Photo Essay, Ann Bassette
This year, as they do every year, hundreds of Richmond residents came together to join communities around the country in celebrating National Night Out — a program that promotes neighborhood spirit and better police-community relations.
About 200 people gathered in Target’s parking lot off of Macdonald Avenue on Tuesday, August 4, to kick off Richmond’s National Night Out festivities. Firefighter trucks lined the lot as Richmond police officers revved up their motorbikes and vehicles in support of the national violence prevention event.
Police officers engaged the community with wide smiles and laughter before the caravanning began and children ran around with golden sticker badges shining on their chests and plastic firefighter helmets jammed on their heads. Ricardo Gallegos, a resident of Central Richmond, said he was happy to officers easily mingling with people and humanizing “the badge” to create a genuine community.
“People get to meet each other,” Gallegos said, “I want them to see me in case I ever need help.”
Volunteers from Target handed out pencils, small note pads and other back to school goodies while kids laughed and bounced around in a jump house provided by the Richmond Police Activities League. Rich City Rides, a nonprofit that promotes bicycling as a way to a healthier community, had a team of people out raising awareness of their local bike group. Over all the activities, and laughter, the smell of hamburgers and hotdogs wafted through the air and were later passed out for free to attendees.
A stage, erected for the event, provided local leaders with a platform to discuss the importance of community and neighbors. Among the night’s speakers were Richmond Mayor Tom Butt, Police Chief Chris Magnus and Supervisor John Gioia.
“We need to get our neighbors together. We need to be talking about what’s going on,” Magnus said in reference to the recent spate of violence in Richmond. “We still have plenty of time to turn it around, but that’s only going to happen if we’re working together.”
“It’s the partnership between police and the community that make us safer,” Gioia said, adding that he encourages more discussion about the city’s positive improvements.
For his part, Butt challenged participants to help decrease the city’s crime statistics. “I want to see our crime stats turn around and head back down,” he said.
Before the opening festivities ended Abel Pineda, a field representative for Assemblymember Tony Thurmond suggested a practical way to make a difference. “Talk to five new people today,” he said. “Talk about the issues, but also talk about the solutions.”
The celebration continued through the night as groups of police officers, community members and public officials led a caravan to National Night Out parties in neighborhoods around the city.