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Charlottesville police, community leaders discuss what's behind recent gun violence

Charlottesville was rocked by three shootings in less than 72 hours last week.

And while police say the three incidents were not related to one another, they were related to an ongoing problem the city has been facing for some time: easy access to and proliferation of firearms on the streets.

“They’re just everywhere,” Charlottesville Police Chief Michael Kochis told The Daily Progress.

Around 11:30 p.m. Feb. 22, police received a report of shots fired on the 900 block of First Street South in the Ridge Street neighborhood. Shell casings were found on the scene, but little else, officers said.

“When officers arrived, no damage or individuals were located,” the police department said in a statement. “Detectives do not believe this to be related to any other incidents at this time.”

Two days later, early Saturday morning, police received another report of shots fired, this time on the Downtown Mall.

“The shooting at 201 West Main St. that occurred on February 24, 2024, at 1:45 a.m. is believed to be an ongoing issue between acquaintances,” police said in their statement. “Our detectives have identified a suspect and are working diligently to solve this case.”

Less than 24 hours later, multiple shots were fired in the city’s Venable neighborhood. Once again, shell casings were found at the scene but there was no damage to property or injury to individuals to report.

“CPD is currently working with the Virginia State Police and the U.S. Marshals Office, who have provided crucial information towards solving this case,” police said. “This remains an ongoing investigation.”

The shootings mark a recent rise in gun violence in what has otherwise been a far quieter winter than last year’s. In the first three months of 2023, there were five homicide cases reported in the city of Charlottesville, the highest number on record since 2017.

“Our numbers are down this year compared to last year already,” Kochis said. “We finished the year on a downward trend, but we’re working hard in really putting our resources where they need to be.”

Having multiple shootings over the course of a few days is always going to attract attention, Kochis said. While he said there is no connection between the incidents, he did note that police have seized several firearms in recent weeks. That includes pistols and AR-15-style rifles.

The weapons are everywhere, said Kochis, who promised his department is doing everything within its power to remove illegal firearms off the streets.

Last year, Kochis proposed the city institute a gun buyback program.

Such programs rarely remove illegal firearms from the market, experts told The Daily Progress at the time, and they don’t address the underlying causes of gun violence, community members have said.

Apart from access to weapons, there is the larger issue of societal and economic inequality that leads to violence. Bryan Page sees it every day in his work for the BUCK Squad, a volunteer group that seeks to reduce gun violence in the city.

“People need to understand these impoverished communities. The trauma going on inside our communities is what’s causing kids to play with these guns,” Page told The Daily Progress of the Black neighborhoods where he does much of his work.

With few resources in those neighborhoods, Page said young people are often desperate to get their hands on whatever is available — too often that’s a gun. If kids cannot afford food, shoes or even to join a basketball league, they may see few options and pick up a weapon.

“They are poor, frustrated and angry and nobody wants to accept that truth,” he said. “Shootings are going to continue until we address the traumatic situations these kids are going through. That falls on the educational system, and it falls on housing.”

Page was once one of those teenagers who saw little opportunity for himself. His father had been incarcerated, and ultimately Page was too, imprisoned at 16 years old. It took him 40 years, he said, to recognize he had been dealing with generational trauma.

“I didn’t know I was missing my daddy. As a child you don’t know that’s trauma,” he said. “I always knew I wasn’t a bad person. Every crime I committed was based on money and economics.”

Until communities like his are given proper resources, Page said he believes the cycle of violence will continue and that he’ll keep getting calls from reporters eager for his perspective. He wishes the media and others in the community would focus on Charlottesville’s poorest communities even when there isn’t a shooting. That means focusing on the needs of neighborhoods that are often forgotten.

“We need resources in our communities. That’s it,” Page said. “These kids have got to be able to go outside and have something to do. They’re not bad kids. We’re around them every night talking to them, trying to save them. But they have no direction. They have nowhere to go.”


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