Anti-violence activists call out Richmond mayor for lack of action

(AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney has a plan to reduce violence in Virginia’s capital city. Unfortunately for Richmond residents it’s not a good plan at all. Stoney wants to spend $500,000 on a series of gun “buybacks” across the city, despite the fact that there’s no evidence at all that these compensated confiscation efforts do anything to impact violent crime, accidents, or suicides involving guns.

Meanwhile, a group of activists led by local clergy have a different idea to reduce violent crime in the city: focus on the most violent and prolific offenders. Despite the proven success of programs like Operation Ceasefire, however, the group known as Richmonders Involved to Strengthen Our Communities says the mayor has expressed no interest in hearing about the initiative. In fact, RISC organizers say they can’t even get a meeting with the mayor.

Richmonders Involved to Strengthen Our Communities, or RISC, said it has attempted to meet with Stoney on 11 occasions since he was re-elected in 2020 – all of which have been denied. Meanwhile, 154 people have been killed in Richmond, the group said.

On February 11, the group sent a letter saying they would come to City Hall on Friday to meet with him at 11 a.m. The group said the mayor also declined to meet, but they plan to show up anyway.

RISC is backing a gun violence prevention program called Group Violence Intervention, or GVI. The strategy was pioneered in Boston under “Operation Ceasefire” in the 1990s and calls for community members to partner with police and social service providers to work with those most at risk for committing violence. It has since been implemented in Oakland, where it reduced homicides by 46%; in New Haven, Conn., where it resulted in a 78% reduction in gun homicides; in Stockton, Cali., with a 42% reduction.

All without the need for any new gun control laws, by the way. Operation Ceasefire is a strategy that even gun owners and Second Amendment activists can get behind, because it doesn’t target guns or legal gun owners in any way. Instead, the most prolific offenders and those most at risk of becoming either the victim or perpetrator of violent crimes are called in to a meeting with both community leaders and law enforcement officials and given both an ultimatum and a choice: You’re going to stop shooting. We’ll help you turn your life around if you let us. If you don’t, we’ll make you stop by locking you up for as long as we possibly can.

Apparently that’s just too much law-and-order for Stoney, who has pledged to spend millions of dollars in government grant money on a variety of programs, none of which actually involve policing or accountability for those who commit violent crimes.

Earlier this month, Stoney announced a new $500,000 gun buyback program, promised to distribute $1 million in community grants to combat gun violence, and hired a new community safety coordinator – a position that was originally recommended by a task force the city administration formed in 2020 to “reimagine” public safety.

Officials said the funding will come from federal aid the city received last year from the American Rescue Plan Act.

The nonprofit NextUp RVA, which operates after-school programming for Richmond Public Schools students, will oversee the flow of money to community-led programs focused on parenting support, mental health services, tutoring, mentorships and after-school programs.

Richmond Police Chief Gerald Smith said his department is also playing a role in the strategy with a plan to hire three civilian “violence interrupters.”

While some legitimate good may come from some of these programs (Stoney’s gun “buyback” not included), bringing Operation Ceasefire to Richmond could easily be done in conjunction with things like hiring violence interrupters. Stoney’s stonewalling is a sign that there are still plenty of Democratic mayors who haven’t adopted the “refund-the-police” rhetoric of New York’s Eric Adams, even at the expense of alienating Democratic voters.

The folks behind RISC aren’t rock-ribbed conservatives, after all, and I don’t know that many of them would describe themselves as Second Amendment supporters. They are, however, fed the **** up with the spiraling violence in their city and the lackadaisical response from the city’s leadership, and I share their frustrations. We’re coming up on the one year anniversary of a murder that impacted my own family, and sadly, the killing of Cody Woodson is one of the many homicides that have gone unsolved in the past couple of years as the city’s murder rate has climbed to levels not seen in decades.

I find it amazing that a Second Amendment activist like myself can find more common ground with a group like RISC than the Democratic mayor of Richmond can, but I think that says more about Stoney’s far-left ideology than anything else. Still, if Stoney won’t meet with the group, I’m happy to help spread the word about what they’re trying to put in place, and I’m hoping to get a representative from the organization on an upcoming episode of Bearing Arms’ Cam & Co in the near future for an honest and frank conversation about a truly effective and constitutionally-sound way to save lives, and why Richmond’s mayor is so uninterested.