A group of clergy and church members joined together at a St. Croix Long Term Recovery Group workshop Tuesday, agreeing to fight crime and violence in the community.
Peter Gudiatis, with more than 30 years of experience in chaplaincy, disaster emergency management and social services administration, is the executive director of the New York Disaster Interfaith Services and chairman of the New York Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster. Under a FEMA sponsorship, he is visiting St. Croix to offer guidance and advice to members of the island’s faith-based community and members of the St. Croix Long Term Recovery Group, and to start a local Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster chapter. (See related story.)
During the workshop at the St. Croix Christian Church, Gudiatis told the group that trauma – such as experience in Category 5 hurricanes – can produce depression, anger and fear and can lead to violence. A person suffering from trauma may feel threatened, anxious or frightened and eventually might lash out.
“Violence after a disaster is because you feel powerless,” he added.
Gudiatis talked about the results of the Godsquad clergy council, working in the 67th precinct in Brooklyn, New York. He asked the St. Croix group of about 20 to discuss the ways that helped reduce violence in the area significantly in two years. The declines in the precinct were steeper than in both Brooklyn and New York City.
After studying a list of programs and services the Godsquad created, the St. Croix group agreed on four that would be possible to implement on the island in the next few months.
Many of the churches already respond to shootings at the scene and show up at the emergency room if the victim is sent to the hospital. They are on hand to see the response time of the police and comfort the victim’s relatives. The group decided all of the member organizations would implement the practice.
The second most important practice they agreed to implement is to meet as a group on corners and blocks in areas known for violence, such as bars and neighborhoods known for violent criminal activity.
“Swarming the block is clearly preventing anything else from happening,” Gudiatis said.
To help grieving families privately, the clergy and members agreed to offer support to the mother and other family members with the help of other mothers of victims.
The fourth project is another one already practiced by many churches – conducting funerals and memorial services that will include clergy from the other organizations. The presence of the clergy and church members serves as support for relatives and as a deterrent.
The faith-based organizations will first search appropriate training to be able to deliver the services. Gudiatis offered suggestions and recommended they contact the American Red Cross.
His final words were cautionary. The members should check on each other after they have dealt with a violent crime. Being at the scene, in the hospital, at the services and providing support afterwards can bring on sleeplessness, loss of appetite and haunted feelings.