Organizers report $14,000 in grocery gift cards exchanged for guns
by S. Rotan Hale
A surprising number of citizens gathered Saturday, Aug. 21. to turn in their guns at the first local Guns for Groceries event.
The line of gun owners at the cul-de-sac between Gainsboro Rd. and Gilmer Ave. Northwest wrapped around the block – each person with guns and a story about their choice to give them up in exchange for groceries.
Participants came with an array of firearms, i.e. revolvers, shotguns, pistols, a wide range of semi automatic weapons, hunting rifles and more. Organizers were extremely proud of the turnout that amassed a considerable stock pile of firearms in exchange for $14,000 in grocery gift cards that ran out only an hour-and-a-half into the event. Reportedly some were willing to give up the guns despite the lack of cards.
Brenda Hale, president, NAACP (local) one of the event’s main organizers, was considerably disappointed regarding the “scant African-American turnout” and referred to the matter as a “major concern” for her.
“If others can trust the Roanoke Branch NAACP, considering our mission, who and what we fight for, we urge minorities to also engage and trust us in this gun exchange process as we earnestly strive in our efforts to ensure safe homes and communities.”
The project is a joint venture between Roanoke Branch NAACP, Roanoke City Police Department and the Virginia Harm Reduction Coalition (VHRC).
“Our organization wants to reduce the harm in all of its capacities in our communities,” said Lawson Koeppel, executive director and co-founder, VHRC. “Every gun that’s destroyed is a gun that can’t hurt someone.”
Traveling from Richmond headquarters was Da’Quan Love, exec. dir., Virginia State Conference, NAACP who praised the local organization’s efforts against the troubling issue of gun violence.
“As we see gun violence numbers rising all across the Commonwealth and the country it’s amazing to see the Roanoke NAACP taking action to get guns off the streets of our communities. So many times we talk about the issues that plague our communities but today is an example of the NAACP in action,” said Love who went on to commend the local Branch for launching the first program of this type in the state.
“Hopefully it will be the first of many across the Commonwealth,” he added.
Naturally as state director, Love spoke briefly on how the gun issue particularly affects Black communities.
“From the NAACP’s perspective, considering the epidemic of gun violence and its implications on the Black community, it is phenomenal to know the local branch is taking action that will directly impact gun violence in our communities.”
Deeply committed to the mission is project grant writer Catherine Koebel Stromberg who offered an interesting perspective while busy checking and issuing grocery cards.
“We have gun suicide, gun assaults, gun homicide… and when we think about the consequences of such crimes you have to think about these people here today who are willing to exchange their guns for money, basically, or in this case groceries. Therefore, how do we know they weren’t willing to sell it to someone who really shouldn’t have it. More guns in the community equals more gun violence.”
Such a project could never be launched without the support of local officials and of course the Roanoke City Police Department (RCPD).
One of many officers on hand was Captain Adam Puckett head of the Criminal Investigation Unit and an 18-year veteran with RCPD, who on behalf of the department expressed full support for the project.
“Our agency is always willing to help the organizations that put this event together,” said Capt. Puckett. “Obviously they are trying to do good for the community and we are behind them all the way.”
Toward the end of the event, one middle-aged lady holding a boxed hand-gun, who wanted to remain anonymous, seemed slightly disturbed as she reported solicitors combing just outside the area.
“It was two white dudes in a van with Illinois tags and one had a full beard and they came through twice,” she said. They asked her if “anyone had any AKs or ARs (high powered assault rifles) for sale,” she said somewhat frantically.
“I thought they were joking until they came around again and I told them there were police everywhere and they could go to prison for such stupidity as trying to buy weapons out here, and I walked off,” she added.
Slightly aggravated, she proceeded to engage in verbal confrontation with one man, eventually both backed down.
The man, a mild-mannered, clean-cut detractor from Chesapeake, stood somewhat on the outskirts muddling disparaging comments to those who would listen as he questioned the project’s effectiveness.
“No one out here will talk to me. I think this event is mainly politics and just a way for politicians and leadership to show the public that we tried to do this, we tried to do that… and violent crime just keeps going up and these shootings just keep happening,” said the man who also requested anonymity.
“If you want to make real change you need a system with officials that actually prosecute criminals and are not so willing to readily let serious offenders out on bail – pleading down their charges,” he added.
In closing, he spoke on the need for more police officers and additional funding for various departments regarding law enforcement.
“I’d like to see actual change done regarding violent crime in the city and not political games like this event.”