By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — As the number of homicides and confirmed shots fired in the city has increased, prayer services at the sites where people have been injured or killed have ramped up. A student at Lourdes Catholic School in Bettendorf is among the shooting survivors, after being injured by a stray bullet May 22 in Davenport.
Prayer service organizers conducted a prayer service May 26 at the intersection of Iowa and East Locust Streets where Zach Smith, 14, was struck by a stray bullet in broad daylight. The group Davenport Bearing Witness “What Does Justice Look Like?” has met to pray at shooting sites since December.
Representatives say the group is committed to praying for healing with individuals and families directly affected by gun violence, will not accept gun violence as inevitable or normal, and will offer service and support in communities directly affected by gun violence. The group also advocates for local public health approaches to reduce gun violence.
John De Taeye of Davenport Bearing Witness said Smith was caught in the crossfire coming from two vehicles as he rode in a separate car. De Taeye said several people have contacted the city of Davenport about the need for change. “What’s it going to take for change to happen?” he asked.
Davenport Assistant Police Chief Jeff Bladel said the overall number of confirmed shots fired (whether resulting in injuries, deaths or evidence) was 195 in 2019, 279 in 2020 and 76 in 2021, as of May 26.
Shootings generally fall into two categories: retaliatory and disputes; they tend to teens to early 20s and 20s and 30s or older. “You don’t see a lot of random victims,” he said. Smith was the first random victim this year.
Bladel said among the ways the city is striving to address the problem is creation of a youth assessment center for at-risk youths and their families to provide intervention and assessments. When needs are determined, youths and their families could be navigated to programs and agencies to help. “This is a priority of the city.”
The police department attends city ward meetings and good neighbor projects (a modern version of neighborhood watch), hosts coffee with a cop at the various Hy-Vee grocery stories and is receptive to attending other community meetings to talk about concerns in the city. “It takes a whole community,” he said.
The prayer service
De Taeye, who led the prayer service, said each one includes song and prayer. The mother of another shooting victim who attended an earlier service added the song “This Little Light of Mine” to the program.
The gathering prayed for the innocent and the perpetrators of the shootings. They prayed for Davenport residents affected by gun violence. The issue goes beyond public safety and health. “It’s a spiritual issue. It’s no longer just about the kids, but the adults,” De Taeye said.The Rev. Jay Wolin of Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Quad Cities, said, “We gather again — too often, but never enough.” He said those gathered continue the journey to peace and discernment for the right thing to do. “Every life is precious,” he said.
Kent Ferris, director of social action for the Diocese of Davenport, said he was struck by the prayer site location as “people go by with their routines.” He prayed for peace in the community and that all have a responsibility to work toward that peace.
Father Rudolph Juarez, pastor of St. Anthony Parish in Davenport, said, the community needs to get beyond the repeated violence and hatred and put more energy into getting to the root of the problem of violence.
Lourdes community responds
Father Jason Crossen, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Bettendorf where Zach attends church, said, “Hopefully, from this, we can learn how to continue to be agents of nonviolence and to help our community be more aware of how these things affect people and affect their lives. Random acts of violence are never really random. They really affect individuals and their families, and have some dramatic results.”
The Lourdes community as a parish and school reached out to the family. Father Crossen also visited Zach and his mom the day after the shooting and gave them Communion.
“We are praying and looking for ways to address violence in our community,” Father Crossen said.
Jennifer Alongi, principal at Lourdes Catholic School where Zach attended, said members of the school community held a prayer service May 23 outside Genesis East hospital. “Zach was released around that time and was able to join us (with his mom and dad) for the final decade of the rosary.”
Zach attended school in person throughout the school year, but attended some classes online as he recuperated. He attended his graduation ceremony and awards ceremony May 26 in person.
“Zach is the kindest boy I know. I have never heard him utter an unkind word to or about anyone – ever,” Alongi said. “I believe God has special plans for him.”