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Richmond nonprofit receives grants to implement Operation Ceasefire

Rep. Donald McEachin speaks at Second Baptist Church in Southside Richmond
Rep. Donald McEachin (D-Va.) speaks at Second Baptist Church in Southside Richmond on Tuesday. McEachin pledged to support the implementation of Operation Ceasefire in Virginia. (Photo: Patrick Larsen/VPM News)

The state Department of Criminal Justice Services and the U.S. Attorney’s office have provided grants for a Richmond organization to begin implementing Operation Ceasefire in order to tamp down on gun violence in the city.

Richmonders Involved to Strengthen our Communities held its annual Community Problems Assembly Tuesday night at Second Baptist Church in Southside Richmond, where they celebrated the grants.

The faith-based justice advocacy group, which includes members from congregations around the city, has lobbied city leaders for two years to adopt Group Violence Intervention — which is also called Operation Ceasefire — a gun violence reduction program developed at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

“As a result of our persistence, one of our allies, REAL LIFE, received funding ... to put Group Violence Intervention in place, and it’s set to begin this year,” said Second Baptist Pastor Ralph Hodge on Tuesday.

GVI was first implemented in Boston under the name Operation Ceasefire. It was successful in bringing gun violence rates down there and has been used in cities around the country since.

REAL LIFE is a nonprofit that serves people statewide who’ve been incarcerated, homeless or suffered from substance abuse disorder.

“GVI is a very partner-heavy program,” said Sarah Scarbrough, REAL LIFE founder. “We received the funding, we’re spearheading the efforts, but we have got to have everyone involved in order to make this happen.”

Scarbrough said REAL LIFE is working to build a coalition of organizations that can provide a range of services, like counseling and rehabilitation. She also noted that the organization has received two-thirds of the funding it needs to fully implement the program for two years and is working to secure the last third.

Congressman Donald McEachin (D-Va.) spoke at Tuesday’s event, giving his support to the program. McEachin, who is married to Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Colette McEachin, shared his frustration with violence happening in the city. 

“Every single morning, I have to hear from her about what happened last night,” McEachin said. “I hear about all the young people who are getting shot.” 

McEachin promised to support REAL LIFE and GVI. 

Attorney General Jason Miyares has touted the program, highlighting partnerships with 12 “Ceasefire cities,” including Richmond.

In a press release, Miyares announced his office would hire five or six prosecutors to be cross-designated as Special Assistant U.S. Attorneys who will focus on federal felony prosecutions. The AG’s office will also hire two or three GVI coordinators to develop community resources, and work with law enforcement and local organizations.

Richmond officials have resisted RISC’s pitches on the program thus far, opting instead to craft the city’s own Gun Violence Prevention and Intervention framework.

The city partnered with the Richmond Police Department, VCU Health and a range of community organizations on its plan, and performed a data analysis to determine which neighborhoods most needed resources and who was likely to be involved in a shooting.

Mayor Levar Stoney publicly rebuked RISC’s efforts in a February 2022 statement. Stoney accused the organization of using gun violence victims as “pawns” and defended the city’s approach.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the mayor told VPM News the administration stands by its framework and is grateful for additional investments.

Patrick Larsen is VPM News' environment and energy reporter, and fill-in host. He began his career as a VPM News intern in 2019 and has covered pipelines, urban heat islands, the electric grid and more. You can find him biking in Bryan Park, petting neighborhood cats or listening to live music.