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Murder the main issue at “Meet the Mayor” meeting

on January 13, 2010

A small, but vocal, group of Richmond residents attended the first “Meet the Mayor” event of 2010 on Thursday, and the main topic of discussion was very familiar to them all: Richmond’s rising homicide rate.

Mayor Gayle McLaughlin spent the first part of the meeting, which was held at the Richmond Public Library, honoring the 47 homicide victims of 2009, reading the name and age of each victim. The numbers revealed some startling statistics about the city’s murder victims: Nearly half (23) were 25 or younger, and 12 were in their teens.

Most of the 12 residents who gathered for the meeting spoke about the murder rate, which rose last year after seeing a dip in 2008. Some, such as Harry Singh, suggested that installing more security cameras throughout the city might help identify culprits. Singh mentioned the 2007 murder of two friends, brothers Ravinder and Paramjit Kalsi, in which video surveillance from a distant camera captured images of the killer. Had there been more cameras, Singh said, perhaps the killer could have been more easily identified.

But McLaughlin cautioned against depending on technology to keep the city safe.

“We can’t rely on technology to solve decades of problems building up to this situation of high crime or high homicides,” McLaughlin said. “We have to address the roots of the crime.”

She blamed the tough economy for the recent spike in homicides, but also cited Richmond’s history of “social and racial injustice.”

“We have a society which hasn’t really put its resources into those communities who need it the most,” McLaughlin said. “And Richmond is one of those communities.”

Resident Adel Somaha said he believed it was the frame of mind of some of Richmond’s troubled youth that was causing problems.

“From the age of 10 until the age of 18, or 21, their major goal is smoking, drinking and having a gun,” Somaha said. “Somehow, you have to have a gun… and this has become a serious threat.”

He also said there have been more break-ins and robberies at local stores since 2007, especially among the city’s Middle Eastern community.

Even Richmond’s other often-talked-about issue, the massive Chevron refinery, was tied to the murder rate. McLaughlin said ballot initiative Measure T, which would impose a higher utility fee on the oil company, would provide at least $10 million more per year for the city. That money could then be used to help fund outreach efforts and aid law enforcement, McLaughlin said.

One development that may help curb violence is the impending hire of eight additional police officers for the city. The hires will be made possible thanks to funding from last year’s federal stimulus package.

Aside from the homicide discussion, the mayor also addressed other concerns from those gathered. One citizen brought up a troublesome drainage issue on his street, and Somaha reiterated concerns he voiced at the last city council meeting about a $950 fee the city may impose on businesses that sell alcohol.

But the murder topic was definitely the biggest topic discussed at the meeting, and McLaughlin received much input on it from her constituents. She closed the meeting by stressing how much community groups can help lower the homicide rate, and thanked those who gathered at the library Thursday night.

“Thank you all for remembering the loss of lives,” McLaughlin said, “and committing to do your part to help the situation, and building a better Richmond – a safer Richmond.”

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