‘Things will not change until people see we care’: Local leaders, activists march to end gun violence

Community members rally together for change

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Drawn to George Wythe High School by the sound of drums, community advocates and Southside residents gathered on Saturday to find a solution to gun violence in Richmond after a deadly month of shootings.

The rally was organized in response to a recent rash of violence. Just across the street from George Wythe at the Belt Atlantic Apartments, 30-year-old Sharnez Hill and her 3-month-old baby girl, Neziah, were killed and three others were injured.

“On social media, I keep hearing people saying ‘Where are our men?’ that they are M.I.A., missing in action,” community activist Cruz Shepard said. “Today I come to tell you we are M.I.A. We are men in action. This can’t be a one-day affair.”

Cruz was joined by U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine; Sen. Joe Morrissey, D-Richmond; Richmond Police Chief Gerald Smith, Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras, Henrico Police Chief Eric English, and other city school board members and activists. They each addressed crowds and called for unity to put an end to gun violence.

“We turned the world upside down for COVID, but more of our children are dying from guns,” Kamras said. “We have to do the same for gun violence.”

“Sometimes we can spend so much time focusing on what we’re doing that we don’t focus on who we’re doing it for,” Kaine said.

“We have two more, and if they are listening, just know that we’re coming to get you and you are going to be held responsible for this,” Smith said, referring to two additional suspects sought in the Belt Atlantic shooting. “Our children, our babies, will not be gunned down in the street. Guns will not find their way into the hands of our youth, and that youth will not find guns as a way to our solution.”

Before the 100-person crowd began marching, community pastor Donte McCutchen led the crowd in a charged prayer. McCutchen, who is Hill’s cousin, that the event wouldn’t be a one-time thing. He said leaders would continue to support the community damaged by violence.

“Let them understand God ... we care and that we don’t want the violence to continue, but we want love to abide,” McCutchen said.

McCutchen also expressed support for the police and says there needs to be more effort from elected officials to allocate funding and resources.

The crowd ended the event by marching from George Wythe High School to the Belt Atlantic Apartments, ending their march in front of the bullet-riddled building where the victims were shot.

As they marched the crowd chanted “We care,” and “Stop the violence,” as residents looked on from their apartment homes. The crowd marched holding up three fingers in honor of the slain 3-month-old.

“Whenever a 3-month-old baby is murdered, her mother is murdered, other people are injured, when people at six o’clock in the evening when people on the playing field can get sprayed with almost 50 rounds with assault rifles and Glocks and nines — we have a problem,” Shepard said. “Things will not change until people see that we care.”

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