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South L.A. pastors launch outreach campaign to battle gang violence

Twitter and Instagram were filled over the past week with alarming hashtags like #100days100nights after a gang reportedly vowed 100 days of violence to avenge the death of a man who was killed in South Los Angeles in mid-July.

Now, pastors in the community are trying to get a different campaign to take effect: 100 days of peace and prayer.

In the wake of the frightening social media postings and a surge in South L.A. shootings, a group of pastors met Thursday night to talk about the tension.

“We have to do something immediately,” the Rev. Lewis Logan said at the meeting.

In 2005, Logan opened the doors of his former church for gang-intervention efforts. On Thursday night, Logan pushed the meeting’s attendees to go into the hot spots in South L.A. this weekend.

“We are the change we’re looking for,” said Logan, who is pastor of a church in Inglewood.

Logan said, “Violence doesn’t take off a weekend, so it’s important to get out sooner rather than later.

“It says we’re not afraid.”

By midweek, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said that recent shootings were related to long-standing feuds between rival gangs — not social media.

The Rev. Winford Bell, who called the social media campaign a “lie from the depths of hell,” acknowledged that pastors need to get out of the church and onto the street.

“The reality is, we have to go to them,” said Bell, who heads a nonprofit anti-violence group.

Ben “Taco” Owens, a gang intervention worker and church elder, said he’s heard complaints that churches aren’t connected to their communities.

He applauds efforts to get pastors on the streets and sees their role as a supportive one — to reach out and say, “We’re here.”

“I think it’s a great idea. I think it’s brilliant. I think it’s time,” he said. “I think they’re needed now because we need a spiritual component to the peace movement.”

Some members of the clergy have made anti-violence efforts a priority.

Bishop K. Donnell Smith regularly attends vigils, gets out of bed to tend to family members at crime scenes and speaks at funerals for homicide victims.

Smith, a former member of the Crips, says he was a gang intervention worker before he began preaching in 2006.

He talks to gang members about turning their lives around. He says he’s heard community members lament the lack of pastors who stand up and talk about violence in their communities.

“There are people who care,” he said. “If God can change me, he can change anybody.”

-- Nicole Santa Cruz

Photo: A group of pastors and other community members meet Thursday, July 30, 2015, at Mount Sinai Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles in the wake of #100days100nights. Credit: Luis Sinco, Los Angeles Times

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