Shootings more than doubled in New York City last year, and homicides increased 44 percent. But the numbers don’t tell the whole story. Each tragedy is specific, and each impacts a whole community.

There was Davell Gardner Jr., age one, killed while sitting in his stroller at a summer barbecue. Edward James, a church custodian, shot in the back inside of a house of worship. Anthony Robinson, a father, killed holding his daughter’s hand as he helped her cross the street. And many others.

To Louis Straker Jr., pastor of Reflections Church in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, it felt like the city was overcome by violence, a sense that only intensified when protesters filled all five boroughs with the names of Black people killed by police, the city imposed a curfew, and some officers reacted to protesters with force.

In late May, Straker and other clergy in the community were called to the corner of Church Street and Bedford Avenue to try to keep peace. When Straker got there, a police car was on fire, officers were in riot gear, and protesters were throwing garbage.

“That was one of the worst nights,” Straker told CT. “But the presence of God was there, and that made all the difference.”

Storefront ministries and small, deeply rooted urban churches have long been on the frontlines of the spiritual battle against violence in New York City. With the increase in shootings, the stress of the pandemic, and conflict over racism in the streets, Straker and other city pastors knew their work was more necessary than ever. They responded the way they always do: with their feet.

Gilford Monrose, pastor of the historic Mt. Zion Church of God 7th Day, says his team has been responding to community violence for over ...

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