By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
That is the number as of noon Monday, Sept. 10, of the number of victims of gun violence who lived in the city of Norfolk alone.
Last year according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), 220 people died of gun violence in the seven major cities of Hampton Roads. Norfolk had 63 incidents, the highest with Portsmouth coming in a close second at 42.
Last year The Level I trauma program at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital treated a record 541 patients for gunshot wounds, resulting in 69 deaths. 474 of the gunshot victims (88 percent) were Black males between the ages of 20 and 64. Ninety-nine of those same victims (18 percent) were between 15 and 19 years old. There is a total of 541 gunshot victims compared to 530 patients in 2021 and 466 in 2020.
There are four months to go in 2023, and Norfolk Police officials and civic and political leaders hope the city’s gun violence body count does not near the one set in 2022.
Over the recent Labor Day weekend, at least three gun-related incidents were reported. Three people died as Norfolk highlighted the carnage in the region.
On September 2, NSU student Jahari Gorge, 20, was shot and killed off campus. The following day, a Norview Junior High Student Amir Burnette, 14, was killed.
On the Sunday before Labor Day on Church Street NPD officers arrived and found 24-year-old Precious McClendon dead at the scene and a 51-year-old man suffering from serious but non-life-threatening injuries.
Last weekend, 58-year-old Kenneth Perry was the latest victim on Jubilee Street in the Southside in Berkley.
Last week, a non-profit organization called Auntie Advocate held a vigil and rally at the Royal Farms Convenience Store, Gas Station on Virgnia Beach Boulevard in Norfolk to support the families of the Labor Day weekend victims
Norfolk’s Fourth Ward City Councilman John “J.P.” Paige attended the gathering with leaders of the group and representatives of people seeking to combat gun violence in the city and region.
He said the three Labor Day shootings created “an atmosphere of tension” because of the potential of retaliatory violence.
He said he has talked with the families of each of the young victims.
Paige said that although he was personally touched by all of the incidents, the one involving the NSU student occurred near his neighborhood near the HBCU.
Paige said that as a member of the council and community leaders, he is seeking answers to citizens’ questions about what the police and city officials are going to do to stop the violence.
He said that he was pleased to report that two of the three incidents that occurred over the Labor Day period have been resolved, with the arrest of an assailant.
People all across the city have come to realize that these incidents are not restricted to one area of the city and that everyone is impacted, he noted.
He said he was also encouraged by the work of the various Anti-Gun Violence Groups working to discourage teens and adults from committing acts of gun violence.
Clay Marquez is one of the leaders of the Stop the Violence – Put the Guns Down” group, which he formed about five years ago.
They have put up big signs in Huntersville, Palr Place, off Chesapeake Blvd., and other sites noting their aims.
Marquez formed the group after a stretch in prison for drug-related activity in a neighborhood he knows well – Huntersville – where he was born and raised.
“At one time I was part of the problem,” said Marquez. “Now I want to be part of the solution. I know the streets and I know the people who are the shooters and the ones on the verge of committing violence. Our goal is to get to them and talk about the consequences of the violence.”
Councilman Paige said he is encouraged by the work of Marquez and an affiliate group of his organization called Violence Interrupters.
They were formed with the help of the Newark (New (Jersey) Community Street Team.
Councilwoman Danica Royster, (Super Ward 7), in collaboration with the City Manager’s Office, reached out to the group last year after a spate of gun violence that rocked the city, highlighted by incidents on Granby Street.
The group which has worked across the country worked with city officials, police, anti-violence groups and other groups. They trained representatives of these local groups in tactics and strategies to address the issue.
The training created the Interrupters who are now trusted voices in the urban core of Norfolk. They are now working strategically and quietly without much attention.
Marquez says they have “street cred and trust.”
Marquez said the Violence Interrupters work to detect and intercede to prevent potential outbreaks of violence between individuals and groups in the designated neighborhoods.
If they should fail and an incident occurs, Marquez said the Interceptors often arrive at the scene before police and secure it.
“We understand that the police cannot do it by themselves,” said Marquez. “We are public safety officers, too. We know the landscape of the community and we have a ‘License to Operate’ (LTO), and people know who we are and have to trust us.”
These Interceptors are not volunteers. The city has funding to provide some compensation for their work.
Marquez and Paige say despite the recent high-profile shootings over Labor Day, they have managed to make a dent in the number of incidents over the long hot summer.
Also, with his organization being a proactive force, Marquez said his outfit has provided funding for the cost of funerals of gun violence victims.
Marquez that he and his colleagues are frequently engaging youth who are acutely aware of actual and potential violence of all kinds in their communities.
“I talked to one young man who said he hears gunfire all the time,” Marquez said. “Many of the 13 and 14-year-olds are traumatized by witnessing shootings firsthand and can sit and talk about them like it’s a video game or movie.”
Marquez said he has convinced many young men to turn over their guns to him rather than use them in a fit of violence.
On September 16 at the Huntersville Park field, Marquez said his organization will host the first annual “Peace and Reunion” gathering from 2 to 7 p.m.
For more information, call (757) 907-2050.