Two months ago, Richmond’s Chief of Police, Chris Magnus, boasted about the city’s homicide rate in 2013. It was the lowest it has been in 33 years. However, the calm in the city of Richmond was short-lived as gunfire erupted the streets, claiming five lives in the first week of November.
Elias Shipley, a Richmond native who is an active board member for Community Engagement Initiative (CEI), states that Richmond needs strong community leadership within the neighborhoods to sustainably reduce crime. “Leadership can come from police endeavors, but personally I believe effective leadership starts in the home. I believe in fatherhood. As men, we have to step up in our communities.” Having stronger home environments can help kids stay out of trouble. That, in turn, can contribute to the growing trend of crime reduction.
As of December 1, 2014, the Richmond Police Department saw a 13% drop in violent crime, a 15% decrease in property crime, a 28% drop in residential burglaries, and a 20% decrease in vehicle theft compared to the same period last year.
In addition, the efforts of the Office of Neighborhood Safety’s (ONS) community-engaged crime fighting strategies and the city’s advanced ShotSpotter gunshot detection system have proven effective. In the last few years, community-engaged crime fighting tactics have been very successful.
A shift to a community-policing paradigm has increased the visibility of police officers in communities. The police department has placed a greater emphasis on enhancing communications and building trust building with residents.
2014 was a record-breaking year for safety and crime reduction, yet the recent shootings show there is still much room for improvement. Gun violence made its chilling entrance back into the city limits.
So many of Richmond’s youth are exposed to the grim reality of gun violence. When I heard about the tragic murder of 16-year-old Richmond High student Rodney Frazier, I had a flashback when I first lost a fellow schoolmate to gun violence in Richmond.
During my 8th grade year at Portola Middle School, there was this young boy with a big smile named Lamar. He often wore a blue and red 76er’s fitted cap.
Later that school year, I heard he was riding around with some friends and died in the backseat when the gunman sprayed the car with bullets. Recent California data show that after school hours are the prime time for young people to be victims of violent crime.
As a kid, after that tragic incident with Lamar, I saw more and more young people lose their lives to Richmond’s killing sprees. Since the mid-2000’s, homicides in Richmond have been driven by feuds between young men in North, Central, and South Richmond. Shootings spark retaliations, which unleash further shootings.
Throughout my high school experience in the mid-2000’s, I remember one minute I would see one of my peers laughing and flirting with girls during lunch time, then the next week I would see students wearing T-shirts emblazoned with that young man’s picture, saying “Rest in Peace.”
Last month, I wrote an article about the North Richmond area being a disenfranchised region and a hotspot for violence. I interviewed North Richmond native Raymond Smith, who stated that “if the City of Richmond doesn’t annex the unincorporated neighborhood, then the future for North Richmond is death.” I believe that finding a way to support North Richmond plays an essential piece in configuring underlying issues that fuel Richmond’s violence.
16-year-old Rodney Frazier was killed in his own North Richmond neighborhood.
Three root causes that ignite violence are issues of economic, oppression, and mental health backgrounds.
Richmond’s police department and city government are working to address these three issues. Richmond’s Office of Neighborhood Safety has provided mentorship and program stipends to individuals that have been convicted or involved in Richmond violence. The organization is working to combat these problems and change perceptions of the city’s young African-American population.
Yet, more still needs to be done. Richmond must find ways to create and strengthen authentic relationships within the Central, South, and North Richmond neighborhoods. At the end of the day, most of the young people who are committing these crimes are the very ones who are seeking validation and acceptance within their neighborhoods.
“There are some good brothers out there who are positive and loving life, but then some of them that are influenced by the wrong things and are under a spell,” said Shipley.
It is no secret that young African-American men have been victims of most of Richmond homicides throughout the years. If the community wants violence out of the city, citizens, politicians, and the police department must not view our young men as walking statistics.
The entire Richmond community so desperately needs to host an open dialogue between both residents and political officials that champions innovative solutions to eliminate the ongoing turf feuds.
By: Maiya Newsome-Edgerly, Richmond resident