John Raphael — an anti-violence crusader, former New Orleans police officer and Central City pastor for 25 years — died of cancer June 18 at age 60.
In 1988, he became pastor of New Hope Baptist Church in Central City and achieved local fame when he purchased a billboard in Central City with the message, "Thou Shalt Not Kill." He also put the message on placards and yard signs.
In 2009, Raphael's Yes We Care campaign against violence, especially in Central City, culminated in a citywide rally outside New Orleans City Hall and Armstrong Park, where thousands of attendees gathered to speak out against violent crime. Raphael also spent the last week of each year at the intersection of Claiborne Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, where he fasted and prayed to end street violence.
In 2011, standing at that intersection, Raphael told Gambit that New Orleans needs not just community-wide but citywide efforts to help at-risk young men in New Orleans. "We have to encourage them, we have to push them, and there is a lot of grassroots and groundwork that has to be done," he said. "I think churches can play a tremendous role. Some people have to get up every morning and look for a way to change their lives. Others will sit and wait — one day something's going to happen. But they'll get up if they have someone giving them a hand, saying, 'Listen, what's going on in your life and what can I do to help?' You have to help them, give them some alternative.
"There are those things as a city and as a community we can't hide anymore. We can't shove them under the rug and pretend it's not there. We have to respond to it."
Mayor Mitch Landrieu issued a statement about Raphael, saying the minister was "consistent and responsible in challenging us all to do our part to reflect the love of God and improve our city." — Alex Woodward