VCU Health, Richmond leaders declaring gun violence a public health crisis

Richmond

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — After a violent start to the year in Richmond, with 23 homicides since Jan. 1, Mayor Levar Stoney and Richmond’s city council declared gun violence a public health crisis.

During a news briefing Thursday, Stoney was joined by the city’s police chief Gerald Smith, council members and Dr. Michel Aboutanos, the medical director at the VCU Health Level 1 Trauma Center.

Stoney said he is introducing a resolution on May 24 to officially declare gun violence in the city a public health crisis. Multiple council members have already expressed their intent to co-patron the resolution.

“It’s more than just acknowledgement. It’s an agreement from every person standing up here to build on the progress we’ve made and to double our efforts to address the inequities that lead to gun violence,” Stoney said.

To address this crisis, Stoney said, it will require a mobilization of people, programming and investment.

Stoney said the declaration shows the state, federal government and organizations with funding to give — that they need help. “Who will see this declaration and want to invest in our serious intervention work that we have before us,” he told 8News.

The idea is to fund support and services for families affected by gun violence, like granting stipends for mentorships, faith healing, and individual case management. City council is planning to invest about $500,000 of it’s own money into the new community led prevention program. That and the resolution declaring gun violence a public health crisis will be voted on May 24.

“Historically underinvested communities in Richmond are in survival mode,” Stoney said. “Richmond is rallying around prevention and ready to mobilize.”

Since April 1, there have been 11 homicides in the city, according to Richmond Police crime data.

Richmond had a total of 71 homicides in 2020. From Jan. 1 to May 13 in both 2020 and 2021, the city had 23 homicides.

Dr. Michel Aboutanos said that VCU Health is 100% committed to working with the city. Dr. Abountanos said doctors are working to save the lives of gunshot wound victims on a daily basis.

Gun-related admissions to VCU’s trauma center in 2020 increased more than 50 percent versus 2019, according to Dr. Aboutanos.

He said the hardest part of the job is “talking to that patients mom, and family, to look into her eyes and see that flicker of hope go away. When you tell her that her daughter did not make it,” he said, “to hear the scream that will never leave you. And I will tell you, I still hear each and all of them.”

At the briefing, Councilwoman Stephanie Lynch spoke about the tragic mass shooting in her district on April 27. The shooting left 30-year-old Sharnez Hill and her infant daughter, Neziah Hill, dead. 3 others were injured. Lynch said many people in her district are constantly dealing with the trauma left by these shootings.

Donte McCutchen is one of them. He’s grieving — and not for the first, or second time. “Sorry, I’m trying not to cry,” he said when 8News asked how many times he’s witnessed gun violence or lost a loved one.

Hill and her baby were just the most recent family members lost to gun violence. “But I would love for it to be the last time,” he said in an interview Thursday. Another one of his family members was also shot and survived that day in April.

When 8News told McCutchen that the city was taking action against gun violence, he said his family is ecstatic. “I’m so happy that they are responding. This is what we have been looking for, wanting, and needing,” he said.

McCutchen also pointed out that he is incredibly thankful to councilwoman Stephanie Lynch, who has been in close contact with victim’s family members since the shooting.

“We are fighting a war against trauma in our communities. And, like any war, it will take collaboration across many different entities, the investment of government foundations — of many different stakeholders — to fight these battlegrounds. And it starts with our community members,” Lynch said.

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