Boots on the Ground: Black Church Prayer Warriors Shut Down Gun Crime in Florida Neighborhood
Boots on the Ground hosted a ‘Holy Ghost Block Party’ in June, photo: Facebook page of the Southern District New Covenant Fellowship.
A crime-ridden Black neighborhood in the Florida town of Lakeland has not had a gun-shot victim since October, with no shootings since January, and police and government leaders are crediting church members with a group called Boots on the Ground.
Every Tuesday evening a small group of Black women and men wearing military-style camouflage uniforms march for about an hour through the Chestnut Woods neighborhood, loudly singing and praying. Afterward, they talk with residents all in a (so far successful) effort to quell violence and gang activity, reported The Ledger.
“According to statistics provided by the Lakeland Police Department, officers were called to Chestnut Woods for gun-related incidents 19 times last year.
“So far this year, officers responded to five reports of shots fired, all of which took place in January.
“No one has been shot since October.
“And everyone agrees: Boots on the Ground, the faith-based neighborhood watch group that marches through the streets in prayer, doing what it can to regulate the rising tide of violence through spreading the good word, has played a major role.
“”The kids are able to go out and play now without having to worry about a drive-by,” said Fenisha Kirby, 43, as she cradled one of her grandbabies. “You see how quiet it is here right now? Before, you couldn’t even stand out here.”
“”We need them out here. They are getting all the demons out,” 26-year-old Tamara Stanford added.”
“LPD Assistant Chief Mike Link said that overall, it’s just a very positive thing.
“”What they are doing is interceding with the young folks who are getting involved with gang violence and helping them get involved with positive things,” he said. “We will take all the help from the community we can get, and this is a help.”
…”Boots on the Ground was founded by Debbie L. Crumbley, 50. After watching wave after wave of gang activity surge through Lakeland, Crumbley said she decided she’d had enough and, with the blessing and backing of her pastor, Bethel Gospel Tabernacle’s Charles Williams, began recruiting.
“For almost a year now the group, which fluctuates between four and 10 members, has met every Tuesday night, congregating under the street sign at the tip of the West Lakeland Chestnut Woods neighborhood. It’s comprised of one street, Chestnut Woods Drive, which stretches about two-tenths of a mile before dead-ending in a cul-de-sac.
“Beginning their march at 6:30 on the dot, the crew, replete with camo hats, shirts and pants tucked into shined, black, combat boots, moves up and down the strip of asphalt, for an hour, non-stop, all the while belting prayers as loud as their lungs will let them.”
…“Crumbley said the group takes time after its marches to socialize with members of the community, praying with those who ask, reaching out to those who may need a hand. Shonda Clay, 42, who has been marching with the group since day one, said the socializing afterward, along with helping to clean up the neighborhood, has residents slowly coming around.
“”When we first started they stayed away, they weren’t sure,” she said. “Now they call us over, they ask us to pray with them. I can see a change taking place in the community. At first they resisted us, now they embrace us.””
“Lakeland Commissioner Phillip Walker, who heads the Gang Task Force for the city, said he was more than happy to bring Boots on the Ground into the GTF fold, and has been pleased with the results.
“”They’ve been aggressive in that area for some time now, and we have seen a change out there, we’ve seen an improvement,” he said. “I don’t want to say it’s eradicated, but we have some semblance of control.””
The article does note that misdemeanor crimes are still occurring in Chestnut Woods even though shootings have stopped for the time being.
Photos posted to Facebook by the Southern District New Covenant Fellowship show Boots on the Ground holding a ‘Holy Ghost Block Party’ in Chestnut Woods last month.