By Yadira Betances
---- — LAWRENCE — As a lead into the city’s gun buy back program on May 11, residents will walk for peace this Saturday through some of the city’s toughest streets.
”The whole purpose is to raise awareness and promote the gun buy back program,” said Deibi De Jesus, who has been organizing the marches for four years.
The march starts at noon on the Lawrence Street side of Campagnone Common and proceeds to Essex, Margin, Lowell, Oxford, Haverhill, Tremont, Hamshire, Avon, Jackson East Haverhill, Brook, Union to Lawrence streets, back to the Common.
The walk’s theme comes from the Old Testament book of Micah 4:3, which reads “They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.”
Members of the Lawrence Youth Team, an initiative aimed at helping young males avoid a life of crime and gang activity by getting them involved in education and training programs, will speak about their experiences on the streets. The program is run by the City of Lawrence Community Development.
Mayor William Lantigua and Police Chief John Romero along with De Jesus, his pastor, the Rev. Victor Jarvis and the Rev. Luis Leonor, decided to have the gun buyback program the day before Mother’s Day. People turning in guns will receive a gift card ranging from $50 to $150 depending on the weapon, De Jesus said.
“What better present could a mother get than to have a loved one exchange their gun to buy her a gift,” De Jesus said. “It symbolizes the gift of life, hope, a change in life style and a new beginning.”
De Jesus, a member of Ebenezer Christian Church, said he was inspired to organize the march by his faith, the well-being of his children, and the community at large.
Mayor William Lantigua first introduced the gun buyback program at a vigil in City Hall for the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings last year.
“The best gift you can give your mother is peace of mind,” Lantigua said. “A gun that is not in the hands is one less weapon that will not be use in a moment of passion or other circumstances to commit a crime.”
Organizers are hopeful many people heed to the call and exchange their guns for gift cards.
Romero said 70 guns were taken off the streets last year and murders have decreased. There have been no homicides in the city so far this year, with two in 2012; 11 in 2011 and 10 in 2010.
“Criminals don’t give up their guns, but we hope to get the guns that are in people’s home left from their parents, uncles and don’t know what to do with them,” Romero said. “Those are of no use any more, but if the house is burglarized, it can get in the hands of someone.”