To reduce gun violence in Roanoke, the community must address the mental health of its citizens, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine said Friday.
“I tend to believe that gun violence is tied to trauma,” Kaine, D-Va., said during a roundtable with Roanoke community leaders and gun violence activists at Melrose Branch. Library.
Kaine said the COVID-19 pandemic has been financially and emotionally traumatic nationwide, impacting rates of gun violence.
“I see this as a particularly difficult time and a traumatic time,” he said. “It’s not just a Roanoke issue. I’m going to have this discussion in Norfolk. I have this discussion in Richmond. And my colleagues are having this discussion in every state.
Yet Joe Cobb, a member of the city council and chairman of the Gun Violence Prevention Commission, said the city does not have the financial means to provide mental health services to people who need them.
“We have great vendors in the community, but we don’t have enough of them,” Cobb said. “Everyone is connected. And when there is an incident, it impacts everyone and at an inherently traumatic level. As we try to reduce gun violence, we also try to find ways to heal ourselves. Any funding, any resources that we can get to help us do that will be really great. »
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Mayor Sherman Lea said Roanoke has already received $19.26 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds, and $2 million of those funds have been set aside to address gun violence. Kaine said passing gun control legislation at the federal level would also make a difference.
“Providing funding to state and local governments through the bailout was really, really important, and using those dollars to really tackle this problem is really important,” Kaine said. “The state has now done some things on background checks and some things at the state level. It’s good. But we still haven’t done what we need to do on the federal side.
Lea said the scales tipped in Roanoke earlier this week when a school bus carrying five students was hit by a stray bullet on Tuesday. No one was hurt.
“Senator, we had some difficulties here,” Lea said. “We have gone much further than I think we should go.”
Kaine reminded those present at the event that during his tenure as mayor of Richmond, he worked hard to reduce homicide rates and gun violence rates, and he believes “progress is possible.”
Cobb said city officials “continue to be baffled by access to guns — who gets guns, how they get access to them.” He called the violence that follows this outburst a “public health problem”.
Kaine suggested that campaigns similar to those used to discourage smoking could be used to combat gun violence.
“Dramatically quitting youth smoking, we did that by making it a public health issue,” Kaine said. “We didn’t make it primarily a law enforcement issue. We have made it a public health issue. There are other things that can be deadly and can be deadly that we have seen that we have been able to make progress on.
Angela Williams, a youth advocate for the city, said young people are among the citizens of Roanoke who need the most attention.
“I moved here in 2012. I have worked with young people here for a long time. And the biggest thing I hear is that they feel like they don’t have a voice,” she said. “We meet in a room like this, and there are no young people.”
Williams suggested community leaders set up meetings with Roanoke teens to discuss their needs.