Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney doesn’t get nearly as much attention as his counterparts in bigger cities like Chicago or New York, but the Democrat has at least one thing in common with Lori Lightfoot and Bill de Blasio besides party affiliation; a rising violent crime rate and a desire to reimagine policing rather than deal with the individuals responsible.
Recently, a group of pastors in the Virginia capitol sent the mayor a letter asking him to appropriate funds from the American Rescue Plan to establish a group violence intervention program. The pastors, who’ve founded a group called Richmonders Involved to Strengthen Communities, first made the request back in February of last year, but they’ve been repeatedly rebuffed by the mayor’s office? Why?
“We appreciate the group’s work and interest, but disagree with their advocacy for a law-enforcement based approach to gun violence prevention,” wrote the mayor’s press secretary, Jim Nolan. “We are focused on evidence-based programs that are more community-focused, and reflect a human services and public health approach, such as the $500,000 grant we recently received from the state department of criminal justice services.”
This is, to put it bluntly, idiotic. The $500,000 grant that the mayor’s press secretary touted is going to pay for a program targeting middle schoolers considered to be at a high risk of taking part in violent activities as they get older. That’s great and all, but it’s not going to address the individuals who are committing violent crimes right now, unlike the pastors’ plan.
“We think we could have reduced a lot of that violence, not we, but the community could have,” said Pastor Ralph Hodge, who is a member and former president of RISC. “It hurts I mean, there are children being shot, adults being shot, we’ve got murder suicides.”
… According to Hodge, the group violence intervention program targets gangs and also works to identify groups that may not have a title but are connected and associate together.
Program leaders use a strategy called “focused deterrence,” which Hodge said has been proven to cut homicides in half in dozens of cities across the country.
“This is not about law enforcement going in and inflicting pain on a community,” explained Hodge. “This is about social services community orgs, where we really need to put public safety dollars.”
The program would cost around $60,000 dollars initially, which Hodge said is much less than the $500,000 grant being used to target middle schoolers at MLK and River City Middle Schools who have either witnessed gun violence firsthand or have a sibling who has committed gun violence.
“I think any any proactive approach is good,” said Hodge. “What we believe, though, is that you have an immediate problem that needs immediate addressing. And when you look at the ages of the shooters, most of the victims, they’re not in middle school and high school. They’re above age, they’re adults.”
The program that Hodge is talking about is Operation Ceasefire, which I’ve written about here before. Hodge outlined the program pretty well, but if you want a deep dive in how it works you can read this white paper from the Department of Justice. Despite Stoney’s objections, there’s plenty of non-policing interventions as part of Operation Ceasefire, but for those participants who don’t take advantage of the opportunity to turn their life around there’s also the promise that their future cases will be moved to federal court without the potential for a plea bargain. That’s apparently the sticking point for Stoney; the fact that there are tough legal consequences for those who continue to turn Richmond’s streets into their own personal shooting gallery.
Stoney’s response to the pastors is a disgrace, especially given the fact that 53 people have been murdered in Richmond so far this year, an increase of about 40% compared to 2020, which in turn was far more violent than 2019. For less than $100,000 the city could put a program in place that has reduced homicides by more than 50% in many of the places where its been established, but instead the mayor is holding on to most of the $155-million in federal funds available to the city as part of the American Rescue Plan.
And we should also note that while the mayor objects to a law-enforcement approach to dealing with violent criminals, Stoney’s fine with using the police to enforce new gun control laws like banning lawful firearms possession in Richmond’s Capitol Square and on city streets near permitted events. Stoney’s views on crime and guns would be laughable if they weren’t exacerbating the violence in Richmond and putting lives at risk. Unfortunately, there’s nothing funny about the disastrous course that Stoney is charting, or his unwillingness to steer the city towards safer shores.