HOLMBERG: Mob violence video released, police offer reward

RICHMOND, Va (WTVR) – In a town whose fate is tied to its university, an urban school with 30,000 students, there are some things that just can’t be tolerated.

“I never thought something like this would happen right on campus,” said Virginia Commonwealth University sophomore Brooke Byington.

VCU police need help tracking down the roving mob of young black males and females who police said randomly beat two people without warning or provocation at 3 a.m. last Wednesday, just as the fall semester was about to begin.

“We’re offering up to a $2,500 cash reward for anyone who comes forward with information leading to the arrest and conviction of the individuals involved in the assault and robbery,” VCU Police Chief John Venuti announced Wednesday, a week after the attack.

“People saw these individuals,” Venuti said. “I need people to call us. If you give me one, I’ll give you the rest. I’ll give you the other 14.”

The first victim, a male of Middle Eastern decent, was sucker-punched and knocked to the ground. The second victim, a white male student, was also beaten to the ground and then robbed.

You know if the racial roles had been reversed – if a mob of whites had attacked minorities – there would be a firestorm.

As it should be. This kind of mob lawlessness is just not acceptable. Period.

“Maybe one person I could take,” Byington said. “But 15 people is kind of scary.”

VCU – and Richmond – can’t afford its students to be scared of the city.

When center city businesses closed en masse during the crack cocaine-fueled violence of the ‘80s and ‘90s, VCU built in and around those blighted areas, re-filling the area with dozens of new class buildings and apartments.

The streets came back to life, filled with mostly law-abiding young people and the 10,000 others associated with the university and teaching hospitals.

The city has experienced a significant rebirth because of VCU’s city within the city.

The campus and associated living quarters are spread over several square miles of downtown, Jackson Ward and the Fan.

The police can’t keep an eye on everything.

“They key to safety around here is involving everyone at every level,” Venuti said. “That’s students, that’s faculty, that’s staff, that’s people who are passing through the area. That’s people from the neighborhood. That’s everyone in this community.”

The attack happened right outside of Brooke Byington’s apartment building, but she wasn’t at home at the time.

“Definitely,” she said. “If I was in my apartment and heard something I would’ve tried to do something. I feel like there should be more a  community effort , you know, stand together and fight crime.”

VCU student Khiree Stewart said he still feels safe on campus, but agrees it’s everyone’s job to keep it that way.

“You know, you just don’t stand there and do nothing,” he said. “You definitely want to do something.”

Venuti urged people to be the eyes and ears for police and to call VCU Police or Richmond Police.

For the sake of our university, and the health of our city, we can’t allow people being attacked on our streets.

We have to be vigilant. Pay close attention to your surroundings and the activity around you, whether you’re on foot, on bike or in a car.

No, I’m not talking about jumping out and blowing a hole in somebody. But just sticking together, watching out, not accepting bad or violent behavior, we can make sure our city continues to rebuild.

As Jackie Chan said: “Always do the right thing. Stop the people who don’t.”

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