City leaders gathered Friday morning to honor the lives of people in Chattanooga affected by gun violence, urging peace and safety in the coming months.
Pastors, members of the city council, community leaders and city officials wore orange in honor of National Gun Violence Awareness Day.
Speakers included the Rev. Ternae Jordan, Councilwoman Demetrus Coonrod, Mayor Tim Kelly and the Rev. Ernest Reid Jr.
Chattanooga and its police department have been dealing with an unusually high number of shootings over the past two months, so much so that the department announced it would dedicate more staff to address gun violence.
Jordan talked about the Stop the Madness campaign and told the story of how his 15-year-old son was shot in the head in 1993 while waiting for a ride from his mother at a YMCA in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
"Two bullets entered the YMCA," Jordan said. "One lodged in the wall, the second bullet lodged in my son's head. I thought I saw him take his last breath."
Thankfully, Jordan said, his son remains alive and well, now 42 years old. But regretfully, he said, he has spoken at 105 funerals for people who have died from gun violence.
"This coming Tuesday," he said. "Right here in the city of Chattanooga, I will funeralize my 106th person. This madness must stop."
Coonrod said that in 2011, she lost her fiance to gun violence.
"As we stand here on the steps today and as we look forward to the future, we can't keep doing the same things and expect different results," she said. 'There is no magic solution to end gun violence. However, we must be intentional to address the roots of the problem."
Coonrod called for getting guns out of the hands of young people and advocated for educating each other on the issues.
Mayor Tim Kelly said maybe the most disturbing part about Chattanooga's recent gun violence is that shooters have been as young as 14, while victims have been as young as 2.
"We have to ask ourselves if children are picking up guns and making the choice to threaten the lives of their friends and our neighbors and their classmates, is what we're doing working?" Kelly said. "The answer is clearly that it is not. So it's time we treated this terrible problem like what it is: an epidemic that is threatening the health and well-being of our entire community."
Kelly said he and his administration will address the issue as a public health crisis and said gun violence will not be tolerated.
Kelly added that financial resources to the issues that cause gun violence will be reflected in his upcoming budget and that he has tasked police Chief David Roddy and a number of other city officials to start to create policy on how to curb the violence.
National Gun Violence Awareness Day originated when 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton of Chicago was killed just days after performing at former President Barack Obama's second inauguration. The date is now observed nationally on the first Friday in June by wearing orange and working to raise awareness for gun violence prevention.
Contact Patrick Filbin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6476. Follow him on Twitter @PatrickFilbin.
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