By Chris Teale (Photo/Chris Teale)
Police Chief Earl Cook told residents at a community meet- ing last week that Alexandria police are close to an arrest in the recent slaying of Saquan Hall in the Parker-Gray neighborhood.
But that did little to calm the fears of the more than 200 attendees who packed the gymnasium at the Charles Houston Recreation Center, forced once again to deal with a homicide on their doorstep. The department will form a work group comprised of city officials and community members to identify long- term solutions to the violence.
Hall, 23, of Alexandria, was shot along the 1000 block of First St. early July 2, and died from his injuries in a local hospital. His death came less than a month after Clark was killed June 8 on the 1000 block of Montgomery St.
In an interview before the meeting, Cook said the two homicides are connected and that police have narrowed the search for Hall’s killer, al- though the suspect appears to have fled the area.
“The suspect right now is the brother of one of the previous victims,” Cook said. “I don’t know necessarily that it’s exactly a revenge killing until we get him in custody and get more towards his motive to define it. But we do know he’s associated by blood with the previous victim.”
Cook said state and federal authorities also are involved in the search for the suspect. He said police so far have been unable to identify a suspect in Clark’s slaying.
After several homicides involving people who knew each other, Cook said he understood the community’s concerns and that the police are trying to solve problems between groups and individuals without them escalating into violence.
“We have been working on that since the beginning of the summer to try to talk and intervene with these groups,” Cook said. “We have activities going on right now this week that will involve trying to bring these groups together to try and mediate some of their differences, so that we don’t have a continuation of this type of street justice.”
At the meeting, several people expressed a willingness to serve on the new work group, while city officials emphasized that the focus must be on trying to fix the underlying causes of violence on a long-term basis.
“We can do these things to try to address the [short-term] issue [of violence], but the solution is bigger than that,” said Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority CEO Roy Priest.
Hall’s mother Patrice Hall spoke multiple times at the meeting, and said she hoped anyone with any information about the killings would come forward and help give the community some closure.
“I don’t want Saquan’s death to be in vain,” she said. “It means a lot to me to see the violence stop. When will the violence stop?”
The meeting had a tenser atmosphere than previous ones at the recreation center, as resi- dents wrestled with their frustrations over the recent slayings and the need for long-term solutions. On several occasions, arguments broke out among audience members, and at one point a man was led out of the gymnasium in handcuffs by four uniformed police officers for what appeared at the time to be disorderly conduct of some kind.
Police spokeswoman Crystal Nosal said after the meeting that the individual walked into the meeting, and seemed intoxicated. She said several members of the public alerted officers and he was escorted from the premises. The man was later charged with possession of PCP and be- ing drunk in public.
“It was nothing to do with the community meeting, other than he chose to act out and alarm some people who brought his behavior to the attention of people who were there,” Nosal said.
Several attendees said they want to see more community policing and a police force that looks to build relationships with residents and understand the neighborhoods they patrol. Resident Robin Baldwin said she wanted to see officers on the beat smile more and engage in conversations with residents. Leslie Zupan, president of the West Old Town Citizens’ Association, said the dearth of community policing was indicative of a wider problem.
“We can talk about community policing again and again, but when I see police staring at the Andrew Adkins property all day, that’s not an efficient use of police time,” she said.
Residents suggested a variety of possible solutions to the violence, including more street lighting, officers on foot and a community garden program among others.
Those suggestions were collated by Deputy Chief David Huchler, who said the ideas will help determine the scope of the work group and drive conversations within it. Huchler had no further details on when the work group will formally convene, but welcomed citizens’ input.
“I think most importantly, for people that have come up to me, I think everyone recognizes this just isn’t a police issue,” he said in an interview. “It’s really a city issue, the community, the police department, city services. I think our next steps are going to put us in the right direction to come to long-term resolutions to the violence that’s been happening in the community.”