Justin Morgan and Lewis James Johnson Jr. were shot within hours of each other. Both were young and black, and both were memorialized last week by friends and relatives at prayer vigils presided over by Alicia Rasin of Citizens Against Crime.
But only Morgan’s service, held on a breezy evening last Wednesday, drew city officials and television cameras en masse, including Mayor Dwight Jones. Morgan, 20, was shot in a parking lot adjacent to Have a Nice Day Café on Oct. 8, reigniting longstanding tensions between club owners and other business interests in Shockoe Bottom.
Johnson was found shot to death away from Shockoe Bottom, near Creighton Court in the East End. And his memorial service on Thursday drew considerably less political outrage. It was attended by Police Chief Bryan T. Norwood. But there were no TV crews, and no mayor.
The city will “no longer tolerate senseless violence” in the Bottom, Jones said at Wednesday’s vigil, flanked by Morgan’s relatives. To prevent more violence, Jones announced that Richmond police will step up enforcement in the district during peak clubbing hours. On Thursday, there were no such pronouncements in the East End.
By all accounts, homicides in Shockoe Bottom are an aberration, though there were two in September. But deaths in the area — unlike those occurring in other parts of the city — spark more overt attention from city officials.
Johnson’s killing comes on the heels of one of the bloodier months in recent history. After a relatively quiet summer, police recorded seven homicides in Richmond during September. There were three killings in Richmond in August and four from June to July, though the overall death toll is lower than it was at this point last year.
Following Morgan’s vigil, Mayor Jones said that the city will “use all the tools at its disposal” to ensure safety in Shockoe Bottom.
Peterson, a member of the group that owns Have a Nice Day Café, points out that this latest shooting took place in a public parking lot with both off-duty police officers employed as security by the club and on-duty police nearby.
“A murder happens in another part of the city, or even another part of the Bottom, and you don’t hear that much about it,” he says. “But it happens in a public parking lot near us, and all you hear is cafe this or that. Something else is going on in this city, and we need to figure it out.” S