ROANOKE, Va. – John English has seen and felt the violence plaguing Roanoke firsthand.
“Gangs are a force to be reckoned with. Period,” said English.
English said he and his son were both victims of gang violence on Tuesday night, which ended with a shooting at a 7-Eleven in Roanoke County.
“Most of the time, it’s black-on-black crimes within these gangs. We hurt each other. We’re killing our communities. We’re turning on our communities. We have killed more people than the police will ever kill when it comes down to gang violence and violence period,” said English.
English runs Revelation Power Group, a youth and mentor program that works with kids who’ve been to jail and are involved with gangs. The organization also helps people find jobs and pay bills.
During a virtual meeting with Roanoke City’s Study Committee to Reduce Gun Violence on Friday morning, English shared his ideas.
He said that gangs aren’t going anywhere and the kids who are getting recruited into gangs keep getting younger. It’s not uncommon to see 13 or 14-year-olds in gangs. English also said that the gangs are gaining popularity in the Roanoke Valley and the violence is spilling into surrounding neighborhoods, not just Northwest or Southeast Roanoke.
English said that the goal should not be focused on gang prevention, but preparation.
“We have to prepare them, ‘Listen, if you want to be in this gang, honey, it’s a possible chance you’re going to die. If you want to be in this gang, sir, it’s a possible chance you’re going to go to jail.‘” said English.
Committee member Antwyne Calloway said that the group is looking at different violence prevention models. One of the models treats gun violence like a disease. He said we can’t just treat the symptoms of violence, we’ve got to treat the disease itself.
“If someone is living in an environment that is totally negative, they have no family members that are doing positive things, their education is being limited, they’re having a hard time with transportation, can’t get to or from, they go into the refrigerator and there’s no food in the actual refrigerator,” said Calloway. “These are the true disease.”
Calloway also wants respected, well-known community members to join the committee who are impacted by gun violence and live in the neighborhoods where the violence occurs.
”How do you reach somebody if they’re not at your table?” said Calloway.
“Us as the community, we have to come together and show them the love,” said English. “If we want the violence to stop in our community, we’ve got to stand together and say, ‘Enough is enough.’”
The committee wants to focus on concrete, short-term goals.
Some steps include hiring a rapid response coordinator who will go into neighborhoods immediately after a shooting happens and offer support.
The group also talked about taking a closer look at their budget needs and possible funding sources. Plus, members would like to collaborate more with each other. There are different sub-committees focused on topics like gangs, education or safer neighborhoods, so they want to see if there’s any overlap.
The committee plans to meet every other week because of the spike in violence. The next virtual meeting is on August 14.