After the Rev. Edward Ellis gave a soul-stirring prayer for God's justice and peace, local singer Neshawn Calloway's voice sang out the lyrics, "I believe the children are our future," setting the tone for a citywide walk to end violence in Chattanooga.
The Rev. Tommy Peak was among more than 70 people who walked from Coolidge Park along the Walnut Street Bridge in the rain Monday to remember victims of violence.
"It's time for God's people to take a stand and say, 'No more violence,'" Peak said.
Children carried the names of the 12 homicide victims killed this year. And adults held a banner leading the march that read "Silence the Violence."
The words hope, unity, peace and healing appeared in the four corners of the banner, highlighting the prayers that organizers have for the city.
The Chattanooga Police Department hosted the event largely with its newly organized police chaplains. Jan Trousdale, director of marketing and business development at March Adams & Associates Inc. came up with the idea for the walk and organized the event after getting angry about violence in the city. Many people in the audience shared her sentiment to pray.
Mayor Andy Berke spoke during the event, commending police and firefighters for their efforts to keep the city safe, vowing to put actions behind words and find people opportunities. He encouraged residents to speak out when they know something that could be helpful to police and for community leaders to take control of neighborhoods. Stopping violence will take a communitywide effort, he said.
"Government can only have so much influence," Berke said. "We need people in churches and schools talking about the importance of society and why it matters for you to go out and be a good person."
The mayor encouraged attendees to walk in silence across the bridge. Sometimes, silence is deafening, he said.
"Through our silence, what we're trying to say to people is that it's time to speak up and that starts when people in churches and synagogues are on every street corner saying 'This is not good for our community, and we're not going to stand for it,'" he said.
Chattanooga Police Chief Fred Fletcher quoted the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, saying that only light can drive out darkness and only love can drive out hate. And, Fletcher added, only action can drive inaction and perseverance prevails over violence.
After the particularly violent week of April 16-22, during which 12 people were shot — including two pregnant women and a 17-year-old, who was killed — Fletcher saturated the streets with extra police officers and worked with a myriad of local and state agencies to target the most violent individuals.
He paid officers overtime and rearranged typical days off to boost the number of officers working for a two-week period that ended Monday.
Between April 20 and April 28, authorities arrested at least 331 people on outstanding warrants and new charges in connection with that focused policing effort. At least 74 of those arrested were gang members, according to police.
Investigators also seized seven illegal firearms during that span, according to police. Many of the arrests were for outstanding warrants, Fletcher said, but officers also worked to add new charges to those case.
"We had a very deliberate push to use those warrant services as an opportunity to identify additional charges against the most violent gang members," he said earlier Monday. "Normally, when many partnerships do warrants, they look for just numbers to put people in jail. We had a whole team here to gather intelligence. A big part of this effort was to gather intelligence to set us up for success going forward."
Samantha Vandergriff walked in the rain pushing her 12-year-old daughter in a wheelchair.
"It's time for people to come together," Vandergriff said.
Ten-year-old Hailey Burgess sloshed through water holding the name of Ladarious Bush, one of a dozen people killed this year.
"We didn't know them, but we feel like they are family. Everybody is our family," she said.
Ten-year-old JerrRod Taylor held up the name of George Dillard, who was also killed this year.
"We want gang members to stop doing what they're doing," Taylor said. "Stop killing people."
Staff writer Shelly Bradbury contributed to this story.
Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at email@example.com.