By Andrew Adler
On a July morning a little more than six months ago, a group of people gathered at the corner of 43rd and West Market Streets to remember where 19-year-old Christian Gwynn had been murdered by a drive-by shooter in December of 2019.
But there was more than remembrance at stake on that July day. Representatives of the Crescent Hill Community Council announced there would be a competition to identify innovative ideas for curbing gun violence in Jefferson County. Some 230 entries were submitted over the next several months, and during a Jan. 23 press conference at Metro Hall, organizers announced a pair of winners: multimedia artist Lisa Austin, and retired JCPS psychologist Michael Reed. Each of them will receive $3,500.
Austin says she’ll use her share of the prize money to fund the creation of a banner bearing the names of people who have been murdered or died as result of gun violence.
“Along with their names there will be stories about who they were, or how this affected the community or the person who suggested the name,” Austin said, telling of a cousin who was gunned down in 1951, a killing that “affected my family for generations. “Hopefully (her banner) will be traveling around the city,” so viewers “can see that these are real people, not stereotypes. They’re not from a certain end of town, but from everywhere. They’re all of us.”
Reed’s proposals emphasize how “peace begins with each one of us. We all have a role in creating a more peaceful society. And we can start with just the way we interact with each other. We live in a divisive time, an angry time, and we have to get beyond that.”
More specifically, “we need to talk about the ramifications of gun violence on people,” he said. “When people get into a volatile situation and are angry, they get into a rage, and they quit thinking. But if we start talking, that might be the impetus for (someone) to stop and say, ‘no, this is going to have a tremendous impact on my kids, my family, my mom and dad, and the victim’s family. And that trauma is going to last forever.’”
Trauma still gnaws at Christian Gwynn’s mother, Krista Gwynn. Her daughter was shot and wounded in June of 2021 — less than 18 months after her son was murdered.
“We’re putting on a face about what’s going on with our children in this mayhem,” she said. “Just yesterday or two days ago, a guy was gunned down at Fourth Street Live in broad daylight. These kids are thinking that there are no repercussions – now we are taking a stand and letting them know that it has to stop.”
“Gun violence is something that, as a society, we’ve already seen take far too many lives,” Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg said in prepared remarks. “It’s shattered too many families and terrified too many communities. I’m a survivor of gun violence myself,” Greenberg added, alluding to an assassination attempt while he was campaigning in February 2022. “I lost a very good friend to gun violence at the Old National Bank shooting last year. No one is immune from gun violence. It’s everyone’s problem.”
Greenberg recalled a recent family vacation to Japan, “a country of about 125 million people. That entire country generally loses fewer than 10 people per year to gun violence. Yet here in our beloved city of Louisville, we lost 150 people to homicides – mostly gun violence – last year. That’s simply unacceptable.”
Michael Bogan, director of the city’s Office of Group Violence Intervention, shared thoughts about gun violence’s emotional toll on families.
“I’ve had a chance to speak to grieving mothers, grieving parents,” he said. “I’ve heard the stories, and I will be honest with you: I’ve been moved to tears sitting across from those grieving mothers. In my family I had a dear cousin who was murdered via gun violence. So I’m familiar with the screams of grieving mothers when they hear the news. I’m familiar with the long blank stares into space when they’re trying to make sense of what has happened.”
Asked if he believes the two winning entries will bear substantive results, Rabbi Ben Freed of Keneseth Israel paraphrased a celebrated Mishnah statement attributed to the Torah sage Rabbi Tarfon.
“It’s not up to us to complete the task — we know going into it that this is not going to finish the job,” Freed said. “We’re not going to come here and do this, and then, ‘There’s going to be no more gun violence.’ But ‘you are not free to then withdraw yourself.’ Is this going to be the thing that makes the difference? I don’t know. But we have to try, because if we’re not trying, then we’re not doing anything.”
It may come down to resisting the impulse to settle arguments by pulling a gun. Or as competition co-chair Jane Emke put it: “We need to really start telling people, ‘Put down your piece, and think peace.”