‘My employees are on edge. I’m on edge’: Norfolk community weighs in as city pushes for crime-fighting solutions

Posted at 10:04 PM, Mar 23, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-24 11:50:08-04

NORFOLK, Va. - Claude Barnett is reminded of the senseless shooting in Downtown Norfolk, killing Sierra Jenkins andDevon Harris and hurting three others.

He walks past the growing memorial sitting along Granby Streeton his way into work every day. Barnett owns Gershwin’s, the restaurant next door to Chicho’s, where the gunfire erupted on the sidewalk early Saturday morning.

“It’s very frustrating,” Barnett said. “My employees are on edge. I’m on edge when I’m leaving at 11 or midnight. It’s just not a comfortable feeling, and being in a vibrant downtown community, you should feel safe walking 150 feet to your car.”

City leaders are now pushing the conversation forward, trying to put their words into action on how to fight crime.

“Right now, we have a big issue downtown, and we need to take downtown back,” said Norfolk council member Courtney Doyle.

Earlier this week, Doyle said she’d like to see a “gun-free Granby.”

“I’m not a fan of gun-free zones,” Barnett said. “Basically, that empowers criminals to say, 'Hey, there’s nobody down there with a gun.'"

Months ago, the city took an unconventional approach by hiring New Jersey-based group Newark Community Street Team (NCST) to cut down on the gun violence.

The team spent the last few days in the city, putting a plan into place to employ community leaders and residents as mentors. With a focus on intervention strategies, they’ll reach out to at-risk teens and work to resolve conflicts.

“We cannot stand by when human beings are losing their lives,” said E. Ruebman, a team member with NCST. “This is unacceptable.”

The NCST said the surging trends in violent crime can be reversed, but change can’t fall on police alone. They said it’ll take the whole community.

“Community-based public safety can be transformative,” said Ruebman. “It doesn’t just reduce violence. It inspires hope.”

The team works with neighborhoods around the country saying it decreased crime in Newark’s South Ward community by 48%.

Though they say cleaning up the streets will take time, Barnett is hopeful their strategies will work.

“They need to do something,” he said. “Now, if this is the way to go, and the proven track record is there with this group out of New Jersey, okay, bring them in; see if they can help.”

Despite major staffing shortages in the Norfolk Police Department, the police chief said more officers will be patrolling the streets downtown starting Thursday.