Another weekend marred by deadly violence in Richmond
on July 18, 2011
After another night punctuated by deadly gunfire volleys in central and north Richmond, law enforcement officials are scrambling for answers.
The latest spate of violence broke out Sunday night around 9:45 p.m., when a 23-year-old man was shot as he stood in front of a house in the 200 block of Gertrude Avenue in North Richmond. The man was seriously wounded and transported to an area hospital, where he is expected to survive. Richmond Police Lt. Bisa French said police are not sure whether the perpetrators were on foot or fired from a vehicle.
The south side of Gertrude Avenue is technically within the city of Richmond, but is identified among the community as part of the North Richmond neighborhood, most of which is unincorporated county land.
“There’s a long history of feuds between people in these two areas,” said French. “And every now and then something will spark shootings between them. We just don’t know what that spark is at this time.”
Rev. Kenneth Davis was inside his home, about two blocks away, at the time of the shooting. “I heard a volley of shots,” Davis said. “Sounded like an automatic weapon.” Davis said other residents told him the shooter was on foot, and that the victim suffered at least one wound to the shoulder.
About 45 minutes later, two women and a man were shot while standing in front of an apartment complex at the corner of Fourth Street and Bissell Avenue, a spot in the heart of central Richmond’s Iron Triangle neighborhood.
“We believe the [shooter] was on foot,” French said.
Melanie Williams, 37, and Vashon Lee, 38, were pronounced dead at the scene, French said. A third victim, whom police have identified only as a woman in her twenties, is hospitalized and expected to survive.
No suspects are in custody for either shooting.
“We’re definitely looking into the possibility of these (shootings) being related,” French said.
After significant crime reductions in both Richmond and unincorporated North Richmond last year and early this year, a string of summer shootings have both communities on edge and homicide totals on the rise. After only 21 homicides were recorded in Richmond in 2010 – the city’s lowest total in a decade – the city has already suffered 20 homicides in less than seven months this year.
Seven killings have occurred in July alone, including the shooting deaths of three men in a drug dispute in a home on Triangle Circle on July 9. Meanwhile, in unincorporated North Richmond – where homicides don’t count toward the city of Richmond’s total – there have been three killings and numerous shootings that have caused serious injuries.
The violent spree crosses two law enforcement jurisdictions, complicating efforts to investigate the crimes. Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Department patrols North Richmond. A sliver of the southernmost point of the North Richmond neighborhood is in the city, and therefore patrolled by the Richmond Police Department.
Sheriff’s department spokesman Jimmy Lee confirmed Monday that the shooting on Gertrude Avenue was not within the county’s jurisdiction. “One side of the street is ours and one side is [city police’s],” Lee said. “I haven’t seen any internal reports about the shooting today, so I don’t think it happened in our area.”
Lee said deputies would maintain a steady presence in North Richmond, a tiny unincorporated area of about 2,300 people with a high crime rate.
“We have experienced some budget cutbacks over the last few years that impact our deployment numbers,” Lee said. “But we do what we can with the resources and funding we have.”
Asked if Richmond’s city police department was concerned about what appears to be escalating violence between rival groups in central and north Richmond, French said, “We’re very concerned. We are trying to make sure that we are putting our resources in both these areas to curb this violence.”
Sheriff’s officials have complained in the past that witnesses are reluctant to come forward, hindering their ability to make arrests. No one has been arrested in any of North Richmond’s three homicides this year.
But French noted other factors that make it difficult to apprehend suspects in the recent shootings.
“I think people just don’t know exactly who is involved, except those that are directly involved in the crimes,” French said. “Also, at these late hours when the crimes are often committed, there aren’t a lot of eyewitnesses.”
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