On a rainy Friday night, the Dallas church hall meeting was filled with talk of the latest tiroteos y balaceras — gunfire and gun battles.
Erika Gonzalez said she can now distinguish between the metallic sounds and rhythm of a high-caliber assault weapon vs. a pistol. “They discharge and they refill,” she said at St. Philip the Apostle Catholic Church in southeast Dallas.
“We need more help for this combat,” said Lily Rodriguez, a U.S. citizen who helped organize the meeting. “Raise your voice. It will give us credibility.”
They’re part of a new gun-control campaign that is spreading in Mexican-American and Mexican immigrant neighborhoods in Dallas and elsewhere in Texas. Already, 11,000 Texans have signed postcards asking for support for four federal bills, including two on enhanced background checks for firearms purchases, organizers say.
The campaign started after the mass shooting Aug. 3 at an El Paso Walmart, in which a Dallas-area man traveled to the border city with an assault rifle to hunt Mexicans, according to a court affidavit. By the end of the shooting spree, 22 people were dead. It is believed to be the worst violence against Latinos in a century — since widespread lynchings across the West aimed at those of Mexican ancestry....
[Photo Credit: Dianne Solis, Dallas Morning News]
After El Paso Massacre, Dallas Area Interfaith Calls for Tougher Gun Laws, Dallas Morning News [pdf]
Included in recent TIME reporting was an assembly organized by EPISO/Border Interfaith in which 300 institutional leaders gathered alongside 12 local, state and congressional leaders who all pledged to reassure the community -- especially its most vulnerable members.
At one point, the assembly intentionally broke out into small group check-ins responding to the questions: "How are you doing? What do you need?" Heartfelt conversations around the room elicited emotional stories from attendees, public officials, and even media covering the gathering.
In the assembly, Texas State Representative Cesar Blanco committed to working with the Texas IAF network to identify state emergency resources for counseling and professional services for El Paso schools. He also committed to developing a plan for state legislation promoting gun safety, including bans on assault rifles, universal background checks, and red flag alerts.
At the urging of EPISO/Border Interfaith leaders, school officials agreed to coordinate direct support for families most in need of care to process the shooting.
Leaders are continuing to focus public officials on a mental health response, as part of a comprehensive approach to recent shootings.
'Trauma Doesn't Go Away By Itself.' How El Paso is Tackling Mental Health Stigma After the Walmart Mass Shooting, TIME Magazine [pdf]
Just days after the shooting that targeted Latinos in El Paso, 300 EPISO/Border Interfaith leaders and clergy gathered to "stand against fear" and begin a community-wide healing process alongside 12 local, state and congressional leaders who all pledged to reassure the community -- especially its most vulnerable members.
“We must understand that terrorism wants to create fear and division that promotes misunderstanding, mistrust and violence,” said Fr. Pablo Matta, EPISO/Border Interfaith co-chair and pastor of St. Paul Catholic Church in El Paso. “That is not El Paso, and we must not let fear succeed.”
Leaders in the pews made commitments to launch parish-based listening sessions throughout El Paso to reach those feeling most anxious and isolated, to secure additional emergency counseling and mental health services and to actively support legislation to curb gun violence.
“I’m ready to walk with you,” said US Congresswoman Veronica Escobar, asserting that the attack goes deeper than a permissive gun culture. "You all are about accountability. We have to be accountable with the people who use language that inspires hate."
Similarly, Catholic Bishop Mark Seitz and Episcopal Bishop Michael Buerkel Hunn urged leaders to actively engage those feeling uneasy and isolated and to elicit their stories and concerns. “El Paso is a special community,” said Bishop Seitz. “We have an opportunity to do this for the rest of the country.”
The assembly broke out into small group conversations, responding to the questions: "How are you doing? What do you need?" Heartfelt conversations around the room elicited emotional stories -- and many tears -- from attendees, public officials, and even media covering the gathering.
Other officials in attendance included State Representative Cesar Blanco, County Judge Ricardo Samaniego, County Commissioners Vince Perez and David Stout, City Representatives Cassandra Hernandez and Claudia Ordaz Perez, City Manager Tommy Gonzalez, Ysleta ISD Superintendent Xavier De La Torre and El Paso ISD School Board Trustee Freddy Kayel-Avalos.
Representative Blanco committed to work with the Texas IAF network around developing a plan for state legislation promoting gun safety, including bans on assault rifles, universal background checks, and red flag alerts. He also committed to working with leaders to identify state emergency resources for counseling and professional services for El Paso schools. City and County officials agreed to develop a strategy to reassure immigrant families and their children, encouraging them not to be afraid of local law enforcement nor of public services. School officials agreed to coordinate direct support for families most in need of care to process the shooting.
[Photo Credit: Briana Sanchez, El Paso Times]
Standing Against Fear: Catholic Church Hosts Interfaith Gathering After Mass Shooting, El Paso Times [pdf]
Multiethnic Group Holds Vigil to Remember Victims of El Paso Shooting, FOX News
What Next? El Paso Faith Community Shares Stories of Fear and Anger in Shooting Aftermath, America Magazine [pdf]
[Excerpts from America Magazine below...]
