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Portsmouth, Norfolk leaders discuss gun violence prevention in town hall meeting

Community activists and leaders from Portsmouth and Norfolk discussed solutions for gun violence prevention amid a recent spike in shootings.

PORTSMOUTH, Va. — Community activists and leaders from Portsmouth and Norfolk joined together for a panel discussion on gun violence prevention efforts Wednesday evening.

The meeting was called "The Tale of Two Cities: Gun Violence Epidemic" and sought to encourage people to take action and get involved in combating crime.

"We need the community that we had from back in the day, with the technology and expertise that we have now, said Onyx Hicks, founder of Prevention, Reform and Recidivism. "It takes all of us."

"Just as much as we look at the faith-based leaders, we also have to look at the community and look at our parents,” Norfolk School Board Vice-Chair Carlos Clanton.

"We all can build up a stronger family structure,” said Stop the Violence Team President Bilal Muhammad. “So that we can clean up our community like it should be cleaned up."

Moderator Bishop Barry Randall with Portsmouth Community Liaisons empowered everyone to make a difference.

“We can't just wait for events to put forth action. It's children in your community, next door neighbors you can help,” said Randall.

RELATED: 13News Now Investigates: Shootings spike in Hampton Roads, 27% higher than in 2021

Panelists acknowledged the collective effort it will take to curb the rise in crime.

“A lot of the times, it's revenge, it's trauma from growing up and seeing gun violence. I think we should treat it like we did COVID-19,” said Kezia Hendricks, founder of Young Investors Group.

Leaders believe in focusing efforts on populations vulnerable to violence, such as communities of color, impoverished neighborhoods and the youth.

"[Violence] is a mental toll and if kids cannot concentrate in class, how can we expect for them to succeed on our tests, on SOLs,” said Portsmouth School Board Member Vernon Tillage.

Both Tillage and Clanton mentioned that their respective school divisions are also focused on youth mentorship and crime reduction efforts.

Linwood Williams, founder of C.U.T.S. Youth Employment Program, advocates for offering youth-positive outlets. 

Additionally, Williams expressed the need for more engagement, “when Black [people] kill Black [people], the community is the one that's missing and we've got to hold each other accountable."

RELATED: 'This is a process' | Leaders in Portsmouth outline plans, programs meant to reduce crime

On the law enforcement side, Portsmouth Police Chief Renado Prince touted his department's efforts in developing beats and zones for his officers.

"It's kind of up to us, at this point, to push that out and we're starting to do that even more so now,” he said.

Chief Prince said that those assignments are a crucial part of their mission of community policing, despite a shortage of the force, “you are talking about legitimacy, building trust, accountability."

Norfolk Police Chief Larry Boone was supposed to participate in a gun violence prevention forum Wednesday night. Randall said the soon-to-be-retired chief decided not to attend, “he did not want his decision to retire to overshadow this meeting.“

RELATED: Norfolk Police Chief Larry Boone retiring after more than 30 years on the force

Boone is set to retire at the end of the month with his last day in the office on April 8, per an announcement from Norfolk City Manager Dr. Chip Filer.

Some leaders at the forum took time to praise Boone for his service, several times during the event.

For anyone who didn't get to ask a question at the forum or propose an initiative, they are encouraged to email jenkinsm@portsmouthva.gov with the subject line: “engagement.”

In an earlier interview with 13News Now, Randall said he would like to forge more conversations with other areas of Hampton Roads and work collaboratively for solutions.

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