Community wants action after Graduation Day shooting: 'Step up or resign'

Posted at 11:16 PM, Jun 07, 2023
and last updated 2023-06-08 12:22:40-04

RICHMOND, Va. — As the investigation into Tuesday's shooting following Huguenot High School's graduation that left two dead and even more injured continues, several groups in the Richmond community came together Wednesday to show support for those impacted and a call for action to address gun violence.

The first event was a gathering outside Richmond City Hall where Ricky Johnson, founder of the Ricky Johnson Foundation, said he wanted to show support for the Richmond Public Schools students whose graduations and moving on ceremonies were delayed or canceled and offered to host some of them.

"We cannot let the senseless act of one person kill the vibe of RVA. That cannot happen. We don't know what these parents have sacrificed to get these kids to this point. And not just our seniors, but even our small children," said Johnson. "As a foundation, our primary goal and our focus is to continue to reward them for the work they have done. And that's our goal today. To give them prayer, to let them know that we as a city is still behind our kids, regardless of what has taken place, and we're going to still push them into the next level of their life."

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Ricky Johnson

Wednesday evening, RPS Superintendent Jason Kamras said while graduation ceremonies were being rescheduled, the moving on ceremonies would not. Johnson said he would offer the use of his foundation's facility to allow those ceremonies to continue.

"Whatever it takes to make sure that every child has some type of moving on ceremony, I'm willing to do it."

Johnson was joined outside city hall by over a dozen people, including one senior from George Wythe High School wearing the cap and gown she was supposed to wear this Thursday, but will now have to wait until next week to walk across the stage.

"I just feel bad for all the kids that was there," said the student, who did not want to give her name. "They just need to put the guns down. Because, y'all are killing innocent people and taking them away from they family."

The student was joined by her mother, who said she graduated from Huguenot in 2002.

"Just sadness that the kids can't have a graduation and peace. That's supposed to be joyous, not chaotic like that. And to hear the screams, the cries — I was on the phone with one of my friends. She was running. She was scared. She didn't know where her family was," said Crystal, who called on city leaders to act. "Step up or resign, because something has to be done. Whether it starts at home, in our community, something has to be done. And it just has to be done worldwide, because this affects everyone."

The group was also led in prayer by Pastor Ta'Quan Grant of Triumph Church of Richmond.

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"We pray for those families, but we pray for Richmond Public Schools. Just weeks, a month ago, we saw what happened at George Wythe, we saw what has happened all over Richmond, not just in our schools, but in our communities with gun violence," said Grant. "we got to get the guns off our streets…when we talk about gun violence, and especially youth involve gun violence, we have the power to impact on young people and tell them, 'Hey, there are better ways to deal with situations in our community besides picking up a gun.'"

"There are programs, there are solutions that need to be implemented. And we have to come together and say no more guns..a lot of these issues deal with mental health. We need more counseling in our communities. We need more resources for the Black community with mentorships," added Grant. "We cannot allow young people to continue to get shot down in the streets of Richmond. Young and old cannot continue to get shot down in the streets of Richmond. Enough is enough."

An hour after Johnson's event, dozens rallied and marched outside the State Capitol down the street. The group was made up mostly of parents and students from Mary Munford Elementary School.

"It's a lot of emotions. Because, for one thing, I mean, the terror of imagining that something like this has happened to your child or your family really affects all of us," said parent and organizer Andrew Breton. "So, we're all sad for the families involved. We're sad that we all have to live in fear all the time. And then on top of that, we're sad that we're missing out on so many experiences during this final week, right?"

Those marching wore green and gold ribbons in honor of Huguenot, but also wore orange — the color associated with the end gun violence movement.

Breton said while each person at the event probably had a different idea of what the solution to the issue of gun violence should be, they wanted to gather to express how they are feeling and call for lawmakers to do something.

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"My poster says it: 'Laws can help.' Right? I mean, everyone always has a reason why one law won't fix everything, right? That always seems to be the reason— why, this law won't fix that and this law won't fix that. So, let's just do nothing. So, we're here at the statehouse, because, we live in a community, we live in a society and together we can we can solve this and democracy and lawmaking is the way that we do it," said Breton.

He added he called on lawmakers from opposite sides of the aisle to be willing to have a genuine conversation on the issue. He said when he visited the General Assembly for his group's lobby day, he watched a floor debate on guns, but felt the lawmakers were just talking past each other.

"The thing is there's lots of different kinds of gun violence. There's community gun violence, there's random gun violence, domestic abuse, there's accidents, right? And so, all these different types of gun violence, they need different solutions, right?" said Breton. "No one's got all the answers, but, I'm sure that if people got serious about actually finding common ground and not just making common talking points, I'm sure we come to some common ground and reduce the number of tragic deaths that don't just impact the families. They impact the whole community, like, the whole city is shut down today. That's a tragedy for everyone."

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