|Times Takes Honest
Look At Violent Crime, Solutions
April 29, 2001
TODAY ON Page 1 the Times launches an in-depth look at homicides in Richmond, a city that outpaced the national declines in drug-fueled killings in the '90s, only to watch the numbers rebound in 1999 and 2000.
City leaders and police have long wrestled with how best to respond, both to the problem itself and how it colors people's perception of the city. But after four teen-agers were killed in December, more residents began to raise their voices, asking insistently, "What can be done?"
Particularly among high schoolers who were so affected by those deaths, there was a strong move to say this isn't acceptable, we don't want this to become the norm. We're going to do something about it.
Church leaders, too, for the first time were pulling people together to talk about the underlying issues that contribute to violence and ask how they could help set an agenda for social and economic change.
New efforts were bubbling, and I wanted the newspaper to do more than just record the outcome.
I wanted to start a community journalism project that would foster those discussions. Something that would examine the complexity of homicide and its causes, but also provide a forum for the community to share ideas on how to address a difficult problem and get involved.
That's what we are hoping to achieve with our series, "Fighting homicide."Today and Monday the Times looks at where the city stands with its homicide rate and what has worked to reduce it. And we spend time in the Iron Triangle neighborhood, where residents show every day in simple ways
that crime is far from the dominant story of their lives.
In subsequent installments, we will examine the factors that contribute to the killing, from residents' fears of coming forward, to the availability of guns, to the environmental influences children can face.
A team of four reporters John Simerman, Ethan Rarick, Shawn Masten and Leslie Fulbright started talking about the project in January, later meeting with police and community leaders.
They looked at the trends in homicide and violent crime in Richmond as far back as statistics were available. They compared them to trends seen statewide and nationally. They rode along with officers on the beat and talked to them about the changes they'd seen over the years in who was dying and how and why.
They knew the city's community policing efforts had drawn a pilot federal grant in 1995 to test strategies for preventing killing, rather than simply reacting to it. What had worked? What was still being used?
They mapped where homicides had occurred to show the areas of the city most affected over the last 15 years. And they spent time with the residents of those neighborhoods to learn the reality of life there, the successes and the challenges, not just the statistics.
Many times in the past I've listened to concerns from city residents that the standard reporting on homicides is too superficial and casts the whole community in a negative light.
By doing the series, we can dig deeper into some of the societal factors that feed the violence, we can highlight the community efforts that are making a difference, and we can give readers space to ask tough questions, challenge assumptions and hopefully, come up with ways to get involved.
I took a deep breath when we started this, knowing that many city leaders felt media coverage of Richmond, including ours, is too heavily focused on crime.
Others to whom I explained the idea were supportive and intrigued by trying to get a productive community dialogue going in the local paper. This first installment may be the hardest for some readers because we had to revisit the past to establish where we stand now. But I also believe that showing how far the city has come, as well as its setbacks, will give readers a better perspective of the problem. And as we go through the project, I hope we'll help keep the momentum building to find solutions.Edwards is West County editor of the Times and can be reached at 510-758-8400 or firstname.lastname@example.org.