The senseless killings in Ward 8 and across the District have marked the first half of 2018 as one of the city’s deadliest in recent years. Residents are bracing themselves against the fear of a return of a tide of deadly violence much like they faced in the early ’80s when D.C. received the grim moniker of the “Murder Capital.”
Homicides in D.C. have reached a tipping point, with 64 to date, exceeding last year’s count of 43. And the wanton use of guns that are easily accessible is extremely disturbing, particularly in a city that still has some of the nation’s strongest gun laws.
Mayor Muriel Bowser’s response following 11 shootings over the Memorial Day weekend and four homicides has proven inadequate to some that believe she should be taking a much more assertive stance against gun violence. Residents are now pouring over her budget, amended and approved by the Council, to see what was put in and what was taken out that could have a definitive impact on parts of the city greatly impacted by the shootings.
In the meantime, MPD Chief Peter Newsome increased the number of officers in the 6th and 7th Police Districts covering Wards 7 and 8 by 25 percent. He also ordered the removal of 7th District Police Commander Regis Bryant, much to the dismay of residents who respected the role has played in improving police-community relations.
Ward 8 has become a police state with cadres of officers in an array of uniforms and plain-dressed swarming into neighborhoods to address the appearance of a criminal act at moment’s notice. Their presence is described by some as unnecessary and overwhelming. D.C. Council member Trayon White went so far on Facebook as to describe the actions of several officers he observed detaining two young men while allowing them to use their cellphones as illegal.
Despite residents’ concerns they are not sitting idly by waiting for someone else to do something. Meetings, social media posts, email and list-serve distributions of community services, and Safe Passage events are but a few ways residents are working together to address issues that contribute to crime in their neighborhoods.
What seems to be missing in this unfortunate scenario is meaningful dialogue between the mayor, MPD, civic and community leaders and residents. Despite the tacit agreement by all parties that no one person or group can solve these problems alone, the separate paths being taken only highlight the divisions that fragment, instead of uniting, communities.