Police are saying that some of the violence that has been brewing in the city recently, which has left three dead and four wounded over the last two weeks, seems to be part of an escalating feud between gangs in North and Central Richmond.
Pastor Henry Washington of the Garden of Peace Church agrees. “Central and north are at odds, and as a matter as fact, the whole city is a powder keg right now,” he said.
The origins of the longstanding feud—believed to have begun approximately eight years ago—have almost become lore in Richmond. “There’s a famous story about young man who had a car accident with another young man,” said Washington. “The car that was wrecked the worst had the nice rims and the candy paint.”
The driver of the wrecked car, “kind of squashed it and said ‘You gonna owe me for a paint job.’ I don’t think it was 1,000 bucks. From there one fella reneged on the paint job, and we lost half a dozen lives, just in response to a car accident,” said Washington.
Lt. Arnold Threets, head of Richmond Police’s Special Investigations Division, agreed that the 2003 car accident marked the start of the feud. “Prior to that there wasn’t this real conflict between both sides,” said Threets. Before 2003, gang-activity and affiliation in Richmond was more localized; small groups operating block by block, representing their street corners, said Threets.
“You had 4th and Nevin, 5th and Barrett, 7th and Penn, you had guys at 16th and Chanslor. You had people all over who really weren’t all one group,” said Threets.
But the car accident and the dispute over payment galvanized the loosely-affiliated groups into two distinctive gangs: Deep-C in Central Richmond’s Iron Triangle and Project Trojans in North Richmond. Police currently believe that retaliatory attacks between these two groups are responsible for the late March shootings that killed 23-year-old Joshua McClain in San Francisco; and 21-year-old Ervin Coley III and 22-year-old Jerry Owens in unincorporated North Richmond.
Threets says the 2003 car accident that sparked the feud isn’t what’s fueling today’s violence. Most people today just remember the story as a legend. “Now if you ask a subject on the street today about that accident he may or may not remember why they are fighting or what’s that about,” said Threets.
Shootings are instead often the result of tit-for-tat attacks or, “based on some perceived disrespect or some incident that occurred that affected him,” said Threets.
Sometimes shootings will occur based on stolen girlfriends, unpaid debts, or false rumors about who was responsible for previous shootings. “The information on the street won’t be accurate to what occurred, but it’s relevant … because on the street, perception is reality,” said Threets. “If I believe that this gang is the reason that my loved one or partner was murdered, then whether the evidence supports that or not, I’m going to retaliate against the people that I believe did it.”
The targets of retaliatory attacks do not necessarily have to be gang members or in any way connected to the previous incident; the gang may be more interested in avenging themselves on any young male they can find on the opposing gang’s turf than on attacking a particular person. (Read more about retaliatory attacks by clicking here.)