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Roanoke 'Black Lives Matter' group seeks to raise awareness and build trust

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ROANOKE (WSLS 10) - People in the Star City are coming together in an effort to create a safer Roanoke. Police officers, politicians and the public are taking part in a "Stop the violence" event Monday night.

Organizers said it's in response to a recent increase in violent acts despite a reduction in overall crimes in the city.

Figures show, in 2014, homicide numbers were at a five-year-low with three reported deaths. In 2015, the number nearly tripled. Police said at least five homicides have happened so far in 2016. Community members said it's going to take a joint effort between police, members of the local Black Lives Matter group and other organizations to build trust and decrease crime numbers.

Calls for justice echoed in downtown Roanoke Monday.

"It's everyone's responsibility to speak up for justice. It's not one group, it's not another group, it's everyone," said Debra Carter, Black Lives Matter organizer.

Carter said she started a Black Lives Matter group in Roanoke as a way to raise awareness about inequalities. Members of the Latino community came to show support and share concerns.

"We have amazing police officers serving our country, but we also know there are some who have been intimidating and abusing their authority," said Yolanda Rodriguez Puyana.

Roanoke Police Chief Tim Jones said officers and local groups must work together to break down stereotypes, build trust and solve problems, such as gun violence or possible cases of police misconduct.

"The Black Lives Matter organization really starts the dialogue," said Jones. "It is the catalyst of the many conversations that we have to have."

The "Stop the Violence" event starts at 7 p.m. Monday at the Paradise Cathedral Community Outreach Center on 1301 Melrose Avenue.

Mayor Sherman Lea, Jones and other local leaders are expected to answer questions. The free event is open to the public.