Politics

Last week, church leaders from West Louisville and beyond packed into a public school auditorium to hear Gov. Matt Bevin’s ideas for how to stop a surge of violent crime in the neighborhood.

The governor asked the audience to form prayer groups to walk the blocks of three West End zip codes. Some attendees cheered, but others criticized the proposal as too simple, demanding policy solutions. Others heckled or walked out.

Rep. Attica Scott, a Democrat from West Louisville, said the governor should’ve talked about economic solutions — like increasing employment in the area and raising wages.

“West Louisville is not some godless place who needed this savior who lives in Anchorage to come in and say ‘we’re going to pray on it.’ That’s already been happening,” Scott said.

“What we needed was for him to come in and say we have a policy agenda to address these issues.”

Bevin said the prayer walks would be part of a larger solution to address crime in the area, but he didn’t hint at any agenda he would take to the legislature. The governor encouraged religious groups to “adopt” parts of the West End and schedule prayer walks several times per week for a year.

Last week’s meeting was scheduled after the killing of a 7-year-old boy, who was hit by a stray bullet while sitting at his kitchen table in West Louisville.

There were 41 murders in Louisville by the end of April this year, outpacing the first months of 2016. Last year, the city notched its highest murder count in history.

Rep. Phil Moffett, a Republican from Louisville, said Bevin’s prayer proposal “won’t hurt,” but he said the larger problem is citizens not reporting perpetrators to the police.

“We need to get more focused on turning those folks in so we can get them off the streets. If enough inertia comes together, the West End can become a much safer place,” Moffett said.

“If criminals know they won’t get turned in, they’re going to stay and they’re going to continue to commit crimes because they know they can do it without any recourse.”

Rep. Darryl Owens took to Facebook to criticize what he called Bevin’s “pray away the violence solution,” saying it was “insulting and appalling.”

“Instead of committing resources, inviting a dialogue with the hundreds present, or pledging to work toward a tangible long term strategy, the governor revealed his contempt by invoking his perceived spiritual and moral superiority upon us,” Owens said.

“I am outraged by his disrespect and paternalistic regard for those desperately searching for answers and support in our community’s darkest hours.”

In an opinion letter to The Courier-Journal, Louisville Republican Rep. Kevin Bratcher said more needed to be done to address crime in Louisville, but he called the governor’s prayer proposal a “great start.”

“Some have mocked Bevin’s call for a prayerful solution, but most of us understand it,” said Bratcher, who is also the House majority whip. “Prayer is not just a feel-good measure — it helps us understand the obstacles before us and clears our mind for true problem-solving thinking.”

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.