Richmond’s neighborhoods come alive for National Night Out
on August 3, 2011
Nearly two dozen parties sprung up in Richmond Tuesday afternoon, and all of them entertained local police as guests. The gatherings were in celebration of the 28th annual National Night Out, a nationwide celebration and community-building event sponsored by the National Association of Town Watch.
In Richmond, the event included siren-wailing police caravans that swept the city’s biggest names to parties touching all corners of this diverse city of just over 100,000 people. Mayor Gayle McLaughlin told more than 100 people gathered at the Target shopping center complex that Richmond’s people and its police department have a continually improving relationship.
“Unity is our theme today, and unity is our goal,” McLaughlin said.
The breathless pace—caravans of leaders dropped in on block parties for 20 minutes and then rushed to the next—touched a cross-section of the neighborhoods. Separate caravan groups spanned the northern and southern districts of the city.
From newer neighborhoods like the Transit Village off BART’s Richmond station to older, historic communities like Atchison Village and North Richmond, police and elected officials mixed with local residents.
“Having safer, healthier communities is not just about more cops on the street, it’s about neighborhoods and people supporting each other,” said County Supervisor John Gioia in between chatting with local police in the Target parking lot on MacDonald Avenue. Councilmen Tom Butt and Corky Booze were also on hand in the Target parking lot, which was the initial meeting point before caravans dispersed throughout the city.
At the Barrett Terrace Apartment complex, around 100 people gathered for dancing, kids’ games, food and raffles. McLaughlin kicked up her feet in a line dance with residents and uniformed police officers before taking a microphone and exhorting the crowd to reach out and work with local police to reduce crime.
Just a few paces away from the party, a scene played out demonstrating Richmond’s ongoing struggle to improve public safety. A smaller, more solemn crowd of children and parents gathered at a smashed concrete wall, lighting candles and scribbling odes to a fallen friend. Less than 48 hours before, Rose McFadden, a 25-year-old mother of four, and Antoine Williams Jr., 24, were shot and killed sitting in a car and waiting for the complex security gate to open.
Williams’ foot pinned the accelerator as he was shot, police said, and barreled into the concrete walls surrounding the complex’s trash dumpsters.
The shooting stemmed from “some personal stuff, some feelings, not no gang thing,” said one woman, a Barrett resident who declined to give her name.
The central Richmond caravan was met with enthusiastic crowds of varying sizes. At the Transit Village, a smaller group of around 40 people met with police and enjoyed barbecued meats. Kids wore plastic firefighter hats and joked with beat cops.
“We got the word out via our listserv email groups,” said Ellen Langston, who has lived in the Transit Village for 7 years. “This is a great chance to meet more of our neighbors and attach faces to the email names that I know.”
In North Richmond, residents accustomed to bad news following the wail of sirens spilled onto the streets as the caravan rolled in. Instead, police and leaders were all smiles as they met residents throwing a block party in the 800 block of Chesley. About 50 people clasped hands and joined in a prayer for local violence to cease.
“Here, the event is really important because people need to see the police as friends and partners instead of adversaries,” said Johnny White, a longtime local leader and activist. “Relationships with our police and our sheriff’s must continue to improve.”
The event came at a tenuous time in the city. The killings of Williams and McFadden on Monday raised the year’s homicide count to 23, already more than all of last year. Tensions between rival factions in north and central Richmond have been running high.
National Night Out continues to grow, and is celebrated in communities in all 50 states. More than 37 million people participated in National Night Out last year, according to the project’s website.
In all, 2011’s version of National Night Out’s biggest accomplishment may have been getting various communities out and together in a positive environment, said Chris Magnus, Richmond’s police chief.
“Interactions between neighbors can be lacking sometime, not just here but in all communities,” Magnus said. “Public safety isn’t just about officers, it’s about neighbors.”
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