Charlottesville Police Chief RaShall Brackney held a press conference Thursday afternoon to address what the department is calling an “unprecedented” rise in gun violence in the city. There have been eight incidents since November 5, a period that caps off a year in which police responded to 122 reports of shots being fired.
There were four gun homicides in 2020, a notable rise from the two homicides in 2019 and one in 2018.
“I’m calling on community advocates, influencers, organizers to go beyond Twitter or Instagram, Facebook, your news interviews, podcasts, or social media mediums to leverage your collective resources,” said Brackney at the press conference. “This cannot be laid solely as a burden at the police department’s feet…We cannot arrest our way out of this.”
The rise in gun violence has continued into 2021—last week, two shootings occurred near apartment buildings on Sixth Street SE and Prospect Avenue, in addition to a shooting in the middle of Emmet Street near Hydraulic Road.
“In one of those apartments, a woman lay in her bed and a bullet traveled right through her mattress and another woman was struck in the forehead,” said Assistant Police Chief Jim Mooney. “These are innocent victims that have nothing to do with whatever is causing this, and it has to end.”
Some people involved in the recent shootings lived outside of Charlottesville, but still had connections to the city, explained Brackney. The violence cannot be called an “outside” problem, or tied to a specific group or person.
While the department has made arrests for three of the four homicides from last year, as well as other shootings, Brackney emphasized the limits of policing.
“We understand the drivers of long-term systemic violence…to include poverty [and] exclusion from education and living wage opportunities. We understand institutional supremacy and racism, and its effects,” said Brackney. “We’re trying to stop the next act before it occurs. That takes more than just proactive police work, that takes community involvement.”
Brackney also pointed to the “breakdown in systems” caused by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic as a potential reason behind the uptick in gun violence.
Though Brackney acknowledged that some community leaders may be working behind the scenes, she also claimed they have been “completely silent on these issues” and needed to get involved publicly, such as by offering jobs, tutoring, mentorship, health care, therapy, and other critical needs.
“Get in contact with me,” she said. “We will coordinate the resources with you.”
Since the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement last year, community activists have been calling for budget adjustments to police funding. On Thursday, Brackney also suggested the city use its budget—which currently allocates $18 million a year to the police department—to take meaningful action.
“We’re going into budget season. What does our budget look like to address community drivers of violence?” she said. “The city has a responsibility to consider the budget allocations of every department to address community and social priorities as we provide social safety services.”