The GodSquad: Uniting Faith and Community to Tackle Gun Violence

“Many might ask why clergy would be seen as a viable option in the fight against gun violence,” Pastor Louis Straker, Jr., told me last week. For Straker, a leading New York community activist, the answer is simple, yet remarkably complex.

“Because it takes faith in action to adequately address the ills of our society. We will never be able to arrest our way out of gun violence. We will never be able to legislate our way out of gun violence either.” 

In an era marked by deepening societal fractures and escalating urban violence, New York’s 67th Precinct Clergy Council, affectionately known as the "GodSquad," where Pastor Straker is a board member, stands out as a beacon of hope and a model for community-led change - not just in New York, but in other cities throughout the nation and potentially the world.

Since its founding in 2010, this unique collaboration between local faith leaders and law enforcement in New York City has demonstrated the profound impact of a holistic, faith-based approach to public safety.

The GodSquad was established out of an urgent need to address the escalating gun violence within its precinct, an issue that plagues many American cities. Yet, unlike conventional strategies that rely heavily on increased policing or stricter sentencing, the council has pioneered a different path - one that involves the community at its core and aims to address the root causes of violence.

Specifically, In the early 2000s, East Flatbush, Brooklyn, faced a severe crisis; its murder rate was the highest among New York City’s five precincts, contributing to 25% of the city's total violent incidents. In response to the alarming number of murders and a perceived lack of community engagement with this issue, local clergy members took decisive action.

Driven by a commitment to the welfare and safety of our diverse community, the GodSquad adopted a holistic approach. Their strategies aim to reduce youth involvement in gun violence and foster the development of safer, more peaceful communities. This initiative reflects a shared belief that protecting community safety is a collective responsibility that requires comprehensive, community-driven solutions.

Roger V. Archibald, a Brooklyn lawyer who supports and engages with the GodSquad, provides insight into the council's primary mission: the prevention of gun violence. According to Archibald, “The council's approach involves a multifaceted strategy that focuses on mentoring at-risk youth, providing educational opportunities, and engaging them in constructive, community-building activities. This proactive stance goes beyond mere deterrence; it is about transformation - empowering young people to make choices that lead them away from violence.”

Beyond their youth-focused initiatives, the 67th Precinct Clergy Council extends its reach to offer an array of support services that benefit the broader community. These services include mental health counseling, organizing community events, and various outreach initiatives that enhance the overall wellbeing of the neighborhood. Their efforts underscore the role that faith-based organizations can play in addressing critical societal issues, reaching individuals and families in ways that might challenge traditional public institutions.

What makes the GodSquad particularly effective is its composition. The council brings together individuals from diverse backgrounds - faith leaders, community professionals, and law enforcement officers. This diversity fosters a rich environment for dialogue and problem-solving, allowing for innovative solutions to emerge from varied perspectives. As Archibald notes, “The absence of 'groupthink' is crucial, as it enables and empowers the council to address complex community problems through a multifaceted lens.”

This collaborative spirit is perhaps most evident in their partnership with the local police precinct, which has led to significant achievements in community policing. By fostering open dialogue and building trust between law enforcement and the community, the GodSquad has helped reduce tensions and strengthen relationships, which are vital for sustainable community safety.

Highlighting their broad impact, two specific initiatives stand out: the Clergy-Based Crisis Response and the Clergy For Safe Cities (CSC) Initiative. The Clergy Crisis Response Team exemplifies the council's hands-on approach, providing immediate support in the aftermath of violence through hospital visits, counseling sessions, prayer vigils, and funeral services. Meanwhile, the CSC Initiative seeks to extend this model nationally, training over 500 faith leaders in effective gun violence prevention strategies.

As Straker explained, “We are also very proud of our Flatbush Leadership Academy (FLA) and NEXTGen, mentoring young people between the ages of 14-24. We also have our Single Parents University supporting parents by providing trainings and workshops to help them cope with the challenges of raising children in our urban context. Our Mothers For Safe Cites (soon to expand to Families For Safe Cities) helps support victims of gun violence who are survivors that have lost their children or loved ones to this ‘gundemic’ plaguing our communities.”

The GodSquad’s work has garnered significant recognition, with both local and national organizations praising their innovative approaches to bridging the gap between law enforcement and the community. Their success with the 67th Police Precinct has not only improved community relations but has also offered a blueprint for similar collaborations elsewhere. Notably, GodSquad’s Founding President, Pastor Gilford Monrose, has now gone on to be the Faith Advisor to Mayor Eric Adams, and is the Executive Director for the NYC Mayor’s Office of Faith-Based Initiatives and Community Partnerships.

As we consider the ongoing challenges faced by urban communities across the United States, the story of the 67th Precinct Clergy Council is not merely uplifting - it is instructive. The GodSquad offers a compelling case for how faith and collaboration can lead to meaningful change, suggesting a desperately needed scalable model for other cities grappling with similar issues. 

In a time when the need for unity and effective community engagement is more acute than ever, the GodSquad's continuing commitment and evolving strategies offer a roadmap for a future where community-led initiatives can help transform societal challenges into opportunities for regeneration and peace.

The GodSquad’s 14th Anniversary Gala is on June 24th in Brooklyn