Richmond police ramp up presence to head off escalating tensions
on May 18, 2012
A flare up of deadly shootings in Richmond and unincorporated North Richmond has police and anti-violence workers mobilized in an effort to quell further violence.
- A version of this article appeared first in the Contra Costa Times.
On Monday morning, 22-year-old Orlando Yancy was killed in a drive-by in unincorporated North Richmond, the second homicide in that area this year.
Two days later, 27-year-old Donald Washington died after being shot at least five times as he sat in his car in the 500 block of Eighth Street, in Richmond’s Iron Triangle neighborhood.
“When we believe as we do in this case that these shootings are part of a retaliatory series of crime, it is critical that we continue communicating constantly with sheriff’s detectives and our detectives,” said Richmond Police Chief Chris Magnus. “We are following up on leads and sharing information.”
Magnus said the department has ramped up patrols in the city in an effort to head off further violence.
The most recent homicides marked the eighth killing in the city and the second in unincorporated North Richmond this year. Magnus said that city police and Sheriff’s Department, which patrols unincorporated North Richmond, have grappled with ongoing violence between rival factions in central and North Richmond for years.
“While we’ve made progress, this is not a new challenge for here. We have been dealing with this situation for well over a decade,” Magnus said.
In North Richmond on Thursday morning, the atmosphere in the blocks surrounding the site of Yancy’s death reflected the current reality. The streets, normally buzzing with residents walking and riding bikes around the corner market at Fifth Street and Market Avenue, were desolate.
Lucky Braimah, who owns and operates the corner market, said the community is on edge. “Nobody is moving out here. It’s on lockdown mode,” Braimah said. “My customers are afraid to be in the streets and sidewalks because they know the hunt is on.”
A community meeting with residents and leaders in North Richmond was scheduled for Thursday night, in part to address concerns about the recent violence. At that meeting, residents expressed dissatisfaction with Sheriff’s Department performance and emergency response times. Sheriff Lt. Jon Moreland said he could not discuss issues related to the April 17 shooting death of Lenny Peterson because there was an ongoing investigation into circumstances surrounding that incident.
Richmond Police Lt. Bisa French said Thursday that central Richmond is on edge as well.
“It’s not just that way in North Richmond—the guys we normally see on the streets aren’t out there on the corners because they don’t want to get caught up in the wrong place at the wrong time,” French said. “With the chatter on Facebook and other social networking sites, and the press, people are cognizant of what’s going on.”
French said residents can expect police presence to be heavy in certain neighborhoods.
“We will continue the heightened patrols at least through the weekend and probably for the next few months,” French said. “Last summer we saw a spike in violence.”
On Thursday in Martinez, 21-year-old Joe “Fatter” Blacknell, a reputed Easter Hill Boys gang member, was sentenced to life in prison without parole for a deadly crime spree in 2009. Richmond police officers on hand for the sentencing hearing expressed concern that Blacknell’s sentence could have repercussions on the street.
Despite the recent violence, Richmond maintains a downward trajectory in violent crime, Magnus said. There were 21 homicides in Richmond, a city of about 103,000 residents, in 2010, and 26 homicides in 2011, both totals significantly below the average of the last decade. At this point last year, there had been seven homicides in the city. There have been eight this year.
Magnus added that anti-violence outreach workers, including agents from the city’s Office of Neighborhood Safety, are actively reaching out to people on both sides to head off further violence.
“I am optimistic that we are doing the right things with the right people at this time, but I am also realistic that challenges lie ahead,” Magnus said.
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