Frustration grows over plan to not use federal money to fight gun violence in Newport News

gun violence comes up at council meeting
Posted at 7:27 PM, Feb 22, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-23 00:11:46-05

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. – Some community members and gun violence prevention advocates in Newport News are still frustrated following a decision by city council members to not designate tens of millions of dollars in federal funding toward curbing crime.

The city is getting $66 million from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), but none of it is directly designated for fighting gun violence.

The city will use some of the money to transform the Marshall-Ridley neighborhood that has public housing, and for other projects and services.

The issue wasn’t on the agenda at Tuesday night’s city council meeting, but it still came up.

Some are not happy with the decision and are calling on city council members to be more transparent.

Newport News mother of four and advocate Yugonda Sample-Jones, takes the issue of curbing gun violence to heart.

Three years ago on Aug. 1, 2019, she said her nephew Erek Lamarr Wright and his cousin were shot and killed in the city. He was 15 years old.

“He was my baby; he was a football star,” said Sample-Jones. “He was murdered with his 18-year-old cousin.”

Sample-Jones said the city needs funding to help put an end to the senseless shootings. She believes council members dropped the ball two weeks ago when it decided none of the money from the ARPA would go toward fighting crime.

“It’s very frustrating because we’re putting our blood, sweat and tears all on this,” she said. “Our literal blood is involved in this change; we need change.”

During Tuesday’s city council meeting, some community members expressed that same frustration.

I understand what you’re point Mayor Price that you can’t just throw money at a problem and hope it goes away,” one Newport News man said. “According to the city-wide crime statistics, over your time as mayor, as least as far back as it goes to 2010, that the number of murders in Newport News hasn’t really decreased all that much. Not all of that is due to gun violence…. The only thing I’m asking for you tonight…is that we use that we take into account those items and to also request that we use that going forward to try and curb the gun violence.”

According to police, there has been one homicide in the city so far this year. In 2021, a total of 26 people were shot and killed and nearly 100 others injured in shootings. In 2020, 19 people were shot and killed.

Sample-Jones is the founder and president of EmPower All. She said she’s going to keep working with her grassroots organization to help other nonprofits apply for grants to curb crime.

“Unless we’re fully funding those organizations that are actually working with the shooters, and working with the families, and doing that intensive home therapy, we’re not going to change,” she said. “Nothing’s going to change.”

She said real change can come if city leaders truly listen to community members and have a conversation with them about the issues plaguing the city.

“I’m tired,” said Sample-Jones. “I’m really tired and in the means of them playing politics, we’re losing children, and it’s young children.”

The city argues it’s already taking measures to fight crime. It plans to give at least $125,000 dollars from a $500,000 state grant to each qualified organization to curb gun violence. However, some say that amount won’t go far enough.

Related: City of Norfolk giving residents more ways to weigh in on how to spend funding from American Rescue Plan Act