How can Richmond prevent increasing violence amongst city youth? They have suggestions.

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Posted at 10:21 PM, Apr 15, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-15 23:11:13-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- At Armstrong High School, Liam Weis helps coordinate the Armstrong Center for Empowerment, also known as the ACE program.

“I go to VCU and I’m also in Rams in Recovery,” Weis said.

Having overcome struggles in his own youth, Weis says he teaches art after school to help students express themselves in positive ways. He believes more crime-prevention programs, like ACE, are needed to help teens cope with today’s challenges.

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Liam Weis

“I think it’s going to take a lot of people to overcome the struggles of the peer pressure they’re surrounded by,” Weis said. “It’s engrained in this culture and this population of young people that you’ve got to do bad things.”

On Monday, law enforcement, city leaders and the Richmond schools superintendent responded to the wave of violence that has claimed the lives of eight people over the last few weeks - four of them juveniles.

Over the weekend, two 16-year-old boys were killed in Richmond’s East End.

“They are killing people left and right out here,” said one Armstrong student. “I’m happy to be at the age I am, people out here dying younger than me, thinking that could be my little brother or little sister out here. It’s getting crazy out here in the streets.”

Across the Greater Richmond region, violence prevention and trauma teams are looking for ways to combat escalating violence.

Local coordinator Maurice Washington is taking a grassroots approach to crime prevention. His “Real Life” program in Hopewell connects people most at risk with community resources.

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Maurice Washington

"I let them know you're at risk of shooting somebody or being shot yourself," Washington said. "I don't want that to happen to you."

Lawmakers are also focusing on violence prevention programs with more funding from the Commonwealth of Virginia.

In the proposed budget, over $17 million is earmarked for curbing violence, including plans for a pilot program in Petersburg Public Schools called “Community Builders.”

State Senator Lashrecse Aird, (D) Petersburg, says she hopes the funds will help localities create programs aimed at providing guidance to at-risk youth.

“We're trying to get it on the front end,” Aird says. “Get to them in schools, make sure that we can keep them out of the streets. Make sure we can give them tools and resources, so they never turn in that direction to begin with.”

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Lashrecse Aird

Weis says, at the end of the day, today’s youth need someone to trust and to show them there’s alternatives to violence and healthy ways to resolve conflict and inner turmoil.

“I think a lot more people, as things change and recovery grows and young people see there’s other ways to be cool and avenues to pursue for fun, that there will be a slow but growing change,” Weis said.

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