come up and sing.
“God Is good. I'm a living witness that He will show up and show out.”— Corley Peel (@WJXT_CorleyPeel) May 18, 2022
Right after she pleaded guilty to tax fraud, Former congresswoman Corrine Brown briefly spoke at nearby prayer vigil where local pastors and city leaders addressed violence @wjxt4 https://t.co/ST0DYPyosB pic.twitter.com/0eN73zTDTZ
The number of people killed at the hands of another in Jacksonville currently stands at 61 -- with 49 of those deaths classified as murders. Through the same period in 2021, there had been 52 homicides with 40 murders.
“I talk to the sheriff’s department two to three times a week. They believe a lot of it is gang. They say social media is a No. 1 factor,” Gaffney said.
Gaffney says the power of prayer, mental health resources and after-school programs are a few ways he’s hoping to combat violence.
“If you see a troubled teen, a troubled family, please hug them and take them to a local church,” he said.
Gaffney isn’t the only one calling for an end to the city’s violence. Gun control advocates rallied Tuesday at City Hall demanding new gun laws. Mothers Against Violence voiced their desires for changes in Northwest Jacksonville, where they say senseless shootings and killings can be prevented. The mothers in the group have all lost a child to gun violence.
“Our stories are not the only stories,” one mother said. “There are way too many stories for us to keep telling and not to do anything about it. I’m begging and pleading. Help. We’re losing our children. It isn’t supposed to be like this.”
While activists are demanding new gun control measures, opponents say the laws to curb the violence are already on the books.
Eric Friday is a constitutional attorney with Florida Carry he pushes for gun rights. He says the key is to enforce those laws instead of infringing on the rights of law-abiding citizens.
“If we were really serious about preventing these types of cases, we would be identifying and actually treating these people who we believe are a danger. But we are not. We are identifying them and putting them on a list. Because it makes people feel good,” Friday said.
Just hours after Tuesday’s rally, there were two more shootings in the city.
The first happened about 9:30 p.m Tuesday when someone fired shots into a car that was driving in the area of East 8th Street. One person inside was hit and was rushed to the hospital with life-threatening injuries.
The second happened about two hours later when men playing basketball got into a fight near Philips Highway and Emerson Street. JSO said someone pulled out a gun and shot a man in the ankle. He’s expected to be OK.
Jacksonville police also responded Wednesday to a suspicious death.
Local groups plan to continue rallying against violence this week. Quench the Violence and Arms of Mercy plan to hold a march at 5 p.m. Friday outside the Duval County Courthouse.