Outside a laundromat in north Baton Rouge on Saturday, more than 100 people stood in a circle, praying for an end to the violence that too often ends the lives of young men in this part of the city.
Since last spring, three men in their 20s have been killed in separate shootings on the same scrap of concrete on the corner where Greenwell Springs Road meets Washington Avenue. The latest victim was Joel Fealing, a 23-year-old who died after being shot there in March.
Fealing's family was at the laundromat Saturday, surrounded by members of Star Hill Baptist Church and Living Faith Christian Center who had joined Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul and his officers for a walking "prayer patrol." It was the second of four stops — all sites of recent fatal shootings in neighborhoods near Star Hill — the group made during the event.
The participants walked for nearly two hours in the summer heat, singing gospel tunes and waving to curious residents who appeared in doorways and yards along the way. They paused when they arrived at each shooting scene to pray for peace and safety — and against vices like hatred, greed and addiction.
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"I just thank God for this outpouring of love and concern about the senseless bloodshed in our community," said Kendall Fealing, father of Joel Fealing.
Organizers plan to repeat the prayer patrol monthly, moving each time to a different section of Baton Rouge plagued by violence, said the Rev. Lynwood Spell, pastor of Star Hill. They'll use Police Department data to target hotspots of criminal activity.
The goal? "Showing love," Spell said.
"A lot of people who are doing things to hurt others have been hurt themselves," he said. "No one has come to them or been patient or kind enough to them, and that's what the church's vision and mission is — to empathize, show compassion and love to people."
One of the stops on Saturday's route was on North 47th Street, where a member of Spell's congregation — 56-year-old James Young — was fatally shot in May.
A 56-year-old man who was killed in a double-shooting Friday evening in Baton Rouge has been identified.
Paul said the police need the help of churches because they can change the hearts of people involved in crime or tempted to do so. Those people don't necessarily attend church, however, so "we've got to get from behind the pulpit and we have to hit the streets," he said — hence the idea for the walking prayer group.
"Some of these guys, that's what they need — love. Some people are going to say that's soft on crime," Paul said. But "we have to do something different" to bring down Baton Rouge's high rates of homicide and other violent crimes.
Spell said he's optimistic the prayer patrol will be beneficial to young black men, who are disproportionately affected by crime in Baton Rouge.
"We have an identifiable group that needs attention, and that attention is love more so than prison," which can create generational problems because "they have children who will grow up without fathers," Spell said. "This won't make for a healthy America if we continue in the path that we've been on."