Show of solidarity: A shooting victim, judge seeks end to 'scourge of gun violence'

(Editor’s Note: The following is the full text of the remarks delivered by U.S. District Judge Terrence Berg at Gesu Catholic Church, in Detroit, just before the Walk for Hope began on Good Friday, April 3. These remarks were offered as a reflection in the context of a prayer service.)

By Terrence Berg

Let’s give another round of applause for Keith Laurin for his wonderful song.  Thank you to Jim Sweeney, our Gesu Parish Council president, and Fr. Robert Scullin, S.J., and Jim’s wife, Laura Silveri, and all of those on the committee who organized this Walk for Hope today.

Thank you all so much for coming today. It is inspiring to see so many people who care about Detroit, who want to make a difference, who are full of hope about Detroit and committed to saying no to gun violence.

I want to thank the Gesu community, the University District community, and all those from the U.S. District Court, and so many other friends and family members for all the wonderful support you have given my family, the meals, the cards and letters, and the prayers.

I am so grateful to my wife Anita and my son Teddy, who acted quickly after the shooting and called 911. I thank our remarkable neighbors, Dr. Tamar Jeffrey, an emergency room doc, who bolted across the street to my aid from her house within seconds of the shooting and immediately administered first aid. And my neighbor Andy Moore, who also appeared out of nowhere and began helping us in the crucial seconds after I was shot.

I thank Officer Langford of the Detroit Police Department and his partner who transported me to DMC Sinai Grace Hospital and later came to visit me. I thank the superb medical staff at DMC Sinai Grace for their kindness and professionalism. I thank my friends who visited me in the hospital and current and former colleagues, from the U.S. District Court and from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, for their constant support and friendship. I thank the many family members, friends, judges, attorneys, and strangers from around the country who have reached out to me and sent prayers, cards and books and expressions of consolation. I am so deeply grateful.

On this Good Friday, which also marks the start of Passover, we remember the Son of Man, Jesus, who sacrificed himself for others.

We remember our Lord’s example of self-giving love that leads to salvation. Let me ask you all something: is it not about time for City of Detroit to experience salvation? 

At the start of Passover, when the Jewish people celebrate the liberation and freedom from bondage in Egypt, is it not time for our city to experience liberation from the scourge of gun violence?

Incidents like what happened to me make people say Detroit is a violent city. We do not seek to minimize or hide the serious crime problem we have, but we all know that is not the whole story of Detroit. 

The Detroit we have known over the past quarter century living in this neighborhood has truly been a welcoming place, a place where neighbors care for one another, a place where people of goodwill work together to improve their city.

For us, Detroit has been a blessed community. Detroit has been a beloved community, a community of neighbors who care. There are thousands and thousands of wonderful neighbors in this area and all across this entire city, who support and look out for one another.  If you want to see a concrete example of this love, you need look no further than across the street from this church, where you see the beautiful Gesu Community Green, a kids’ park with play structures, swings, trees and park benches picnic tables and exercise stations, where once an empty cinder lot stood. This park was built by this community. I know she doesn’t want me to, but I salute my wife Anita for coordinating the construction of this park, but many of you who are here today are the people who built that park. This community is the reason that park exists.

And we are all here because we love Detroit but we want to do something positive to show we are against violence. We are here to show the world our beloved community and to express solidarity with each other in hard times.

I am sorry to have become a victim of gun violence. But I know I am so much more fortunate than so many Detroiters who are injured and killed by gun violence every year. 

Detroit Police crime statistics show that for 2014, there were 300 homicides and 1,054 non-fatal shootings.

In 2013 Detroit had 388 homicides and 1,161 non-fatal shootings. 

And in 2012 there were 461 murders and 1,263 non-fatal shootings. 

The encouraging thing is that the numbers are coming down a little each year; the disturbing thing is that over the past 3 years, 3,478 people have been shot in Detroit without being killed, while 1,149 people lost their lives from homicide, most of them from gun violence.

These numbers are impossible to really grasp, because each individual human life is infinitely valuable. I know today we have with us the mother of Paige Stalker, a young woman who lost her life to homicide.  Can I recognize Ms. Jennifer Stalker and ask her to please stand?  Are there others here today who have been touched in some way by gun violence?  We honor your loss.

This community loves you, supports and prays for you all.

Let me ask you all, do you accept this level of gun violence?

This level of gun violence is completely intolerable and unacceptable. We will not accept it.

