January 01, 1980 News & Features » Cover Story


The Mourning After 

A city continues to cope with a string of brutal murders. But the killings never stop.

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They don't fit in here. Not on this friendly, oak-lined street in Woodland Heights, lined with shiny SUVs and front porches.

Just a few short hours after Ricky Javon Gray was convicted Aug. 17 of brutally murdering the Harvey family, Fattah Muhammad and his group of anti-crime activists are here to rally the people. The Harveys lived three blocks away, in a now boarded-up brick house.

Grasping a microphone attached to a portable PA, Muhammad works himself into a preacher's pitch as dog-walkers and jogger strollers pass by. Hardly anyone stops.

"When you're killing babies, man, something's wrong with that!" he hollers. "We sit around here like nothing happened, man. We got to get up. We have to get angry. These little gangbangers that run the neighborhood, we don't fear you!"

Volunteers behind him wear T-shirts that read: "Killing in the black community. When will it stop?"

That the question falls on deaf ears isn't surprising. There is no crisis of violence in Woodland Heights, a neighborhood just south of the river, east of Westover Hills. The vicious attack here on New Year's Day was an aberration, a heinous anomaly. It bears no resemblance to the drug-related shootings that typically take place in the inner city.

Michele Saka-El, a member of Citizens Against Crime and Concerned Muslims for Change, says this community's silence sends a message. They're locking down, she says — their doors, their lives, their community. "They feel they got their stuff. They got their guns. They got their protection," she says angrily.

Who could blame them? The Harveys were punished for trusting, believing in community, partaking in the great urban renewal that is making Richmond a place where families — even white, middle-class families that previously shunned the city for the safety of the suburbs — can call home. Drugs, gangs and black-on-black crime isn't their problem. Never has been.

But it is. And this year has been no different. As of Aug. 18, some 57 murders had occurred in Richmond since Jan. 1. Muhammad, and crime activists like him, want Richmond to take notice. They're organizing rallies, leading the vigils, commencing the prayers that often serve as the only solace in tragedy-stricken communities.

It's been almost eight months since the Harveys — Bryan and Kathryn, and their two young daughters, Stella and Ruby — were found bound with their throats cut in the basement of their home for a couple of laptops, a wedding ring and a jar of cookies.

In his confession read last week, Gray explained that it was crime of opportunity.

The Harveys, it turns out, left the door open. — Scott Bass

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