Police chief, ministers work to reclaim the narrative of violence in Henrico’s East End: ‘I love my community’

Henrico County

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Residents in Henrico’s East End have experienced six homicides, 32 gun assaults and 77 burglaries since Oct. 31, 2020. Six of the county’s eight homicides since October 2020 have occurred in the area.

Now a group of local ministers, including Varina District Supervisor Rev. Tyrone Nelson, have teamed up to change the narrative of the county’s eastern districts — and Henrico County’s police chief, Eric English, agrees it’s time to combat the stigma.

The group of faith leaders meets bi-weekly to discuss systemic issues in the community. Their meetings help jumpstart initiatives and educational projects to impact residents of all ages.

Henrico County’s Magisterial Districts (Henrico County Government)

The East End of Henrico County includes the Fairfield and Varina Magisterial Districts and people who live there say that gun violence does not define the area.

“Violence in any area is not good,” said Rev. Dr. Emanuel C. Harris, president of Baptist Ministries Conference of Richmond and Vicinity. “But we change that narrative by giving them job opportunities, by bringing businesses to the community that can provide jobs. This is what we are trying to do to combat violence and we didn’t start doing that this year. We have been doing it all our lives.”

Harris has lived in the Varina District since 1999 and his two children went through the Henrico school system and on to bigger successes — like his daughter who graduated number two in her class at Hampton University last year after attending Varina High School.

Police Chief Eric English said he has lived in the East End for over 30 years and loves his community.

“I think there’s a misconception of the East End,” English said. “I have been a lifelong resident and I will tell you if I felt unsafe in the East End, I probably wouldn’t live in the East End. I have never felt that way. I love my community.”

“We all have to be vigilant, regardless of where we live. You hear a lot about the bad that goes on in the East End, in terms of crime. But overall, that community is a great community and a great place to live.”

Rev. Harris said crime data alone does not tell the whole story and often creates a negative stigma of a place that has a lot of good that gets overlooked — understanding the background of a given place helps paint a bigger picture.

“There are shootings all across the Metro Richmond area. You can’t just pick a piece of an area and label it bad because they’re all interconnected,” Harris said. “What is the root cause of black-on-black crime? You cannot isolate that issue and not deal with the lack of education, the lack of opportunity, the inequities that keep people from getting good jobs. All of this stuff factors into violence.”

Violence is not a problem belonging solely to the East End, according to Henrico County Public Safety data. While the numbers may be larger in the eastern districts as compared to Brookland, Tuckahoe and Three Chopt, Harris said focusing on numbers alone will tell a story that isn’t complete and only adds to the negative stigmas against the East End.

Selected crimes across the county’s five magisterial districts from Oct. 31, 2020 to April 6, 2021:

  • Varina — 3 homicides, 16 gun-related assaults, 37 burglaries
  • Brookland — 1 homicide, 1 gun-related assault, 19 burglaries
  • Fairfield — 3 homicides, 16 gun-related assaults, 40 burglaries
  • Three Chopt — 0 homicides, 1 gun-related assault, 18 burglaries
  • Tuckahoe — 1 homicide, 2 gun-related assaults, 15 burglaries

“You can’t just isolate issues and say the East End is horrible like it’s not also going on in the West End. That’s almost blatantly untrue,” Harris said. “These are the narratives. If you are going to tell the story, tell the whole story.”

Chief English said Henrico PD has a duty to address the crime in the East End just as much as they do in the West End — and the divide shouldn’t exist between the two because there is “only one Henrico.”

“We always have to address crime, first and foremost,” English said. “There has been an uptick in gunplay in some of the areas in the East End but if you look overall at the East End and the stigma associated with it, the East End is a large area of Henrico County. You have pockets where there are issues, and we are doing our best to address those. Sometimes citizens don’t see our efforts to curtail the violence.”

Henrico Police Chief, Eric English, was sworn in September 2020

Education is a major focus for Reverend Harris. He said Highland Springs High School produces talented athletes, musicians and artists as well as hosts a “fabulous” specialty center program.

He said education is the foundation of a growing society, and with Highland Springs nearing completion of its newly constructed campus, Harris is certain it will have a positive impact on the community.

“The current school is jammed packed,” Harris said. “If you put that many kids on top of each other, issues would happen anywhere. You have some kids that get into fights, but a lot of kids don’t take part in any of that and are doing great things. It’s about the story you tell. It is beautiful what they’re doing with the school. They built the new Fairfield aquatics center to teach kids how to swim, and the new library near Varina is phenomenal.”

“The school is going to do wonders for those students,” Chief English said. “There are just a lot of things going on in the East End where they are getting to a point where they feel there is an even playing field. There has always been this misnomer east and west. There is this division that people feel that there is more being done in the West than the East End. It is one Henrico.”

Harris remains headstrong to combat the narrative but also get involved with kids through church service and other courses like gang-awareness seminars to help continue to pinpoint the issues that cause the violence in the county as opposed to labeling the East End as ‘dangerous’ and allowing that to be his home’s definition.

“Let’s tell the whole story. In the midst of tragedies, there are still many blessings.”

Rev. Dr. Emanuel C. Harris

Chief English said you have to understand the history of what built a community before you form a stigma.

“From a living standpoint, there are so many good people in the East End. It is a close-knit area and I have lived there since 1994,” English said. “The historical perspective, people don’t understand that part of it. Why areas have become the way they are. You have to make sure you are taking those things into perspective and not add that stigma to a particular area, because you don’t know.”

Watch 8News’ exclusive interview with Henrico County’s Police Chief, Eric English:

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