ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) — The City of Roanoke’s Gun Violence Prevention Commission met Tuesday night, just a day after the police department announced record homicides in the Star City.
Spiritual leaders at the meeting doubled down on ‘Ceasefire: Victory in the Valley,’ an initiative that had only been in practice for about ten days before three people were killed in two separate shootings Sunday.
“We’ve got to do it together,” said Hill Street Baptist Church’s Reverend Preston Tyler at the meeting. “It’s nothing the clergy can do by themselves or police officers or this commission can do. We’ve all got to work together.”
As the Commission meeting rolled on, chair and Roanoke’s Vice Mayor Joe Cobb announced new workgroups. People at the meeting could join the Community and Neighborhood Engagement group, which aims to build the capacity of local organizations addressing violence, promote partnerships in the community, and establish an adult-youth advisory board.
The Grants, Sustainability, and Funding group will research available funding streams, develop a grant writing team to apply for money and help organizations apply for grants, and implement the new funding application, review, and distribution process.
Finally, Cobb says the Research and Education group will stay current on evidence-based practices and secure local research partners. They’ll also pay attention to legislative issues that could apply to the city.
The Commission also announced a new assessment at Tuesday’s meeting. Elite Business Strategies will conduct surveys and interviews with residents over roughly two months, aiming to get direct dialogue to build quantitative data on lived experience in Roanoke.
Outside the meetings, residents in the Melrose neighborhood, where a double murder happened Sunday, are living with the gun violence that the Commission fights.
“I lost a friend the other night, so it touches home,” said Dawn Benn. “If we clean this up maybe it will, you know give them a little hope.”
“Northwest isn’t as bad as people think you know,” she said. “There’s good people out here.”
Statistics shared by police at the meeting show nearly 70% of cases are happening in the Northwest neighborhood, and they disproportionately impact Black men in Roanoke.
“77% of the total gun violence incidents homicides involve African American men,” Deputy Chief Jerry Stokes said at the meeting. He added that Roanoke has seen a 43% rise in gun violence since this time last year.
“They don’t understand that you’re taking away somebody’s son, somebody’s dad, somebody’s daughter, somebody’s mother,” said James Lee Turner, another resident.
His friend died in Sunday’s violence.
“People are dying out here, really dying.”
About a mile from that scene on Melrose Avenue, in First Impressions Barbershop, Turner talks to youth about gun violence.
“I’ve asked the questions in here to kids, what would cause you to pick up a gun and shoot somebody, and it’s been a couple explanations why,” he said.
“Some people say the music, some say you’re not going to embarrass me on this thing, on live,” he explained holding up his phone.
His experience growing up in Roanoke was filled with free sporting leagues that he says have since been taken away from the area.
“The idle mind is the devil’s playground,” he added.
However, he also attributes the difference between today’s violence, and how he grew up, to mentors.
“We had great mentors,” he said. “Some of us are down for being proactive, I just wish more people were proactive. All of these kids are not bad, they just need something. They want discipline, they want structure, they want rules, but if nobody’s giving it to them or nobody is paying attention to their needs, they’re going to grab the first thing that’s going to make them feel like they have some type of power.”
The next Gun Violence Prevention Commission meeting is on October 17.