Community advocates and mayor challenge solutions following rise in gun-related deaths

During the Nehemiah Action event, members of the crowd hold signs with the names of victims who lost their lives to gun violence in Richmond, photo by Alessandro Latour

Katrina Lee, news editor

Around 2,000 people gathered in person and on Zoom for Richmonders Involved to Strengthen our Communities’ annual Nehemiah Action event.

The event, held at the Greater Richmond Convention Center on Tuesday, called on public officials to discuss social issues with a focus on gun violence in the city.

“Our community is hurting, we are hurting because our people are being shot in the streets,” Pastor Ciarra Smith-Bond said at the event. “If one of us hurts, we all hurt.”

RISC is an organization dedicated to holding public servants accountable for addressing critical issues in Richmond, according to the organization’s website. The organization has focused on the issue of gun violence due to the Richmond community’s concern about it.

Smith-Bond addressed the crowd on Tuesday, asking them to “suffer” for any discomfort the discussion may cause those who have experienced gun violence.

Homicides involving firearms in Richmond have fallen from 61 in 2020 to 76 in 2021, according to the Richmond Police Department website. The crowd took a moment of silence during the event to stand with cards with the names of victims who died as a result of gun violence in Richmond.

RISC has been trying to meet with Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney since he won re-election to discuss the solution proposed by the gun violence organization called “Group Violence Intervention,” or GVI, according to a press release from the organization.

GVI is a proposed solution to reduce homicides and gun violence by partnering with community members, law enforcement, and support and outreach providers to reduce homicides and gun violence, according to the National Network of Safe Communities.

James Nolan, press secretary for the mayor’s office, said in an email that the mayor had proposed a host of prevention efforts, including funding community organizations, hiring a community safety coordinator as well as three “Violence Interrupters” and a gun buy-back program. .

Nolan said the mayor decided not to use GVI as part of his proposed gun violence solution because it’s a “law enforcement-heavy approach” that “lacks causal evidence.” “.

“RISC advocated for full implementation [of GVI] and insisted that we sign a contract to fully implement this plan. Nolan said. “The administration has respectfully disagreed and invested in a community-based approach focused on prevention, especially with young people – and that is precisely what we are implementing.

Patricia Mills, spokesperson for RISC, advocated for GVI at Tuesday’s event, and said it was proven to cut homicides in half and was “the opposite of excessive surveillance”.

“The traditional way of over-policing is to harass and over-police the entire community where the violence is taking place. GVI, on the other hand, recognizes that only a small number of people in this community are connected to violence,” Mills said. “So instead of over-monitoring the entire community, GVI focuses on the small group of people and provides them with much-needed intervention.”

RISC co-chair Pastor Ralph Hodge said the community could “feel the tension” leading to the rise in homicides since 2020, the highest number of gun violence-related deaths in Richmond since 2004.

“We went to the mayor in February 2020 and said ‘you need a gun violence prevention program,'” Hodge said. “Well, the murders have increased. In 2021, murders were even higher.

Hodge said he disagreed with parts of Stoney’s approach to preventing gun violence in Richmond, including the mayor’s “innuendo” at a press conference that the switches of violence would be hired by the police department.

Violence interrupters are individuals who, because of their past positions in the community, retain the ability to reach and speak to key active gang members, according to the National Gang Center. Violence interrupters use these personal relationships to settle ongoing differences, which can prevent them from escalating into gunfights.

“Well, our initial response to that was that you don’t want to have violent switches as part of the police department,” Hodge said. “If you want to get someone killed, that’s a good way to do it.”

Hodge said he doesn’t believe officials understand the reality of gun violence and how to address it.

“But the problem of solving gun violence is not getting more police on the streets. You can put tons of cops on the street. That’s not what will solve gun violence,” Hodge said. “It might make you feel safer. But that’s not going to solve it. The real solution is to create targeted intervention programs.

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