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Richmond leaders consider gun violence agenda at meeting | Richmond Free Press

Potential solutions to gun violence in Richmond were shared with the city’s hopeful and current leaders Monday evening during a roundtable discussion at Third Street Bethel AME Church.

More than 120 residents filled the church’s Bethel Center as mayoral candidates, including Andreas D. Addison and Bridgette Whitaker, Richmond City Council members Ellen F. Robertson and Nicole Jones, and candidates for City Councilman Tony Miller, Tavares Floyd and others learned about the program through them. who contributed to its implementation in other cities.

The roundtable was hosted by Richmond Involved to Strengthen Our Communities, a faith-based group made up of 25 congregations in Richmond, Chesterfield and Henrico who advocated for the Group Violence Intervention Framework, a nationally developed program aimed at solving this problem by identifying, intervening in the lives of, and supporting those most likely to be involved in gun violence.

RISC members saw the event as an opportunity to advocate for the program after previous discussions with Mayor Levar M. Stoney’s office failed to gain traction.

“Since the current leaders are unwilling to listen, we look to the future leaders of Richmond and we implore you, I would say, we implore you – listen to us tonight,”

said Ralph Hodge, pastor of Second Baptist Church and RISC member. “We’re tired of gun violence in our communities. We’re tired of funerals.”

A panel of GVI officials, including Sarah Scarbrough, founder and director of REAL Life, Maurice Washington, GVI life coach, and Hopewell Deputy Police Chief Donald Reid, answered questions from candidates and officials.

The importance of strong relationships and connections between program partners, municipal leaders, and the community was repeatedly emphasized in response to questions about GVI. Panelists also highlighted the need for commitment to ensure the program’s success, addressed concerns about excessive policing, and explained that it could dovetail with similar initiatives in Richmond.

All three panelists played a key role in Hopewell’s adoption of GVI in 2023 through a partnership with REAL Life, a group that works to reduce gun violence, provide rehabilitation centers for the formerly incarcerated and those facing addiction and homelessness and other initiatives.

Hopewell and REAL Life became involved after RISC’s efforts to convince Richmond leaders to adopt the program attracted outside interest.

The result is Hopewell’s version of GVI, the Safe, Alive and Free SAF program, which focuses on intervening in the lives of at-risk people through life coaches and mentors, providing support that deters people from escalating conflicts and helps them avoid conflicts. personal and systemic issues that lead to gun violence. The panelists’ enthusiasm for the program and the benefits seen so far was evident.

“My mission through this program is to ensure that no other child has to bury their father,” said Mr. Washington, a former REAL Life program participant who later began working with the group.

“While we cannot end gun violence, we can significantly reduce it. »

Hopewell saw a 45% decrease in gunshot injuries or deaths from June 2023 to March compared to June 2022 to March 2023 since the program began, according to

to REAL Life. Richmond’s Gun Violence Prevention Framework, launched last year, takes a similar approach in attempting to address the root causes of gun violence in the city by responding to community needs and providing services. outreach to the city’s most affected groups.

However, panelists and RISC members still saw gaps in Richmond’s current initiative that required solutions, particularly regarding its focus on youth.

“While college programs are so critical and important, that doesn’t mean taking guns out of the hands of the middle-aged shooter,” Ms. Scarbrough said. “Focusing and identifying the most susceptible individuals is a missing piece.”

Eighteen homicides were reported in April of this year, according to the Richmond Police Department, with eight shootings occurring in two weeks. Another gun-related death was reported hours before the panel discussion on East Brookland Park Boulevard.

A GVI program is already in the works through a partnership between REAL Life and the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority. Life coaches located in specific public housing communities and with relevant history and experience are currently being sought, selected and trained. They will provide support and guidance to those most at risk of being involved in gun violence, with the hope that the program can be expanded throughout Richmond.

The mayoral candidates have not shared their commitments to GVI, but will make their thoughts known at a RISC forum scheduled for Thursday, August 29. A similar forum for city council candidates is also planned for the fall.