City Hall briefly closes after fistfight in ONS office
on October 17, 2011
DeVone Boggan, director of the Office of Neighborhood Safety, called 25 young men known as some of the most violent or at-risk youth in Richmond into the City Manager’s office in City Hall more than a year ago. He wanted to show them the fantastic view of the Bay Area and to make them an offer—he would take them on as ONS fellows if they were willing to take a chance on a new life.
Almost all of them said yes and, since then, many have accompanied Boggan on trips where they befriended young men from other neighborhoods who they had once been at odds with.
But a few heated words exchanged in the City Hall parking lot were all it took to incite a brawl between two rival groups on Friday afternoon, showing that there is still much work to be done.
“A group of young men that we work with who are also adversarial towards each other found themselves at City Hall at the same time,” Boggan wrote in an email. “One group was scheduled to be there and the other few individuals showed up unexpectedly looking for ONS staff members.”
The tension built in the parking lot carried over to the ONS office suite on the third floor of City Hall, where a fistfight broke out between seven individuals. A portion of City Hall was briefly shut down until city and ONS staff resolved the clash.
All of the young men involved have a relationship with ONS and some are part of the 25 men called into the City Manager’s office, but Boggan said the group varied. ONS works with about 80-100 young men daily.
The police are investigating the incident as a felony assault, Richmond Police Dept. Detective Nicole Abetkov said. Media reports asserted that one of the young men left the brawl with a broken nose. Although Abetkov could not confirm details of the injuries, she said two people were hurt and that one of them sustained a laceration.
The Richmond Police Department deployed extra officers over the weekend to quell possible gang retaliation, Abetkov said.
“We’re still trying to get peace between these two groups,” she said. “We don’t want this rolling out into the streets.”
Nothing of this nature has occurred inside the ONS office before, although there have been conflicts on Civic Center property in the past. ONS works primarily with youth involved in gun violence and Boggan said these particular young men had past unresolved issues.
“The young men involved in Friday’s fight are each negotiating their own current anger, fear and pain associated with these ‘rival’ group to group/neighborhood to neighborhood relationships and a long history of violent conflict between each other,” he said. “To be successful, this is hard work, and for all of these young men, their journey in this direction is young.”
Abetkov said ONS generally tries to keep conflicting individuals apart. Now, a solution must be drawn up as to how to deal with a similar situation in the future.
“We’re striving to figure out if there’s any way to address them being at the same place at the same time,” Abetkov said.
The office will also work to prevent another altercation, although Boggan could not confirm details about exactly what will be done.
“Law enforcement was involved and is following up,” Boggan said. “We are working closely with RPD’s Special Investigations Section to prevent further conflict around this particular altercation and the other several ongoing street level conflicts that often resort to shootings and killings in Richmond.”
Boggan said all of the young men involved in the fight have been in daily contact with ONS staff since Friday and have committed to prevent any retaliation.
“We are holding and encouraging them to their word – and for us who work with these young men, that requires a great deal of work, belief and hope – for we know how fragile these commitments can be given the anger, fear and pain and the unhealthy rules for living in the streets that they must negotiate daily,” Boggan said.
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