The years 2016 and 2017 will long be remembered in Danville for what can only be described as a “gang war” that resulted in a nearly two-year-long crime spree of murders, attempted murders, drug dealing and related offenses.
Indeed, in 2016, Virginia State Police data showed Danville had the highest per capita homicide rate of any locality in Virginia. There were 16 homicides that year, and nearly a third of them were gang-related. The horrors continued into 2017 with 13 homicides.
During those two bloody years, three gangs — the Rollin 60s Crips, the Billys (a gang affiliated with the Bloods) and the MILLA Bloods — carried out a tit-for-tat war that began, federal prosecutors say, with the December 2015 shooting of Rollin 60s Crips member Robert “Jay” Kennedy. When the Rollin 60s Crips and MILLA Bloods formed a local alliance, the Bloods national leadership authorized the Billys to assassinate the MILLAs’ local leader, Dashawn Anthony, in December 2017.
It’s a tale of bloody fights for supremacy that you almost need a flowchart to plot out who’s related to whom and how, along with a timeline to show how one event led to another to another.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Virginia became involved in the case, corralling the resources of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to take down the gangs. There were waves of arrests as police, backed up by the power of federal prosecutors, took suspects off the streets. And thankfully, the war seems to be tapering off as the worst of the offenders are either believed to be behind bars awaiting trial or are in federal prison after guilty pleas.
For that, all of Danville is thankful and grateful to federal prosecutors and law enforcement for removing these threats from our streets.
But ... .
For one reason or another, many of the courtroom proceedings have not taken place in the federal courthouse on Main Street in Danville. Motions hearings and plea deals, like Monday’s guilty plea by Jaquan Lamont Trent to a charge of racketeering conspiracy, have taken place in courtrooms in Roanoke and Charlottesville, far away from the community so traumatized by this gang war.
To date, five people have pleaded guilty in what is an ongoing criminal investigation and prosecution. But here’s the thing: Not a single plea has occurred in Danville’s federal court. Rather, they’ve occured hours away with little or no public notice. As one judge explained, it would be inconvenient to shuttle defendants from prison holding cells to Danville, not to mention for lawyers to arrange the calendars.
We understand that. But it was this community that was caught in the crossfire for more than two years. Is it too much to ask that federal officials do all in their power to give our community the chance to see, firsthand, the system deal with these defendants? Or are we too small and far flung a frontier for accessible court proceedings?
Danville and its people suffered through this war; Danville and its residents should also be able to be see our legal system at work as justice is meted out.