Taking Back the Community: Gun Violence in Newport News


NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) -- 10 On Your Side discovered alarming crime statistics that show there is a deafening silence in Newport News.

The number of people getting shot in Newport News is skyrocketing, and it appears so are the number of people refusing to cooperate with police to solve the crimes.

"It was October 30, 2012, a day I will never forget," said Evany Dickerson who lost her beloved brother Devoris. The 25-year-old father of two was shot on the corner of 18th Street and Jefferson Avenue in the Southeast Section of Newport News. "Rest in Peace VoVo.  That was his nickname.  Everyone knows him in the streets as VoVo," Evany said as she ran her fingers over his name etched in the concrete sidewalk.

A few weeks ago 10 On Your Side reported on two juveniles shot on the corner of 35th and Marshall Avenue.  When police released the staggering statistics on kids shot this year in Newport News, 10 On Your Side asked to talk to the Police Chief who agreed to sit down and discuss this epidemic.

"There was a puddle of blood right here, so he had to be standing here, and he was shot through the side here," Evany says pointing to the side of her body and speaking about her brother's death.

Devoris' four friends quickly left him for dead, and then Evany says the worst thing of all, they all refused to cooperate with police. They refused to say what they saw, what the shooter looked like, even what he may have said.  "It is very frustrating because this whole code of the street is ‘don't snitch.’ If you don't tell something then you know it could be your brother, or child, or another family member the next time."

Nearly four years later statistics show things have gotten worse in Newport News.  Shots ring out, people drop, and no one talks.  "We have a gun problem in Newport News," said the city's top cop Police Chief Richard Myers.

The Police Department created a map showing how bad it is.  Red dots are juveniles shot this year, and there are 25 of those. The green dots represent the juveniles shot last year over the same period of time from January first through September 8.   There are five of those.  That is a 400 percent increase year to date over last year.


Chief Myers explains the increase this way, "It reflects the overall increase in gun violence; everybody is carrying a gun these days.  The number of guns on the street is staggering."

So far this year there have been 90 shootings in Newport News compared to 46 over the same period last year January 1 through September 8.  That's a 96 percent increase this year.

From his conference room at Police Headquarters on Jefferson Avenue, Chief Myers went through short narratives of some of those juvenile shootings, "This victim was uncooperative, and said he knew the offenders before changing his story... this is a 17-year-old uncooperative known gang member… this is an uncooperative 17-year-old selling marijuana when he was shot."  Chief Myers went through 18 incidents of juveniles shot.  It turns out many of the young victims are involved with gangs and guns, and refused to cooperate with police.  Of 21 victims, 12 refused to cooperate with police.  Again, code of the street, don't talk to police.

10 On Your Side’s Andy Fox showed the map to the people who joined Evany on the street and pointed out all the red dots.  Helen Stallings said, "Yea, these red dots.  This is the red zone...right here."  Suddenly we had an impromptu Town Hall Meeting on guns, and silence, and everyone has a story.  Jimmie Shields told us, "I had a nephew that got killed on 36th Street. [There were] over 50 people out there. Everybody knew who everybody is, but nobody wants to say anything. They just look, and nobody wants to get involved.  They don't want no retaliation."

During our conversation, and so used to violence, a woman shows up assuming someone was shot. She scurries into the store, "Ain't nobody got shot...I hope... I get paranoid around bodies, shot bodies."

Those gathered agreed people getting shot is a way of life in this part of town as is not talking to police, "We have to do better as a community to put these people away because if we don't they are going to stay on the street, and continue to do what they are doing. We have to think differently to get that whole snitch mentality out of your mind because before you know it, it will be your family member," Evany said, pointing.

That is the point, which is crystal clear - that because people aren't talking in the Southeast end of Newport News, the murders and the shootings continue because they (the suspects) know no one is going to talk.   "That's right," agreed Helen Stallings.  10 On Your Side asked, "When are people going to wake up, and say ‘you know what, we need to talk, we need to go to the police, we need to tell them what is going on!’"   Stallings responded, "It'll be too late. That is what we need to do, but they are so afraid because they don't want it (the suspects) to come to their family or whatever.”

Chief Myers gets that, and here's what Newport News Police are doing:

  1. Police are building trust and relationships in the community.
  2. They are spending more time on foot patrols, getting out of the patrol cars and being with the people.
  3. They are concentrating efforts to get guns off the street.
  4. They have dedicated overtime to keep more police on the beat throughout the day.
  5. Most importantly, witnesses with tips always remain anonymous and secret.
  6. Fear of retaliation by suspects can be dealt with legally.

To that point Chief Myers says, "When the trial comes up and the witnesses rescind their statements because they are afraid, then we will aggressively go after the defendants in those cases to add additional charges, or get them off the street, or get them arrested so they can't do harm."

Chief Myers remembers 71-year-old Joseph Henry Williams who was caught in the crossfire of two gang members January 19, 2014.  His mini-van was shot up, and he was killed while delivering food to his disabled wife.  Myers remembers that case, "There are people who know who the shooters were, but why aren't they talking with us? Is it not important enough to step up, and say justice has to be upheld."

Evany explains it this way, "Until they (the suspects) get scared that someone is going to tell on them, they will continue to do it."  To that point there is total agreement with Chief Myers, who said, "When people in the neighborhoods are sick and tired of gun violence and they want to work with us, and we start holding people accountable to get those guns off the street, then it's going to quiet down.”

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