The Rev. Pablo Matta was one of a number of priests who visited El Paso hospitals in the hours after a gunman with a high-powered rifle opened fire Aug. 3 in a Walmart massacre that took 22 lives....“I saw a lot of the people that died,” Father Matta said....
“There’s a lot of grief,” [Dolores DeAvila] said. Ms. DeAvila, a leader with El Paso Interreligious Sponsoring Organization/Border Interfaith, has spoken with many who lost loved ones in the shooting or were in the vicinity. She described the panic that ensued in nearby restaurants, including one where people hid in a walk-in cooler. “We say we’re prepared [for a mass shooting], but we’re not,” she said.
EPISO/Border Interfaith is organizing a community event on Aug. 8 at St. Paul Church, where Father Matta is pastor. In addition to fear, Ms. DeAvila said there is a lot of anger around assault weapons.
“This is a community that was attacked and they understand that,” Joe Rubio, director of the West/Southwest Industrial Area Foundation, a network of community organizations, said of the attack.
“There is incredible grief, and it’s starting to turn into anger. People are starting to look for someone to blame for this,” Mr. Rubio said. “The church can take part in helping to shape people’s reaction to this. Not just by having a vigil, but in a way people can create public accountability for who bears responsibility for unleashing this kind of destruction and hate.”
Mr. Rubio believes there should be an organized response supporting restrictions on assault rifles and background checks for individuals seeking to purchase firearms. “There’s a prophetic role for the church to play in this conversation,” he said. “We’re going to either proactively save people or they’re going to pay with their lives.”
What Next? El Paso Faith Community Shares Stories of Fear and Anger in Shooting Aftermath, America Magazine [pdf]
FIGHTING AGAINST FEAR
Our Neighborhoods, Our Strength
We are deeply saddened by the horrific shootings in El Paso and Dayton over the past 48 hours. Our hearts go out to those murdered, those injured, their families and these entire communities. We also stand in support of our IAF sister organization EPISO/Border Interfaith and its workforce training organization Project ARRIBA, whose work has been deeply embedded in the El Paso community for decades.
This Thursday, August 8th at 7pm at St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church, EPISO/Border Interfaith (BI) leaders will assemble to demonstrate that this hate-filled act has no place in El Paso. Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish leaders representing 19 local institutions from all walks of life will stand united to grieve and rebuild the bonds of trust to overcome fear and hate.
Because El Paso is the largest US city on the border, and among the safest in our country, EPISO/BI leaders will not let this senseless act of violence define its border community. This week EPISO/BI recommits to its long-term political work of building vital public relationships, rooted in trust.
The story of the Good Samaritan challenges us all to see the humanity in those we have been taught to despise and to practice neighborliness, not to be divided by senseless acts of violence. We urge all people to reach out to those who might feel isolated or fearful and seek fruitful relationships not just in the coming days and weeks, but for the long term. Those kinds of efforts can lay a foundation for relationships with people who are different, and collaborative strategies for long-term solutions.
We must do all we can to combat the culture of violence and hate which contributes to tragedies like these.
Fulfilling a commitment made to TMO earlier this year, Houston Police Chief (and incoming president of the Major Cities Chiefs Association) Art Acevedo publicly urged American Outdoor Brands Corp., formerly Smith & Wesson, to examine its safety practices and standards.
The joint letter -- signed also by Senior Rabbi David Lyon of Congregation Beth Israel of TMO and Montgomery Police Chief (and outgoing MCCA president), J. Thomas Manger -- was accompanied with a supportive statement by the Do Not Stand Idly By campaign. Do Not Stand Idly By is a national IAF campaign made up of law enforcement leaders, medical and public health professionals and religious leaders to promote the production and use of smart guns.
Police Chiefs, Clergy to Gunmaker: Cut Shootings by Making Guns Safer, Houston Chronicle
Cops, Priests Urge Smith & Wesson to Make Guns Safer, Bloomberg Business
At a gathering of 100 clergy and leaders from diverse faith communities at Congregation Beth Israel, TMO succeeded in leveraging the support of Houston Chief of Police Art Acevedo, making Houston the first city in Texas to support the 'Do Not Stand Idly By' campaign for gun safety.
The ceremonial signing was preceded by remarks by Rabbi Joel Mosbacher (Metro IAF), Mr. Ernesto Cortes Jr. (West / Southwest IAF), and Houston Chief of Police Art Acevedo about the pressing need for an effective strategy. Rabbi Mosbacher described the 'Do Not Stand Idly By' campaign as a market-based approach to entice gun manufacturers to develop safe(r) gun technologies that make it more difficult for stolen guns to be used and / or sold on the black market. Cortes described the importance of building lasting power through relationships and community organizing. Chief Acevedo expressed his support for the strategy, and agreed to sign on.
This win makes Houston the second major US city to sign on to the campaign, Los Angeles being the first due to efforts by One LA.
Houston Might Join Campaign for Gun Safety Focusing on Manufacturer, Houston Public Media