Sen. Kaine on Graduation Day shooting outside Altria Theater: 'There’s no safe space left'

Posted at 6:30 PM, Jun 08, 2023
and last updated 2023-06-09 09:36:58-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Two of Senator Tim Kaine's children walked across the stage at the Altria Theater to receive their diplomas; he even gave a commencement address there once.

"That's a space that, you know Richmonders, we know it so well," Kaine said. "There’s no safe space left.”

In his first remarks since the mass shooting outside the theater that took the life of Huguenot High School graduate Shawn Jackson and his step father Renzo Smith, Kaine said his heart breaks for the victims' family and the entire RPS community.

"If one of your five happiest days in your life, your high school graduation, is perverted into a chaotic pandemonium of violence, you're gonna remember that for the rest of your life," Kaine said.

Richmond Police said the shooting was the result of an ongoing dispute between Jackson and 19-year-old Amari Pollard, who police said got a handgun from his vehicle after having words with Jackson following his graduation ceremony and opened fire in Monroe Park.

Investigators are working to determine how Jackson got the handgun he allegedly used in the shooting since he was under the age of 21. Kaine said that part of the tragedy must be examined.

"How does a young person, who's not able to get a gun not legally, get a gun and use it in a crime like this? There's going to be an answer to that. We need to know the answer to that. I think that will be educational and may point the way for for towards some additional reforms that are necessary," Kaine said.

Phillip Van Cleave is the President of the Virginia Citizen's Defense League, which represents 12,000 gun owners in Virginia. Van Cleave pointed out that Richmond bans possession of firearms in city parks, arguing that this is an example that gun control measures do not always work.

"We don't talk about taking away cars every time there's a drunk driver. We blame the drunk driver," Van Cleave said. "It’s a matter of the more people that are legally carrying, the odds are higher that somebody will be in the vicinity of something like that and be able to stop it.”

Officials said several other guns were recovered from the scene that were not used in the shooting. Several police officers were providing security at and nearby the graduation venue when the shots rang out.

Kaine said it is both true that mental health and behavioral programs need strengthening nationally and that guns play a role in mass shootings. He is once again planning to push for several measures that are Virginia law, like universal background checks on all gun purchases and mandatory reporting of lost or stolen firearms, on the federal level.

"We're an outlier in the ease with which a young person can get a gun and use it to settle an argument," Kaine said. "Mostly when we talk about American exceptionalism, we're talking about things that we're exceptionally good at, but here's some were exceptionally bad at.”

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