EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. (KMOV.com) -- It was 11:00 on a Friday night when a group of church goers, volunteers and city officials decided to walk through the most dangerous neighborhoods in East St. Louis. It was a peaceful demonstration that ended peacefully—something that does not always happen in one of the country’s most violent cities.
“We're trying to get our city to accept the fact that there's wonderful things our city can do,” said Gregory Witherspoon, a youth pastor at New Life Community Church. “But we're held hostage by various things, one of which is the violence we're suffering under.”
Witherspoon and his church family are ready to make a change. They believe one way of stopping violence is to rid the streets of weapons; therefore, the city’s first gun buy back initiative was born.
The church teamed up with St. Clair County deputies to collect guns at the National Guard Armory Saturday afternoon. They invited the public to turn in any gun, no questions asked, in exchange for a $25 voucher for Schnucks.
While people did not flock to the event — police collected five guns during the first three hours — deputies and church members argue getting just one gun back is a success.
“What we have to do is refuse to be afraid,” Witherspoon said. “We're going to keep saying ‘No. We're here, we're here to stay.’ We are not going to get locked down and knocked down and shut up. We're going to continue to be a neighborhood.”
Witherspoon hopes his church will sponsor a similar event in a few months.