Roanoke’s mayor proposes new solutions as gun violence spreads throughout city

Published: Apr. 24, 2023 at 7:19 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - Gun violence in Roanoke is happening all across the city, from Northwest to downtown. Residents are growing concerned after the city’s latest shooting on Campbell Avenue, with many worrying their corners of the city are no longer safe.

Not only are we seeing an increase in shootings; they’re happening in public places with crowds, and on the same weekends as major events.

Residents say they don’t feel safe anymore, so WDBJ7 brought those concerns to Roanoke’s mayor.

“It’s a mindset that’s going on in this community that bothers me in terms of people wanting to use guns to deal with or settle arguments of what happened,” Mayor Sherman Lea said. “That’s dangerous, very dangerous.”

Residents want answers.

“They keep having meetings; meetings are not getting anything done,” resident Howard Board said. “They need to be out, go out to the neighborhoods.”

Mayor Lea is proposing new options to bring down the violence.

“If it means shutting up a certain business or certain places to do it, if it means curtailing alcohol sales, we’ve got to do that,” Mayor Lea said. “Take those tough steps.”

The mayor also wants to implement a curfew for teenagers, as he explained most of these shootings are happening at night.

“I want kids to enjoy themselves, but I’m also obligated as mayor to make sure young people are safe and right now people are dying,” Mayor Lea said. “People are getting shot.”

Roanoke’s shooting Sunday morning happened on one of the city’s busiest weekends with the Blue Ridge Marathon.

“It would probably scare them and scare business away knowing this happens, so there needs to be a stronger police presence,” Board said.

“Everybody in the community has to chime in,” Mayor Lea said. “I think we need to send more people with stiffer sentences to prison.”

WDBJ7 has asked Roanoke’s City Manager Bob Cowell for weeks to sit down with us and address community concerns, but he has not made himself available. Instead, we received an emailed statement.

“The tragic events of this weekend clearly illustrate the senselessness of violence. Downtown welcomes tens of thousands of visitors annually and remains a safe place to work, shop and recreate,” Cowell said. “Downtown is one of the most heavily patrolled areas in the City, especially late in the night as nightclubs are closing for the day. Unfortunately, in this recent incident you had an individual intent on causing harm, regardless of the consequences.”

“We’re going to keep working, we feel this is a safe community,” Mayor Lea said.

Yet many residents don’t feel safe.

“Now it’s just everybody pulls a trigger and don’t even think about it,” Board said.

WDBJ7 has also asked Roanoke’s police chief for an interview to address community concerns about safety. Both the Chief and City Manager have not made themselves available for weeks to talk about the ongoing violence.

We know viewers at home are concerned and we’re going to continue to push for answers.