On National Night Out, a community activist calls for major reforms on how the region responds to gun violence


PORTSMOUTH, Va. ( WAVY) — In 1984, around the same time, First Lady Nancy Reagan said “Just Say No” to drugs, National Night Out kicked off across the country.

Residents were told to sit on their front porches at sundown and turn on the lights to send a message of taking back the streets.

Decades later, the so-called War on Drugs includes a public health crisis — where in some cases, crime victims and the suspects are children.

Homicide victim Teonna Coburn ( Photo courtesy: Family)

According to Gun Violence Archive, with more than 26,000 killings so far, 2021 is poised to record the highest number of gun violence deaths in two decades. To date, 183 children under 11 have been killed and 474 have been wounded.

Bilal Muhammad, a recently retired government employee, founded Stop the Violence Team in Hampton Roads. Muhammad recently responded after two 15-year-old children were shot and killed in Norfolk in one week.

Homicide victim Kristopher Edmonds (Photo courtesy: Family)

“I think this National Night Out this year — 2021– we are calling for a change to reform; reform in how we approach this situation,” Muhammad said.

As police and community leaders gather for National Night Out, which is usually a fun and festive event, at least one local police chief is echoing the call for reform.

“We have to be very surgical in how we go about addressing our youth,” said Norfolk Police Chief Larry Boone.

Boone is looking into surgical approaches such as Operation Ceasefire that has been successful in other parts of the country. But the Stop the Violence Team says the mission to save lives, families and entire communities cannot wait.

Following the homicides of the two 15-year-olds, Muhammad told 10 On Your Side he personally will meet with gang members in hopes of convincing them to turn their lives around.

“Yes, this is our approach now. The Stop the Violence team — we are working on a communications line,” he said.

Muhammad says initial efforts will include approaching gang leaders who play a role in how guns legally purchased in Hampton Roads end up in the hands of juveniles.

Boone tells 10 On Your side his officers have recovered hundred of guns from children and the youngest gun possession suspect was only 11 years old.

Muhammad’s surgical approach also includes showing compassion for victims as well as the accused.

“We want to sit down with those gentlemen and say ‘Look, c’mon, this not the way. This is not the approach.’ We are losing our young ones. Once upon a time, they weren’t in that direction; they are human beings,” said Muhammad.

The homicide cases of Teonna Coburn and Kristopher Edmonds remain unsolved. If you have information that can help police find the persons responsible, contact the Crime Line at 1-888-LOCK-U-UP.

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