Some thoughts on black-on-black crime

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Suffolk News-Herald

&uot;Gunsmoke&uot; could have been the official Hampton Roads theme last month because there was sure enough of it clogging the air. It seems to be the norm these days that every time you turn on the television to watch the news, there is a report of someone getting shot.

The first – and most tragic – incident had to do with an 8-year-old Smithfield boy killed by a gunshot wound to the neck as he lay sleeping in his own bed. That shooting stemmed from a gang confrontation on the street near his house.

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The next was the 19-year-old young man, fatally shot in front of students in broad daylight at Norfolk State University.

And the latest one was a 25-year-old man from James City County, who shot an officer when two of them came to arrest him and there was a struggle. When the suspect’s gun went off, he was killed and the officer was shot in the head. Luckily, the police officer survived.

Closer to home, a 49-year-old male friend of mine was shot to death Oct. 26 while at a party.

The list just goes on and on.

The really sad part is almost all of these incidents have been black-on-black crimes.

It’s often been said there is a shortage of black men, because they are either dead or in jail.

Past episodes seem to make this statement true. But they are not all in jail just because someone else put them there. They are there because they committed a crime.

As the saying goes, if you do the crime, you must pay the time. It doesn’t matter whether you are black, white, green or purple – each of us should he held accountable for our actions, good and bad.

In 2000, state statistics showed that more than 88 percent of all murders and more than 51 percent all robberies were committed with a firearm. A startling fact is that a teenager is more likely to die from a gunshot than from all natural causes of death combined.

A program to reduce gun violence called Virginia Exile was designed to build upon the success of Project Exile – a federal program started in Richmond in 1997. By prosecuting illegal gun offenses in federal court, Project Exile has helped to reduce gun violence in Richmond by 40 percent, officials said.

Virginia Exile’s purpose is to break the link between guns and drugs, between guns and crime in general, and to help put an end to gun violence, which has affected too many communities. It gives local prosecutors, law enforcement agencies and the courts more resources and tools to get gun-wielding criminals out of our neighborhoods and off our streets.

The Department of Criminal Justice Services funds several Exile programs, including the Suffolk Exile Program that was launched in 2001. Convictions under the program lead to a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in a Virginia prison for those who:

nHave a prior conviction for a violent felony such as murder, rape, robbery assault or certain types of burglary and are convicted of possessing a firearm.

nAre convicted of possessing a firearm within a school building with the intent to use it or displaying it in a threatening manner.

nAre convicted of possessing a firearm and Schedule I or II drugs such as cocaine or heroin or convicted of possessing more than a pound of marijuana with the intent to sell.

Anyone who possesses a firearm and has a prior conviction for a non-violent felony such as larceny or drug possession will be exiled for two years in addition to any other sentence imposed. The new law presumes that people charged with Exile-type gun crimes would not be eligible for bail while awaiting trial. Because Virginia abolished parole five years ago, people convicted of these gun crimes will be behind bars – &uot;exiled&uot; – for the full five years. This is in addition to any other sentence imposed.

Virginia Exile gets straight to the point. A gun associated with drugs, felons or school gets you five years in a Virginia prison. You will be exiled for a long time. No suspended sentence, no probation and probably no bail. About four years ago, I visited the Suffolk City Jail and believe me; I can’t see how anyone would want to go there. It cuts you off from society, stunk and had no windows. During that tour, it was stated that many criminals come from broken and abused homes or where there is no direction or love shown in the home.

That is why a letter from the mother of the young black man murdered at Norfolk State moved me tremendously, because she could still show love and forgiveness for the one who killed her son. She wrote the following letter:

&uot;I would just like to say that I have no anger in my heart towards the person who killed my son and that there are two mothers who are grieving for two very different reasons. My heart is broken over the death of my son. I won’t be able to sit at the table with him on Thanksgiving Day or wish him a Merry Christmas or Happy Birthday. All I ask is that I be able to bury my son peacefully without any arguing or violence. I am praying that as a result of this tragedy one young person can learn that pulling the trigger of a gun is not the answer to any problems. This is very important to me because it would mean that Marcus did not die in vain.&uot;

I am also pleading with all young people – especially black young people – who may be contemplating or involved in crime to put your guns down. Life is a gift from God. You have only one life to live. You don’t want to spend it behind bars.

Evelyn Wall is a staff writer for the News-Herald. You can reach her at 934-9615, or via e-mail at