Last week, the rapid-fire sound of gunshots sent Kianthony Blake and his friends scattering into their homes. The 9-year-old and his friends were outside playing on the warm Tuesday afternoon when a man wielding an assault rifle opened fire in the area of Eighth Street and Gilmer Avenue Northwest.
“My neighborhood is terrible,” Kianthony said. “I want to move. But my friends are here.”
That incident on May 16 shocked the area and prompted Roanoke City Councilwoman Michelle Dykstra, who lives across the railroad tracks in the Mountain View neighborhood, to ask Mayor Sherman Lea to organize a march through the area. The march happened Thursday evening, beginning at Fifth Street and weaving down Moorman Avenue, a block from where the shooting happened.
On the way, Kianthony and his friends, who were playing outside in the same area as last week, joined in and led the pack of police officers, city council members, community leaders and residents.
“We want peace in this world,” DeShannon Reed, 9, said.
“We want the shootings and the killings to stop,” Izayiah Cunningham, 8, said.
Standing next to those children at the intersection of 11th Street and Moorman Avenue, Chief Tim Jones said that, as of Monday, shots fired reports are up 87 percent since February 2016, an alarming figure heading into the summer months when criminal activity tends to increase.
“We need the community to step up,” Jones said. “We need those who would prefer to do this to cease their violent ways because if they don’t, the potential is that the next child on the bus, the next child on the playground, the next person working in the flower bed of their yard could be the next victim of this.”
In the shooting last week, Jones said that police know of 10 people who knew that the shooting was going to erupt on Gilmer Avenue. The house in the 800 block of Gilmer Avenue that had been shot into was occupied at the time, according to court records. Jones said the shooter fired about 20 rounds.
“None of those 10 chose to step up and take action,” Jones said. “So tonight, I ask you, I implore you, don’t let this happen again in this community.”
In that shooting, Cleveland Anthony Brown has been charged with malicious shooting into a building and possession of a firearm as a nonviolent felon.
At least 16 people have been wounded in shootings so far this year in Roanoke, according to data compiled by The Roanoke Times. Four people have been killed in shootings, most recently 37-year-old Donye Lamont Smith, who was fatally shot during an attempted robbery on Loudon Avenue on May 7.
“My heart goes out to the man who was murdered sitting in his car,” said Roberta Cassety, who lives at the intersection of 11th Street and Moorman Avenue. “That’s three blocks away. The other shooting was a block away. There is no reason for that. He was a young man just sitting in his car. No reason for it whatsoever.”
Cassety stood on her porch and waved down to the people marching, thanking them for showing support for the community and what they’re going through.
Lea called for an official city council meeting outside the Noel C. Taylor Municipal Building and in the streets to show solidarity with residents sometimes too scared to sit on their porches or let their children ride their bikes more than a block away.
“We’re concerned about the violence that has taken place in this community,” Lea said.
Council members in attendance included John Garland and Anita Price. Bill Bestpitch, David Trinkle and Ray Ferris were unable to attend.
Garland has been a regular participant in efforts to curb violence and revitalize areas of the northwest community. He’s involved in The Peacemakers, a nonprofit group dedicated to addressing crime in the city by acting as a kind of neighborhood watch.
Last month, 11th Street Village Center LLC purchased the building at 601 11th St. Northwest, at the intersection with Moorman Avenue, and Garland Properties is working with The Peacemakers about developing it. Garland said he wants the top floor to be apartments, but he wants to hear from the community about what should fill the ground floor.
“A lot of good things are coming together for this area because of city and community support,” he said.
Letia Harris plans to stay involved after Thursday’s march. She was on her way to choir practice when she saw the march and decided she’d be late for practice, because the march seemed too important to pass by. The violence happening around her children keeps her up at night, tears in her eyes, thinking about how they have to practice lying on the floor when they hear gunshots.
“I’m tired of watching my children be afraid,” she said. “Something’s got to be done.”