RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)– Virginia Sen. Mark Warner joined representatives from Henrico and Richmond law enforcement, first responders, organizations and the health department today to try to come up with a solution to gun violence.
So far, this year there have been nearly 50 homicides in the City of Richmond where a gun was used. According to Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, gun violence is plaguing the city.
“We are suffering from COVID-19 obviously, but the loss of life particularly in black and brown communities… we’ve reached our max,” Stoney said.
Mayor Stoney first declared gun violence a public health crisis back in May. Senator Warner commended the mayor for calling the surge of gun violence a ‘public health emergency.’ Warner said he believed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) should declare it as well.
“This is not a problem we can police our way out of,” Warner said.
In recent days, five people were shot in the City of Richmond leaving two men dead. One person was shot and killed in Henrico County.
During the discussion, Dr. Michael Aboutanos with VCU Medical said the trauma center has seen a 121% increase in shooting victims.
“This is the reality,” Aboutanos said.
“If that doesn’t scream epidemic, I don’t know what does,” Warner said.
According to Warner, African-American men have a 20 times greater chance of being a victim of gun violence than their white counterparts.
The City of Richmond started a gun violence prevention working group to try to combat the issue. The city is working with VCU Health on a $500,000 gun violence prevention program. The grant was given by Virginia’s Department of Criminal Justice Services to create a new community and data driven gun violence prevention program.
The pilot program is expected to target children and offer them a different path through intervention and extracurricular activities. The program will focus on middle school students at both Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School and River City Middle School.
Mayor Stoney said many of these specific students witness gun violence or have a sibling who has committed an act of gun violence.
The city will also be using $8.5 million of the $155 million allotted from the American Rescue Plan funds to focus on public safety efforts, of that $1.5 million will be used for gun violence prevention.
Both Henrico County and Richmond’s police chiefs addressed concerns they had.
Henrico County police chief Eric English said young people are taking guns out of cars.
“You’re not just starting at the age of 25 and all of a sudden you become a shooter. That’s not how it happens. There’s a build up to this thing,” English said.
According to Richmond Police Chief Gerald Smith, the department is investigating corner stores as they believe the youth might be getting access to firearms there.
Smith also said the department needs funding for mental health.
“At this point in time where the community is looking for and demanding change from us as police officers, we could really use some help,” Smith saod.
Senator Warner told 8News, stress from COVID-19 over the last 18 months has caused enormous mental health issues for law enforcement. He plans to first re-direct unused COVID dollars to fund mental health programs for law enforcement.
Warner then suggests that the Richmond region puts together a proposal to the general assembly.