I appeal to all Detroiters and all people in Michigan to do something in three areas that will help our city turn away from gun violence.

First, the people of Detroit need jobs. People need work to lift themselves out of poverty and to have hope. Poverty and hopelessness lead to crime of all kinds, including gun violence.

The people of Detroit know these statistics because they live their reality every day. 

According the census bureau, just over 37 percent of our city’s residents are living in poverty, compared to only about 12 percent nationwide. 

Approximately 57 percent of Detroit’s children are living in poverty, compared with 23 percent of children nationwide.

Detroit’s unemployment rate is over 14 percent (bureau of labor statistics), while nationally the unemployment rate is 5.5 percent.

Compared to average America, poverty and unemployment in Detroit is two to three times worse.  Double or triple as bad as the rest of the country. This must change. Anyone who has lived in the city knows that there has been chronic unemployment for decades. People need work.  Like the level of gun violence, this is also intolerable.  This is also unacceptable.

So, I appeal to our greater community to hire more Detroiters. 

We watch in awe at the transformation of our beautiful downtown and midtown areas thanks to the visionary commitment of leaders like Dan Gilbert and the Ilitch family and many other entrepreneurs, start-ups, and small businesses. 

To the wonderful investors and who have transformed that entire area and stirred hope and excitement for the future, and all you energetic and far-seeing business leaders who love Detroit and are doing so much to improve our city, I ask you and all great business people in our Metro area to do whatever you can to make more jobs available for the people in Detroit. 

To the titans of our world-class auto industry, I plead to you: invest more resources right in the city of Detroit so that more people can find work.

To all the young and old innovators and entrepreneurs, and to every mom and pop party store and gas station lining the streets of our city: I ask you to see if you can stretch your budget to hire more employees. The people need work to rise out of poverty and find a hopeful future. As long as there is no work, Detroit will continue to suffer from a high crime rate.

Second, we must ensure that every child in Detroit is given a quality education. I know this is a complicated question, and that our state and city leaders are struggling mightily to find solutions.  I support them. We stand in the shadow of one school that provides a safe and effective learning environment for 200 Detroit grade schoolers every day. Let’s give the wonderful staff of Gesu School and all the educators of Detroit’s children a round of applause. A good education is the birthright of every American child. Let us all commit ourselves to get involved with educating the young people of Detroit, whether as a mentor, a tutor, an advocate, or a concerned and involved parent. Education is the key to developing responsible and law-abiding citizens. It provides kids with the tools they need to make good decisions.  It affords them an opportunity to reach their full potential as an individual. If we do not succeed in improving our education system, we will not be able to reduce the problem of gun violence.

Finally, Detroit needs more police officers. In the case of my shooting, Detroit’s bravest and finest were on the scene within minutes.  But we are only a mile from the 12th Precinct and the fact remains that the police department is understaffed in terms of the number of officers available to respond to calls and the scope of our crime problem.  I applaud the efforts our Mayor and city leaders have taken to help DPD, but we need to spare no expense to provide the Detroit Police Department with all the man and woman power, and all the technological resources that it needs in order to fight crime successfully. Whether it takes more taxes, or user fees, or any other way of raising revenue, the people have the right to expect the government to provide for the safety and security of its citizens. We need to fully fund our police department and get more officers on the street.

I apologize for getting up on my soapbox, but this is the biggest soapbox I will ever have, and this is the only time I have ever been shot, and these are the three things I think we need to do to do something positive and lasting against gun violence.

But, I firmly believe that practical and economical solutions alone are not enough. There must be a spiritual conversion. The young people who are irrationally infatuated with the power of the handgun must have a change of heart. As a community, we must pull together, as we are today in this walk for hope, and help all people turn away from violence as a solution and turn toward love.

I have called Detroit our beloved community, our blessed community.

That has been my experience, and I know that is what we all want Detroit to be for everyone.

On this Good Friday, we draw strength and consolation from one of the greatest expressions of spiritual aspiration for a blessed community that was ever spoken: Jesus’s articulation of the beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount. This is the same sermon in which He enjoined us to “love our enemies,” and to “turn the other cheek.”  I close with these beatitudes as a prayer for our success, and in thanksgiving for each of you for coming out today to walk for hope and against gun violence:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.

Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.

Thank you so much for coming, thank you for building up and lifting up our blessed community, our beloved community.

God bless you, and enjoy the Walk for Hope!