PORTSMOUTH, Va. – Community members from all walks of life took to the streets in downtown Portsmouth Wednesday demanding change.
“We need change now,” chanted a group of more than 80 people.
The surging gun violence across the nation and in Hampton Roads has community activists like Darrell Redmond, 43, disgusted and tired. They’re now calling on Portsmouth city leaders to step up and take action to curb crime.
“The community is disgusted,” said Redmond, who organized the rally. “The City of Portsmouth is in a state of emergency right now.”
The rally comes after a violent Sunday in the city with three shootings within a four-hour span, including a double shooting wounding a teenager on Virginia Avenue and a homicide of a 38-year old man on Edwards Street. Another shooting on Dale Drive injured one person Sunday afternoon.
“We can take back our city,” Redmond said. “We can take back our community, but it starts with getting together, having a conversation, joining together and letting everybody know we’re here for one another.”
Each person shared their own personal story about gun violence.
Elliott Hill was released from jail just two weeks ago for a murder he said he didn’t commit. He was locked up for 24 years. At the rally, he had a message for parents and their children.
“I was 15 when I left,” Hill said. “You want your son to be me? Like the bro said, put your gun down and pick your kid up. How ‘bout that one?”
Chesapeake mother Monica Atkins made an emotional plea to anyone listening.
“What is it going to take?” Atkins said. “How many kids are we going to have to lose? It’s not just about the men, no more. We losing the women and the babies as well."
Atkins lost her own son, 25-year-old Antonio Atkins, to gun violence in Portsmouth seven years ago. She’s now fighting on the front lines in the war against crime as the executive director of Stop the Violence 757.
“I’m out here with boots on the ground all the time,” Atkins said. “I serve 100% of my time to the City of Portsmouth but I live in Chesapeake, okay? When are y’all going to take a stand? And that city council mess, we don’t have six months. We don’t even have six minutes.”
The group marched in defiance of what they said is a slow response from city leaders to address gun violence. The city has created a coalition to reduce crime through prevention and intervention strategies. A spokesperson for the city said it could take six months to develop a plan.
“We don’t have six months,” Redmond said. “We don’t have six minutes; we don’t have six seconds.”
Councilman Chris Woodard Jr. stood in solidarity with the group helping to come up with a better, more timely solution. He was the only city representative at the rally Wednesday and said city leaders need to step up.
Woodard told News 3 the coalition is still in its early stages but agreed that six months is too long to address the rising gun violence.
“There’s no concrete plan right now,” he said. “We’re just unifying some of the grassroots groups to come up with a solution. That’s why I’m here.”
Community members said they need action now with more community policing, getting churches involved and opening rec centers to keep kids off the streets.
“That’s one thing we need to do is keep everybody busy and give them something to look forward to,” said Genoa Everett, a Portsmouth resident and former lieutenant with the Portsmouth Sheriff’s Office.
Redmond believes kids need more guidance from those they can relate to. He said he was able to turn his life around after serving 20 years in state prison for various crimes.
“Let's start with trying to utilize people that are like me that have been down the path, I have to have the influence and respect inside these communities; let’s utilize them,” he said. “I'm not saying the programs don't work; I'm not saying treatment don't work. I'm not saying the strategies don't work, but the people they have in place to implement it don't have a connection with the community, so it's never going to work.”