RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — George Carrington III was excited to become a father. He loved cars and couldn’t wait to buy his son a Big Wheel tricycle, his mother said. But they never met — the 17-year-old was gunned down in Virginia’s capital city three days before his girlfriend gave birth to George Carrington IV.
“There’s no reason that George’s life should have been taken,” said his mother, Virnita Carrington. “He was waiting for his baby boy.”
Carrington was one of 61 people killed in Richmond’s deadliest year in a decade, up about 50 percent from 2015. Homicides are at their highest level since 2006, when there were 81.
The killings remain well below the more than 100 per year that plagued the city throughout much of the 1990s. But the increasing toll has people worried, and weary of burying their children and parents.
“The community, they’re tired,” said Richmond Police Chief Alfred Durham. “And I get tired of going to vigil after vigil, seeing the tears, seeing the mothers mourn and friends and family mourn the death of their loved ones, only to come back to do it again the following week.”
Nationally, violent crime remains much lower than its peak in the 1990s, and murder rates are still declining in some cities. Murders are projected to drop nearly 5 percent in New York City, and after Baltimore suffered a surge in violence in 2015, its murders are on track to drop 6 percent this year, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.
But homicides have climbed recently elsewhere, and the overall homicide rate for the nation’s 30 largest cities in 2016 is expected to rise 14 percent from last year, according to a report the center released this month. A surge of violence in Chicago, however, has accounted for almost 44 percent of that increase. Experts don’t agree on the cause.
Carrington’s body was found in November near an overturned car in North Richmond. Police have named 17-year-old Ishmael D. Brown as a suspect, but haven’t located him. Carrington’s mother said she believes her son — the city’s youngest homicide victim this year — may have been killed in a robbery attempt.
The city’s killings don’t appear to be linked to turf wars or drugs, like they were in the 1990s and 2000s, leaving law enforcement with no quick or obvious ways to address the violence, said Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael Herring.
“That has me more concerned than anything else,” Herring said. He fears the numbers aren’t an aberration, but the beginning of another upward curve.
The violence is almost entirely gun-related. The killers are typically young men who appear to be pulling the trigger to settle arguments, Herring and Durham said. Social media may be fueling it: In many cases, disputes between suspects and victims play out first on Facebook, Herring said.
Richmond’s city council recently approved the spending of $1.6 million to hire 40 additional officers, who are expected to hit the street this summer. Durham said he hopes to put some officers back on walking beats after having them answer radio calls due to staffing shortages. He also wants to create a special unit focused on the city’s six public housing communities, he said.
But everyone seems to agree that putting more officers on the street won’t be enough.
“A lot of folks say the same thing, ‘Chief are you going to do about it? What are police going to do about it?’ Durham said. “I tell folks: ‘This is bigger than the police. We all have a responsibility for public safety,'” he said.
The murders have made 2016 a busy year for Charles Willis, who helps organize vigils for victims when their families ask. On a frigid day in December, Willis was gathering Christmas gifts to give to the three young children of Tychelle Johnson, who was fatally shot in her apartment shortly after Carrington’s death.
Richmonders are sick of the violence, Willis said.
“To get a call at 3:30 or 4’oclock in the morning or 2 o’clock in the morning and some cousin of a family remember is saying that my cousin just got shot or my son just got killed … that has a tremendous impact on the community. Because the community pulse is saying, you know, we’re tired. Enough is enough,” he said.
Follow Alanna Durkin Richer on Twitter at twitter.com/aedurkinricher. Her work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/journalist/alanna-durkin-richer .
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