In response to an alarming increase in violence in Roanoke City, especially among its youth, City Council is inviting the public to a Town Hall-style meeting at 6:00 pm on Thursday, March 30, in the cafeteria of Patrick Henry High School. All members of Council and City Manager Bob Cowell are supposed to be present to hear from concerned citizens.
Those wishing to speak may sign-up at the event or in advance by calling the City Clerk’s office at 540-853-2541. According to a member of that office, the purpose of the event is to hear views from citizens regarding a curfew for City youth and alternative ways to help protect the youth of our community.
Tragically, 2023 was ushered in with a New Year’s Eve drive-by shooting that injured three juveniles. Just one month later, around 8:30 on Saturday night, February 4, a gunman shot and wounded two people at the Food Lion at the corner of Peters Creek and Cove Roads.
Despite a generations-long reputation for Roanoke as a safe and friendly city, violence has gotten so bad in recent years, the City now has the dubious distinction of being the #2 Crime Capital of Virginia, based on a per capita basis, second only to Fredericksburg. That means, when taking total population into consideration, Roanoke City is more dangerous than Richmond, Petersburg, Norfolk, Portsmouth, etc.
The first community meeting to discuss the issues of violence and a possible curfew was held on March 14 at William Fleming High School. Despite the City having a population of some 99,000 residents, only about 15 showed up for that meeting. Of those 15, less than ten even signed up to speak. When the Clerk’s Office employee was asked for an explanation for the small turnout, she replied she did not have one.
City Councilwoman Stephanie Moon Reynolds (I) was at the Fleming meeting. She commented how Darnell Wood, who grew up in the City and attends church in the City, made powerful comments. He was disappointed with the low turnout. He said he supports what the Council is trying to do to fight gun violence, but Council needs help because it’s a hard job. However, he said the room should have been packed with parents and residents to show their concern.
Moon Reynolds said perhaps the City didn’t do their due diligence to promote the meeting and inform the community in advance. It was published in the newspaper as a special meeting as the Code of Virginia, but more could have been done. “Even now, no one is running anything about the Patrick Henry meeting on March 30 (….) As Council, we can’t do it by ourselves. We need help. I said from the dais, ‘Let’s have a public hearing. In fact, let’s have two.'”
Despite violence growing over the past several years and repeated reports of Roanoke City Police being critically understaffed, a plurality of City voters chose in last November’s elections to continue the current path. Despite the largest slate of City Council candidates in recent memory–including a full slate of Republicans and three independents–voters chose to reject the alternatives and keep Council in Democrat hands for another two years at least.
One of the nine candidates vying for the three open seats on Council last November was Dalton Baugess (R), who for some 35 years has been a first responder in Roanoke – medic, firefighter and now fire department Captain and Logistics Administrator.
Despite his professional, first-hand knowledge of public safety issues, he came in fifth with 8,272 votes. Baugess won exactly 1,400 fewer votes than Peter Volosin (D), who came in third with 9,672 votes and thus won a seat on Council, despite a last-minute allegation that he had stolen other candidates’ campaign signs.
Some have boasted about how “incredibly diverse” the current Council is, but diverse or not, it has not resulted in greater safety or less violence for the City.