What was said in the STOP the Violence Town Hall in Richmond

Posted at 8:18 PM, Jul 13, 2023
and last updated 2023-07-13 21:14:21-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- For more than two hours, community members had the opportunity to question Richmond-area leaders and share their solutions on how to stop the violence in our community.

Continue to scroll to watch some of the thoughts and opinions shared during the Your Voice, Your Community STOP the Violence Town Hall. Some of the transcript below has been lightly edited for clarity.

Northside coach: Why hasn’t Richmond embraced group violence intervention?

"I just wanted to ask the police chief why hasn't Richmond grasped GVI Group Violence Intervention as a strategy to help solve some of that gun violence in the area?"

- Larry Wolford

"Nobody thinks that the police are the sole solution to this. We're a bandaid at the end of the cycle. But there are so many private organizations that are already working towards that.

I am familiar with GVI.

But when we talk about some of those, some of those tactics and techniques, we were just focused on what we're doing right now.

Richmond is already part of the National Public Safety Partnership, that's a federal program that we adopted in 2021, where we are bringing in all kinds of experts to assess what we can do and how we can do it better.

So but I'm open to all of the above, taking all the tools in our toolbox.

While we're here talking about it, we're doing this forum nobody realizes we're 8% down and violent crime year over year over that time that we're 25% down in non-fatal shootings, that we had 33 murders this time last year, and we're 37, which is an increase, but it's, but it's not the shocking increase we saw in 2021.

- Richmond Police Chief Rick Edwards

"Don't try to reinvent the wheel when there's strategies that have already been used and been proven."

- Larry Wolford

Is Project Exile a solution for today’s gun violence?

"Many of our shooters are people who have easy access to firearms with low impulse control. And when we look at our murders, and we look at our non-fatal shootings, most of them are over disputes.

When I started in the 90s, most of our shootings were related to drug turf.

When Richmond was the murder capital of the country in 1994 with 160 murders, that's what it was about. They were protecting territory.

Thankfully, we're not at that place now. But just two years ago, in 2021, we had 90 murders in our city, we almost reached triple digits again.

It's my commitment to the city that we're never going to get to that point again and we're going to do it through smart policing, through working with our partners and by making sure that we utilize the strategies in collaboration with our community members.

- Richmond Police Chief Rick Edwards

Virginia Public Safety Deputy Secretary recalls ‘commonsensical law’ that had immediate impact on crime

"The accessibility of firearms is prolific and it's always going to be that way. There are so many firearms on the street. If you recall, back in the early 90s, Richmond was known as the Iron Pipeline to New York City where there were people buying multiple firearms and taking them to New York. We stopped that.

I believe it was Governor Wilder who passed the one gun a month, all that was eventually repealed, but it's now back in place.

That is a that's an example though of a very common sensical law that has that had an immediate impact on the accessibility of crime guns to bad guys.

- Brian Swann Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security

Richmond Police Chief: ‘Where majority of our crime guns are coming from’

"Convicted felons cannot lawfully purchase a firearm so they can't go to a federally licensed firearms dealer and buy a gun like anyone else.

They must do it either through a private sale where there is no background check or more likely what we're seeing in our city and municipalities around the country is theft from motor vehicles where a gun is left in there.

I track those stats every day. 268 guns have been taken out of cars, many of those cars are unlocked.

We know that's where the majority of our crime guns are coming from. And that is a huge concern for me so much so that we have taken it upon ourselves in the Richmond Police Department to purchase safes so that if you know someone who has a gun that they can't secure, they can't afford a safe call the Richmond Police Department and we will provide one to you. We you know, every one of those guns that is that is in the hands of a person who shouldn't have it is a risk to our community."

- Richmond Police Chief Rick Edwards

Superintendent calls out Virginia lawmakers for ‘underfunding schools by billions’

"I don't think I've ever met or heard of a happy and healthy young person who picks up a gun and shoot somebody. A lot of our kids are truly hopeless.

A lot of our kids were suffering enormous trauma before COVID-19.

And then when COVID-19 hit, rates of homelessness went up, food insecurity went up, abuse went up, and there were no teachers to come and tell in person, hey, I need to get some help.

All of that got worse.

We have a lot of kids who quite literally have experienced trauma after trauma after trauma. And it's hard for many of us to put ourselves in their mindset.

But if you have experienced utter hopelessness, it's not far from there to pick up a gun to solve your issue.

This is about so much more than just taking away the guns, though. I am a huge supporter of that.

It's about creating hope in our kids, that there is a future for them.

It's about getting them the mental health that they need.

We know in education, the brain science, when you grow up with repeated trauma, your brain physically actually changes. And you're more likely, in situations of tension that have a spike in cortisol, which inhibits your decision-making ability.

So we should not be surprised when kids are suffering repeated trauma.

There is an ocean of guns.

You put those two things together coming off a once-in-a-century tragedy that deeply affected our kids and families. And here we are.

What I get frustrated about is, we actually have the resources to tackle this.

So, like Mr. Sherman, I will be politically incorrect.

The Commonwealth of Virginia is sitting on a multi-billion dollar surplus.

And the General Assembly's own research arm, nonpartisan, called JLARC released a study this week saying that the Commonwealth of Virginia is underfunding schools by billions of dollars.

That's hundreds of counselors in Richmond Public Schools, and dozens of psychologists and triple the number of after-school programs and everything else that would make a difference.

And yet those elected to make these decisions have decided it's just not that important. That's got to change.

- Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras

Former gang member: ‘The mentality is different now’

"When I was in the streets, running the game, the mentality is different now. That's where we're losing the battle.

We're using an old methodology to try to transform and change a system, where we're not communicating effectively the way they communicate."

- Richmond Police Chaplin and former gang member Cruz Sherman

Richmond teacher talks about trauma of losing student: ‘It changed my life’

"I feel like the principal and higher-ups are scared of the students.

I feel like that's what's tearing the school system down.

They're not scared to say something, they're scared to tell the student, 'No, that's not right.'

You're scared of their reaction, or how they're gonna react to you how they're gonna come back at you.

I see it every day... they're scared the student might, you know, do some crazy."

- Richmond teacher Thelma Samuels

Richmond superintendent says ‘need is so great’ for after-school programs

"I do want to give Mayor Stoney credit.

He has invested quite a bit in after-school programs.

There's an organization called Next Up, which is sort of a convener of after-school programs.

That's in all of our middle schools.

We have Parks and Rec and YMCA after school at all of our elementary schools.

There's a beautiful new boys and girls club in the East End.

So I actually do think the city has stepped up on that front.

I think the challenge is, we just need more and the resources are limited.

But I do think we have a lot of leaders in the city who have been paying attention to this issue.

It's just that the need is so great.

- Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras

Richmond father: ‘When will I have answers in my son’s murder?’

"When am I going to have answers for my son's murder?

Next month it's gonna be two years.

One day these people are going to pay for what did to my boy.

Every time I talk about my boy, I can't stop crying because I miss him so much."

- Richmond father Jose Rodriguez

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