By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
Dr. Kenneth C. Alexander, Shannon Glover, and Donnie Tuck have several things in common, apart from being mayors of three of region’s largest cities.
All three are products of the Baby-Boomer culture.
They are college-educated, professional, viable public servants, working, they say, on policies and practices to foster a good quality of life for the residents they represent.
But along with other mayors perched at the top rung of leadership in urban centers, they are challenged by incidents of gun-violence—daily.
It injures, traumatizes, and claims the lives, for the most part, of men, women, and children who look like them.
As gun violence has trended upward over the past two years, Mayors Alexander, Glover, and Tuck have been seeking that magic formula of policies and best practices to combat and reduce it.
Mayor Donnie Tuck, first elected in 2014, said the issue was brought first to his attention several years ago, by a former and now deceased council member
He said the two formed a network of Black leaders who wanted to devise plans to address gun violence and they reached out to a national group called “Citizens Against Gun Violence.”
Tuck said that over time, Hampton has devised several plans to combat gun violence, using law enforcement, social services, educational and grassroots non profits which are on the streets engaged in addressing the issue.
During an interview, all three mayors said their cities are devoting resources to public safety, social services, recreational outlets, community peer intervention, and technologies to meet the gun violence challenge.
But Tuck, especially, is not content with facing the issue in his civic and political silo; he believes a regional plan must be undertaken.
“Every 24 hours, an African American male 14 to 24 years of age is impacted by gun violence,” said Tuck. “Now we must all engage to end it. It is not just the proble
m of one or two cities but all of them.”
Tuck said, except for 2020, every year since February 2016, the City of Hampton has hosted a regional conference on violence reduction and prevention. The conference has featured speakers, panel discussions, workshops, and breakout sessions on a host of topics related to root causes, prevention, and intervention
strategies, trauma and mental health, and re-entry programs for men and women returning from state prisons.
Invitations were extended to other localities in Hampton Roads, however, in the beginning Newport News was the only city that participated.
“During a telephone call in February 2021,“ Tuck recalled ,“I informed Virginia Beach Mayor Bobby Dyer about the upcoming conference in April as part of the National Youth Violence Prevention Week.
“Following an extremely violent weekend at the
Oceanfront near the end of March 2021, as well as an uptick in violence in each of our cities, I invited the mayors from Chesapeake, Newport News, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Suffolk, and Virginia Beach to join me in a Facebook Live town hall to discuss the violence in our communities and the reasons it was occurring.”
The first town hall discussion, he said, was held on April 13 and a follow-up town hall was held on June 24 of last year.
“During the intervening period, the Executive Director of Cities United, Anthony Smith, and I held virtual meetings with each mayor to discuss their strategies for addressing the uptick in violence and to consider next steps that could be offered at the June 24 meeting.”
Several weeks ago, Mayor Dyer contacted me and asked if I would consider being a part of a mayors task force on youth violence. I shared with him that I thought it wo
uld be better if we asked Hampton Roads Planning District Commission Executive Director Bob Crum to lead
the effort and to open it up to more of the mayors and Boards of Supervisors chairs in Hampton Roads. The first meeting of that group
was held on April 1, 2022
That took place several weeks after 17 people, four of whom died, were impacted by gun violence.
In Portsmouth Mayor Glover said the city added to or enhanced its tools to curb crime using its public safety, recreation, social service, and educational assets.
Recently, it secured a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to fund its Operation Safe Neighborhood Project, launched in February.
It is a four-pronged plan: Community Engagement; Prevention and Intervention; Strategic Enforcement; and Accountability
Glover said not all of the funds were injected into the
city’s police, social service, educational and technical bloodstream
The city also created and is funding a task force of three
non-profit grassroots groups who are credible voices and already engaged on the streets called the “Interveners.”
“We brought in the leaders of Give Back Da Block, 757 Stop the Violence and Big Homies,” said Glover.
“They will be working with our police department. They are already involved –interacting, mentoring and intervening with youth and helping them avoid trouble”.
He continued, “Another program also involves identifying individuals in crisis who would commit violent crimes.”
Glover said it involved placing them in a structured program to secure training, employment, housing, and other direct support to fight the allure of criminal behavior.
Glover said there is a need to encourage people to overcome the stigma of seeking mental health treatment.
He said Portsmouth is devising ways to address the isolation and disengagement of at-risk youth by “doing more” with the city’s recreational programming, beyond basketball. This includes art and other cultural offerings in safe spaces around the city and lending support to the adults in their families which are usually headed by a single parent.
Glover said that the city is using funds from the Hampton Roads Workforce Council to create 64 summer jobs for youth.
Other cities are crafting such plans and are urging private businesses to hire during the summer break.
Glover mentioned recruiting 100 faith and other leaders to mentor 100 or more at-risk males, living in homes where there are no viable male role models.
“Many youths do not have any support or direction at home,” he said. “We are hoping to change that narrative to include assistance in helping struggling parents who may work several jobs and are unable to focus on their children.”
Glover and the other mayors noted all agreed that there are just “too many guns on the street”.
All of them said state laws are designed to
restrict locales’ efforts to restrict the sale and possession of handguns by violent felons and youth using them to resolve petty disputes.
However, “ghost guns” are a specific menace, Glover said. These are firearms that are un-serialized and untraceable and can be bought online and assembled at home. They are often sold through “ghost gun kits,”
with all of the parts and equipment necessary to
build them at home.
Felons or individuals with a record of violent domestic behavior should not have easy access to guns, Glover said. He said that citizens should be required to report lost or stolen weapons which have been used during various acts of violence in the region.
Hampton, Norfolk nor Portsmouth has a large number of gun shops. But guns can be bought at pawn shops or gun shows with few restrictions beyond
During their “State of the City” addresses, Mayors Alexander and Glover highlighted their desire to fight gun violence in their cities.
Norfolk Mayor Alexander said his city has been planting “pop-up” portable surveillance cameras at various crime hot spots about the city and he envisions using other technologies to deter violence.
Alexander said Norfolk will be installing stronger LED street lighting and raising the pay of police officers, hoping to fill a gap of 200 officers the police department needs to fill its ranks.
Also, improving the professional training and diversity of the Norfolk Police Department, he said, is on the city’s radar to improve officer-community relations and to deescalate
situations that may cause police-civilian shootings.
Alexander said that the city is resurrecting the Norfolk Emerging Leaders programs for working age youth. He said during the summer, Norfolk is providing employment in a wide range of city departments.
“Many of the people who work with our city now,” Alexander said, “worked with this program.”
Now that the COVID infection rate has lessened, the city is reopening and staffing its recreation and cultural centers due in part to a massive hiring push by the city.
Alexander said with the availability of guns, cities are
dealing with not only economic recovery from being locked down for 18 months, but the “emotional recovery” of its residents.
“We are developing a variety of short and long-term
strategies,” Alexander said. “We must develop ways to create outlets for people to safely display that anger and frustration without violence, especially in our Black and Hispanic communities.”