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Williams: U.S. gun violence knows no boundaries. Our solutions must cross divides.

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Richmond, Va., dodged a bullet when Richmond police foiled what they say was a plot to carry out a mass shooting on the Fourth of July.

Unfortunately, as we should know all too well in the Richmond area, you don’t need a mass shooting to set off a body count. During a celebration of independence, America’s addiction to gun violence was on full display.

During the wee hours of July 4, six people — four men, two women — were shot near The 4 Cyber Café in downtown Richmond.

Less than an hour earlier, a 30-year-old Richmond man driving a Honda Civic was shot on Interstate 95. He managed to make his way to Commerce Road with serious but non-life threatening injuries, according to police.

The previous night, Kyle Stoner, of Richmond, described as a regular at City Dogs on Main Street in Shockoe Slip, was shot to death. An Alexandria man was arrested in the shooting.

On July 2, a retired Henrico police officer was charged with second-degree murder in the shooting deaths of his wife and stepdaughter. And Chesterfield police have charged four teens in the shooting death of another juvenile at a birthday party.

It’s easy to feel relieved that Richmond did not suffer a fate similar to that of Highland Park, Ill., where seven people were slain and dozens of others were injured by a rooftop shooter during a Fourth of July parade. But it’s hard to feel good about ourselves when so many locals were victimized by gun violence over the holiday weekend.

This tension was also evident in the city of Chicago, an hour south of Highland Park, where the relatively impoverished West and South sides saw at least eight people fatally shot and 68 people injured by gun violence over the Fourth of July weekend, according to CNN.

The relative lack of attention to this everyday violence is a byproduct of race, poverty and distance, but runs deeper than that. There’s plenty of blame to go around: The news media. News consumers. The poverty, inequity and trauma that breed hopelessness, dysfunction and violence. The easy availability of guns in communities with a paucity of life-sustaining essentials. And, of course, perpetrators who make a mockery of Black Lives Matter — in the process providing a cache of ammunition for those who argue that our gun problem is really a Black problem.

“It’s just got to stop,” Richmond police Chief Gerald Smith said of the violence during a news conference praising the “hero citizen” who tipped police off. “You know, I may be the police chief, but I’m also a citizen. It’s ridiculous. At some point in time, this has got to stop.”

Chief Gerald M. Smith

On July 6, Richmond Police Chief Gerald M. Smith addressed the recent arrests and seizure of firearms that prevented a mass shooting planned for the Fourth of July.

But the numbing, metronome-like quality of everyday gun violence struggled to compete with a mass shooting at a July 4 parade in America’s heartland.

In Richmond, the idea that we averted similar carnage was an attention grabber — though authorities, it must be said, performed a disservice in initially stating without equivocation that Dogwood Dell was the target when the facts were not so clear-cut.

But, hey, I’m among the myriad folks who’ve enjoyed Dogwood Dell. Our concern about gun violence is tied to both proximity and possibility. If violence is so random that it can follow us anywhere — a grocery store, a house of worship, a holiday celebration — who can breathe easy?

“Whether you’re at home in your cul-de-sac or in your neighborhood or in a park or at a parade, out dining — you have to keep your head on a swivel,” Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney said. “And that’s not the country that I know I desire to live in ... but those are the facts of the matter at this moment.”

Whatever collective trauma we felt at this near-miss was fleeting, compared to what folks in crime-ravaged Richmond communities experience every day. But anyone who deems this the price of “normalized” violence is missing the point: Whether in a Black enclave of Buffalo, N.Y., a Latino schoolhouse in Texas or a leafy suburb of Chicago, there’s plenty of bloodshed and trauma to go around.

Mass shootings make it harder to compartmentalize a national bloodlust intent on expanding its boundaries. To stem the tide, the affluent folks of Highland Park must develop common cause with the poor people on the South and West sides of Chicago. The denizens of Glen Allen, Midlothian and Mechanicsville must resolve the same regarding their urban brethren.

We need more empathy and fewer firearms, from Highland Park, Ill., to Highland Park, Richmond. Until we reach that consensus, we’re all in the crosshairs.

Michael Paul Williams is a Pulitzer Prize winning columnist with the Richmond Times-Dispatch in Richmond, Va.; read more of his columns on


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