RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The color orange flooded downtown Richmond as part of the national “Wear Orange” movement on Saturday, June 3. Advocates said the display was part of an effort to combat gun violence and raise awareness while honoring victims.
Local leaders, parents and survivors stood in solidarity at the event, which took place at Hardywood Brewery, to draw attention to the issue and discuss plans to make a difference.
At the event, advocates and gun violence survivors exchanged hugs and flowers, while listening to various speakers. One speaker, who goes by Elizabeth, started her speech with a chilling anecdote about her experience back in 2018 as a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
“Twenty minutes before the end of the school day, the sound of gunshots shattered the hallway’s tranquility,” the former student — and now advocate against gun violence — reflected.
She said she was forced to watch as a classmate died in her classroom after being shot in the head.
“Bullet holes marred the walls and the shards of glass crunched beneath my feet,” she continued. “Tragically, as I made my way to safety, I encountered lifeless bodies and abandoned laptops, a stark reminder of the unfinished work of those who had fallen.”
This school shooting gained national attention, but at Saturday’s “Wear Orange” rally, local leaders said gun violence is an issue that continues to plague the country — and, our very own community.
Last year, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney declared gun violence a public health crisis as guns continued to claim lives and permanently change others. Jessica Schneider survived a domestic incident with an ex-husband.
“He actually had a gun at my temple while I was holding my three-and-a-half-year-old and pregnant — seven months pregnant,” Schneider sighed. “We talk about, you know, thoughts and prayers. I’m sorry. It’s just not enough.”
Richmond’s Interim Police Chief Rick Edwards told 8News that this time last year, the city had just hit 27 murders. This year, that number is already at 30.
“The positive news is we’re down about 22% in non-fatal shootings,” Edwards said. He added that this is an area that the city has struggled with in the past.
The department is now gearing up for large-scale mitigation efforts like “Operation Safe Summer.”
“Officers that are focused on nothing but going to where the hotspots are,” Edwards said. “And [officers will be] going after violent offenders to make sure we can take them off our streets.”
According to Edwards, there isn’t one single solution. He added that efforts like Richmond’s “Gun-Buyback” program, the “Violence Interrupters” and a new program where officers bring gun safes into the field to crack down on enforcing proper gun storage are all stepping stones towards real, tangible progress. He also emphasized the importance of community support as seen at Saturday’s “Wear Orange” event.