Why Local Leaders Won’t Say The G Word

by Kerry Dougherty

If you want to understand what’s going on with the surge in violent crime in Tidewater, you really need to watch the movie “Jaws.”

Remember how the mayor of Amity wanted to keep the beaches open even after he knew that a massive, man-eating Great White shark was feeding in local waters?

Well, that’s what’s going on around here, but with gang activity. No one wants to talk about it, because it might discourage tourism and investment. Never mind that not only are gang members shooting each other, but sometimes innocents are caught in the crossfire.

Instead, local leaders wring their hands, clear their throats, hold meetings and politely talk around the problem.

Heck, if they’re lucky, they’ll even get glowing newspaper coverage — with headlines like “Hampton Roads Leaders Zero In on Crime” — to show that they’re taking “gun violence” seriously.

Oh, please.

Truth is, until someone is willing to say the “G” word — gangs — the shooting won’t stop and the bodies will continue to pile up.

And piling up, they are. According to a Virginian-Pilot report in April, shooting deaths are soaring this year.

Hampton Roads’ seven largest cities reported 62 killings in the first 111 days of 2022 — or one every 1.8 days.

That’s an alarming statistic.

Street-level law enforcement officers — and I’ve talked to several — say that as long as these leaders refuse to publicly acknowledge that the area has a gang problem, the crime stats will continue to climb.

And we aren’t just talking about the well-known street gangs the Bloods, Crips, Latin Kings and MS-13, but a plethora of neighborhood gangs.

Fact is, many of the shootings in Newport News, Hampton, Portsmouth, Norfolk, Chesapeake, Suffolk and Virginia Beach are likely instigated by gang members who are settling scores, engaging in turf wars or engaging in gang initiation activities.

Nevertheless, here are the main goals of this local braintrust that’s supposedly tackling “rising gun violence in the area” according to The Virginian-Pilot:

The four main goals are…reducing the amount of time police officers must spend handling mental health detention orders so they can focus on other duties; providing conflict resolution and mediation skills training in public schools; getting authorization to allow retired law enforcement officers to assist local departments and agencies; and identifying barriers and opportunities for using technology to address violence and crime.

Notice anything missing? No mention of gangs.

Before we went on the air with Friday’s Kerry and Mike Show on AM-790 WNIS we phoned a local law enforcement member who works on the gang problem. We asked about the prevalence of local gang activity and how many gangs are active.

He whistled and uttered a mild expletive.

“Including neighborhood gangs? Literally hundreds of them,” he replied. “We know who they are and we try to keep tabs on them.”


You’d think that any group of leaders seriously trying to curb local shootings would at least acknowledge that street gangs exist and are a part of the violent crime epidemic.

Nah. They’d rather focus on conflict resolution and mediation skills classes in schools.


Let’s at least call this what it is: The “Jaws” syndrome.

This column has been republished with permission from Kerry: Unemployed & Unedited.