With summer approaching, the 67th Precinct Clergy Council is gearing up for what is historically a time of increased gun violence. So, it’s no surprise that getting its Safe Summer program up and running is at the top of the organization’s agenda.
Pastor Edward-Richard Hinds is the newly appointed interim president of the organization, dubbed The GodSquad by folks in its East Flatbush community.
As the GodSquad reaches its 12th anniversary, the organization is writing a new chapter. On March 29, Hinds, a youth pastor for Rugby Deliverance Tabernacle at 4901 Snyder Avenue, took the helm from Pastor Gilford Monrose who stepped down in February to lead Mayor Eric Adams’ Office of Faith-Based and Community Partnerships.
Comprised of clergy based in the NYPD’s 67th Precinct area, the GodSquad and its community volunteers are ramping up street engagement operations.
“What we’ve realized is that public safety is a shared responsibility. The police alone cannot do the work of eliminating or ending gun violence,” Hinds, an eight-year veteran of the GodSquad told BK Reader.
Hinds worked as a youth minister in his native Jamaica and with the Jamaican government’s Ministry of Education and Youth, specializing in counseling at-risk young people. His GodSquad work is a labor of love that’s also personal for Hinds, who lost his uncle to gun violence on the Caribbean island.
“When I transitioned to New York, I was looking for an organization of faith leaders that leaves the benches and goes out into the trenches on the streets, impacting young people and addressing gun violence,” Hinds said. “It’s rewarding.”
The GodSquad swoops into action when there’s gun violence in the community, including police-involved shootings.
“We, as clergy leaders, are the moral conscience of the community. We know people in the community and bring a measure of peace in the heat of the moment to quell tensions,” he said.
East Flatbush became a hotbed of activity during the COVID-19 pandemic, Pastor Louis Straker Jr., the lead minister of Reflections Church at 1078 Utica Avenue and the GodSquad’s lead clergy liaison, told BK Reader.
In addition to distributing food, PPEs and ministering to grieving families, the sharp uptick in gun violence kept the GodSquad busy, he recalled. However, as the community recovers from the pandemic, shootings continue.
“We've been very active since the pandemic, trying to do our best to reduce gun violence and tension. Not only were we dealing with the violence in the streets but also maintaining peace during the George Floyd protests and being a liaison between the community and the police,” Straker said.
Straker believes that the GodSquad’s street engagement is reducing gun violence. “The police are doing their part. We've always known that you can't arrest your way out of gun violence,” he added.
Deputy Brooklyn Borough President Diana Richardson agrees. The former East Flatbush Assemblymember told BK Reader that public safety anywhere "requires an all-hands-on-deck approach" that includes the police, after school programs and faith-based organizations.
"The GodSquad is the perfect example of what that synergy has the power to create. We’ve seen in years past that where the GodSquad has a presence, fewer shootings occur," Richardson said. " This is why so many look to them for guidance and partnership, like we saw our Brooklyn DA do last year to help curb gun violence in our borough through clergy councils.”
The GodSquad proactively addresses gun violence. Members participate in the Occupy the Corners initiative in which they flood the streets to inform community members about resources.
On summer nights, GodSquad members patrol hotspots where data shows that violent confrontations a most likely to happen and speak to young people who are vulnerable to heading down the wrong path. While there, they recruit for the organization’s Flatbush Leadership Academy and share information about the city’s Summer Youth Employment Program.
As one would imagine, redemption is a priority. When the police arrest a young person for a misdemeanor, the GodSquad dispatches a team member to meet with the parents and youth offender to offer guidance and resources.
Straker, who has served in ministry for 15 years, said this work has led to personal growth.
“You know, the tendency is to just be in your church, more focused on the internal community,” he explained. “But the GodSquad gave me an opportunity to expand beyond the four walls of the church and really begin to touch the hearts of people in the external community in ways that I probably would not have had before.”