There is a wave of gun violence resulting in homicides that we are currently experiencing that started in August of this year. Today, the homicide count is at 21, the same as for all of last year. Unfortunately, these shootings represent an isolated spike in a senseless cultural phenomenon that has gripped Richmond for decades – long term conflicts between groups and individuals based on interactions that most people wouldn’t think twice about.
Some of these feuds go back decades and are even multi-generational. Others start from offending words or even an offending gaze. Some are territorial. Some involve rivalry over a girl. This kind of stuff happens every day to a lot of people, but in Richmond you can get killed for it.
These interactions are not random; perpetrators work at it. They are targeting specific individuals, and tracking them down. August was unique because various separate rivalries became violent at the same time. Contributing factors are various patterns of repeat offenses and retaliatory violence. Gang structure is more fluid and has more to do with association of individuals rather than a structured group. There are retaliatory patterns in the violence. What we've learned is that many of the suspects move between multiple localities and jurisdictions in the region.
If there is any good news, it is that Richmond's year-to-date crime rate, other than homicides, has been down between 7% and 12% for every month in 2016. Community reporting of crime is healthy and active in Richmond which is why some of the violence has taken to the freeways, and the perpetrators are not based in any one particular neighborhood or city. Community cooperation with police to identify potential perpetrators as well as potential victims is crucial, and once crimes are committed, the community must continue to work with the police to stay safe and report crimes to help keep violence out of their neighborhoods.
Reversing this cycle of violence is a top priority for the Mayor’s Office. One of the reasons we are spearheading the annexation of North Richmond is to erase the perception of two Richmonds. “One Richmond” is less likely to spawn geography-based rivalries, and one public safety agency serving both Richmond and North Richmond is better equipped to both prevent violence and bring perpetrators to justice.
Continuing to fund and support the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Cease Fire is also a top priority of the mayor’s Office as is funding and supporting the Richmond Police Department.
Giving young people hope for a better future is the foundational objective of the Richmond Promise Program, which aims to promote a college-going culture in Richmond schools beginning as early as kindergarten. Today, Richmond is spending record amounts on programs for young people, totaling over $9 million annually, a significant component of which is coming from the $90 Chevron Environmental and Community Investment Agreement that I helped negotiate. After an eight-year hiatus, I also revived the Mayor’s Community Fund to support youth sports and other community-based programs for youth.
We need to continually reassess what is driving this homicide spike and revisit our current strategies to make sure we are doing everything possible to prevent these unacceptable levels of violence. We need to always seek better answers about why these victims were targeted, who the perpetrators were and what motivated them to engage in violence and murder. What we do know is that community and family are critical, and schools and faith-based organizations also play significant roles.
I have directed my staff to continue to dig deeper and explore strategies and programs our office can work on to help build stronger communities of support for our children and families, and create positive atmospheres that allow our youth and young adults to thrive rather than simply survive. Our goal is not only to reverse cycles of violence in our city, but more importantly to ensure our young men and women – and their families – feel safe, supported, and connected to the communities they call home."
The level of firepower on Richmond streets is daunting and could use any help we can get from better gun control laws at the state and federal level. The Richmond Police Department has already confiscated 174 firearms this year that were illegally possessed or used in a crime, disarming people and taking illegal firearms all without firing a single shot. Just yesterday, RPD recovered five illegal guns in a raid on the Marina Bay Inn & Suites where 25 arrests were made for mail theft, fraud, narcotics sales and firearms trafficking.
We have to continue to support our police department and give them all the help we can as a community. If you see something, say something. If it is an emergency, call 9-1-1. If it is a suspicion or a tip call 510-233-1214. Together, we can make Richmond a better place.