More than 60 communities across Suffolk sent a clear message to criminals Tuesday night: They are not wanted in Suffolk.
Thousands of residents gave crime a going-away party at locations throughout the city. Many communities new to the celebration had an impressive turnout, and returning areas built on their success from previous years.
“We had at least 250 people,” said Andy Damiani, who helped organize the Downtown Business Association/Fairgrounds Promotion Committee celebration. “That’s pretty good for the first time, really.”
Not far away, in the Saratoga neighborhood, leaders said they organized the event to show everyone that something positive can come out of Saratoga.
“This is past, present and future Saratogans getting together to prove we can do this in a positive way,” said Sarah Knight.
Hundreds came to the Saratoga celebration, which included a full-court basketball tournament, entertainment by a clown and Spiderman character, music by Team Jesus Music Group, and more.
City leaders kicked off the celebration at the new King’s Fork Public Safety Center. Public safety partners and elected officials touched on this weekend’s homicide of a Lakeland High School student as a reminder of why the community works to fight crime.
“The recent tragic loss of one of our city’s youth, Tyquan Lewis, reminds us there is still work to be done,” Mayor Linda T. Johnson said.
Police Chief Thomas Bennett said the number of major crimes in the city has improved statistically since last year, but incidents like Sunday’s homicide show even more room for improvement. He encouraged parental involvement, saying the one common denominator in all the offenders he works with is lack of parental support.
State delegate Chris Jones called the celebration one of the things that makes Suffolk great.
“What makes this a better place to live is community involvement,” Jones said.
Community organizers in Pughsville honored deceased community activist Mary Richardson, who helped spur the community’s participation in National Night Out.
“National Night Out was her baby,” said Wayne White, president of Pughsville Suffolk Civic League. “She pushed it and had a ball with it every year.”
Burbage Grant, a second-year participating community, purchased 420 hot dogs for the event, and expected to use them all.
“We ran out of hot dogs [last year],” said Buddy Pye, Burbage Grant Neighborhood Watch Coordinator. “I kept having to run to the store.”
Pye said he hoped neighbors would get to know each other better through the celebration.
“We need to exchange phone numbers and information, and get to know one another,” Pye said. “This is something we hope will facilitate that. That way, when someone goes out of town or someone leaves their garage door up, we’ll be able to look out for each other.”
The Suffolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority invited all of its residents to the party at its headquarters on Pinner Street. Children there enjoyed balloon animals, pony rides and a petting zoo, food and music.
Jackie Kennedy, who brought her daughter Autumn to the celebration at Applewood Farms, is new to Suffolk. She said she came to the party to connect with her neighbors.
“I wanted to try to get her out with the kids,” she said.
Likewise, parent Charlene Till brought her children, ages 8 and 15, out to get to know their neighbors and to support the event.
“National Night Out helps support the safety of the neighborhood by keeping us connected,” she said. “My kids are having a great time.”