‘Every child you talk to…they are afraid’: Stop the Violence Guns Down offers support following Norfolk mass shooting

Posted at 11:38 PM, Nov 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-16 00:04:33-05

NORFOLK, Va. – In an empty field in the Young Terrace neighborhood, community activist Clay Marquez was playing ball with a few of the children. Those playful moments are what he wants the kids to remember instead of the heart-stopping sounds of gunfire.

“The sad part about it is that a lot of children are talking about it,” Marquez said. “A lot of kids know what’s going on. These children grow up so fast. Every child you talk to, the first thing they speak about is the shooting. They are afraid.”

George Hawkins, 10, and his cousin Jaquan Tinker, also 10, say they hear gunshots in their Young Terrace community every day.

“It hurts my ears,” Tinker said.

Hawkins agreed.

“All down there, it’s not safe,” he said. “They be shooting. It’s all gangs and stuff.”

The boys said the fear of gunfire keeps them indoors away from their friends for most the day.

“They be shooting outside, and I don’t want to get shot,” said Tinker.

Marquez and his team Stop the Violence Guns Down are trying to change that.

“We just hope that everybody can just come together and try to show these children something better than what they have been seeing,” said Marquez. “They see it on the video games and see it on TV, and then they have to live it in real time. It’s a travesty and something that a child growing up should never have to go through.”

On Monday, he was handing out meals to neighbors.

It comes nearly two weeks after the mass shooting that left three women dead and two others injured. The pain in the tight-knit community still lingers.

“They going to be hurting for a long time,” said Marquez. “When they suffer loss, we suffer loss as well, as a community. We just hoping that out of this tragedy that something positive can come out of it.”

Related: Norfolk community comes together in grief following mass shooting

Stop the Violence Guns Down gave away more than 100 food boxes in about two hours, but that isn’t all the group has been doing.

They’ve been going door to door, talking to neighbors to show them they care. Those are just some of the things they said makes a big difference in the lives of the people who live in the community, especially the kids.

“It’s not always just giving away something tangible, but giving them something positive and just speaking to them and try to uplift their spirt,” Marquez said.

Marquez is working to open the lines of communication with the neighborhood kids, being their mentor to keep them from making poor decisions.

“We try to be here before school lets out, so that when they’re coming through this field, that we talk to them,” he said. “First thing we always say to them, ‘Keep your grades up. How are your grades?’ I tell them we reward good grades.”

The effort is resonating with 10-year-old Hawkins.

“I feel good, happy,” Hawkins said. “These people getting people food to be safe. I just want somebody just be safe and don’t get shot.”

While the anguish on Whitaker Lane remains, Marquez said the growing makeshift memorial is not only a painful reminder of the three lives lost, but the stark reality of a tragedy of that can’t be undone.

“Somebody loses their life, you can’t hit reward,” he said. “It’s not like a game or a movie. It’s real life, and that life is gone. You can’t get back, so just think twice about it.”

Stop the Violence Guns Down wants to see more streetlights and police patrolling the neighborhood.

The group plans to go to other high-crime communities in the coming weeks to help curb violence.

“This is where it starts at right here,” said James Washington of Stop the Violence Guns Down. “Being out here among the people in the community. Being among the hurt and brokenhearted.”