RICHMOND, Va. -- The recent murder of Laverne McMullen's son could've stunted her long-time mission to end gun violence, but in reality, it only intensified her desire to push for change.
"It's more motivating to me than ever," McMullen said. “Some people might have given up, but I can’t give up.”
Even before 27-year-old Kenneth Cooper was shot and killed on April 5 in an alleyway off Hanes Avenue on the city's Northside, his mother was a dedicated anti-violence activist.
"For the children out here now that we try to save before gun violence because I don't want another mother to go through the tragic and the sickness of crying every day of the loss of a child," McMullen said.
A month later, she now plans to bring her ideas on stopping crime in front of the mayor, police, and other city leaders during a Northside public safety meeting Wednesday night.
“Give them job opportunities, let them know school is the first priority," McMullen said. "It's not just being on the phone, and playing video games I think is disturbing their minds.”
The discussion will be hosted by 3rd District Councilwoman Ann-Frances Lambert who represents the Northside. She said the effort stemmed from fears she heard from people in her district.
“There are a lot of concerns in the community that want answers," Lambert said. “My seniors say they do not feel safe coming out of their homes. I have business owners who have issues with customers, and they don't feel safe.”
According to weekly crime statistics from the Richmond Police Department, the 4th precinct, which covers Northside, has seen three murders so far in 2022. That's down 50% percent from six murders in the same time period last year.
However, overall violent crimes, which include robberies, rapes, and assaults, are up by 22%. Citywide, homicides are down 17%, but total violent crimes have increased by 5%.
“We have to have an all-hands on deck approach," Lambert said. "A whole neighborhood network watch needs to be established.”
Lambert said she wants several issues to be addressed during Wednesday's discussion including:
- Mayor Levar Stoney's recently launched gun violence prevention plan
- Reimagining the police department
- The civilian review board
- Higher salaries for law enforcement
- Parks and Rec summer programming
- Mental health and trauma support
- Supporting at-risk children, which Lamber said was the most important topic
“That’s the real answer to this whole problem that we’re facing," she said. "And we have to support the families who are victims of violence that are in our communities. It's a wholesome, holistic approach."
Meanwhile, McMullen said she encourages anyone who thinks about resorting to violence to put the guns down.
“Intervene within yourself before you think about going out today, tomorrow, or any day and taking another's life because once you do it, it's no turning back," McMullen said.