Our nation is tragically and inextricably gripped by violence, last month in Orlando, then Minnesota and Baton Rouge, and now Dallas. All of these incidents are unthinkable and heartbreaking in their own way. Our thoughts and prayers go out to those who have suffered in all of these locations.
Violence is not the answer to violence. It must stop. I find myself thinking about what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would say. His life was a blessing. His message about nonviolence endures. He stated, “Let no man pull you low enough to hate him.” We all hope and pray that the cycle of violence will cease immediately. It has been a shocking time.
To paraphrase U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, what we need is not more division, nor more hatred, nor more gun violence. What we need is more compassion, more understanding and more peace.
Two weeks ago, I attended the U.S. Conference of Mayors. A highlight of the conference was when the Dalai Lama spoke about the importance of compassion and kindness in our cities and our nation. He implored us to be a compassionate city, wherever we serve and to focus especially on our youth. I am fully committed to doing this, and I know our community shares that commitment.
On July 6, our city had a community meeting following the death of Saquan Hall, who was only 23 when he was shot and killed during the July 4 weekend. Our hearts go out to Hall’s mother, his children, family and circle of friends.
Our hearts are also with the loved ones of Pierre Clark, who was only 28 when he was killed in the same vicinity, leaving behind his children, parents, family and friends. This violence has affected our city as a whole. Like many, I am saddened beyond words.
Any bloodshed in our beloved city is too much. As Alexandrians, we are not accustomed to it. Our city is very safe, and we are blessed by an outstanding police force. And yet, the recent spike in crime here is disconcerting and must end.
In similar situations, our police have made arrests, and those persons have been or are in the process of being convicted. Let me be clear: If there is crime here, we will prosecute those responsible to the fullest extent of the law. I have every confidence that these two recent homicides will be solved. In fact, Police Chief Earl Cook has announced that an arrest warrant has been issued for the Hall murder. Our police and public safety team are out in force, and we thank them for their service.
With the help of our citizens, police, civic leaders, and the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority (ARHA), we are working hard to find solutions that may prevent such violence from occurring in the first place. We already have programs such as mentoring, workforce development and GED assistance. We are looking at opportunities to do even more.
Here are a few steps we are taking right now. We continue to ask our citizens for their ideas, thoughts, and concerns.
Our police are proactive about community policing, which puts our officers on more foot patrol and in direct contact with our citizens. We are committed to doing even more community policing to build bridges between the police and the community. We have a robust Resident Officer Program and police liaisons with civic associations throughout our city.
Lighting, an issue mentioned by many residents, is a top priority. Staff is already working with Dominion Virginia Power to address lighting deficiencies.
ARHA is installing cameras at its locations.
City officials and ARHA are working together to enable the swimming pool and other fee-based activities at the Charles Houston Recreation Center to be free for ARHA residents.
A 15-year-old student from T.C. Williams spoke movingly at the community meeting. I spoke briefly with him and asked him to call me. He and I will be meeting with a number of his friends to discuss their concerns and ideas.
I will be reaching out to my newly formed Clergy Council for their advice and counsel.
As far as national concerns regarding racial profiling, for many years, our police have been committed to training in diversity, racial bias, and de-escalation.
I have been asked to meet with senior White House staff this week to discuss criminal justice reform. Six months ago at a White House meeting, I expressed my strong support for this initiative.
This is a good start. Like many communities, we have to make a choice as a city. Either we will come together, or we will pull apart. This is our time to pull together. Please join us in this endeavor. There are many volunteer opportunities where you may make a difference. As Dr. King believed, “Everybody can serve … You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.”
Together, we are far stronger than a handful of those who settle their differences with guns. Please join us as we carve a path forward together.