Community

Local Attention Pivots to Gun Violence

Significant Response to Incidents in D.C., Virginia Beach

As they prepare for a student-led march scheduled for Thursday afternoon, friends, family and members of the Somerset Prep DC Public Charter School community remember slain teenager Maurice Scott as an honor roll student and rising high school sophomore with a promising future.

People of various ages, including Monique Scott, Maurice’s mother, have taken to the streets in response to the recent spate of violence to engulf pockets of the District. Scott spoke before more than 50 people who gathered Friday evening in the Wheeler Road parking lot where her son lost his life.

“I’m sorry that he’s gone. That was my only son,” Scott said to the cadre of quiet, attentive marchers who participated in Ward 8 Council member Trayon White’s “Resources to the Block” event. “He had a twin and now she has to be alone. It’s sad.

“I want the violence to stop,” Scott said. “It shouldn’t have to take us losing someone. I never expected this. Maurice was a good man. A good boy just going to the store and not making it home. Now I don’t have a man in my house.”

Video footage from the morning of May 26 shows a gunman stepping out of a light-colored, four-door car on the 3500 block of Wheeler Road in Southeast and firing shots from a rifle that hit Maurice, two women and a girl.

Maurice, at the tender age of 15, later succumbed to his injuries in a local hospital, police said. He would be one of three gun victims in the District during Memorial Day weekend. The Metropolitan Police Department reported 13 shooting incidents across the city and 20 people struck by bullets in that span of time.

As of Monday, the District has reported 64 homicides for 2019, on par with what had been recorded around that time last year.

Despite relatively low homicide figures, compared to the 1990s, the more than 300 homicides in the last two years has elicited some concern among officials who designate childhood trauma, drug and alcohol abuse, frustration about lack of opportunity as key determinants of gun violence in the city.

Last Friday’s event preceded a bevy of anti-violence events that took place across the city, including a fourth annual peace rally and march along Benning Road in Southeast and the #DontMuteDC outdoor go-go on the corner of 7th Street and Florida Avenue in Northwest. While each gathering involved collaborations with local organizations and government agencies, concerned residents also weighed in about how to curb neighborhood violence.

“We have to teach the young men the value of sitting at the fee of older men,” said Cliff Beckford, pastor of Living Word Church in Southeast and a D.C. resident of more than 30 years, as he described what he called the result of leaderless communities on Friday evening.

“Young men need to see and value the wisdom of older men who can tell their pitfalls and help them not fail,” Beckford said. “Older men were willing to teach and young men listened. If that wisdom doesn’t continue, you have young men without knowledge leading others to destruction.”

Not Just a D.C. Problem

On Friday, more than four hours before Scott addressed a large crowd near the Holiday Mart on Wheeler Road, a recently resigned city government employee in Virginia Beach, Virginia opened fire on and killed 12 colleagues with the use of his two legally purchased weapons and silencer, raising questions for some about how gun reform would have prevented this situation.

Incidents of gun violence on campuses, places of worship, nightclubs, eateries and other public places across the United States have taken nearly 200 lives and caused more than 60 injuries so far this year, anti-gun advocates report.

In mentioning the Virginia Beach mass shooting at the California Democratic Convention on Saturday, Sens. Cory Booker (N.J.) and Elizabeth Warren (Maine) touted tackling the more common, daily occurrences of gun violence — similar to what unfolds in the District and other American cities — as a solution.

In February, a Democrat-backed gun reform bill passed the U.S. House, mostly along party lines. It currently awaits action by the Senate, some Democratic pundits say to no avail because of what’s been described as reluctant Republican leadership backed by the National Rifle Association.

If passed, the bill named HR 8 would ban firearms transfers between unlicensed individuals. An accompanying bill extends the review period for a background check.

In advocating for HR 8 earlier this year, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) evoked the memory of the 17 people who died on the campus of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, last year and several other young victims of gun violence since then.

“Here are the facts: nearly 40,000 lives are cut short every year from gun violence,” Pelosi said on the House floor in March. “An average of 47 children and teenagers are killed by guns every single day.

“It’s all about the children, the children, the children,” she said. “We read about the tragic mass murders that have happened in our country and they stir us to action, hopefully. Here it’s been they stir us to a moment of silence and now finally to action.”

Addressing Causes of Neighborhood Violence

As gun crimes continue to occur in pockets of Southeast, Northeast and east of Rock Creek Park in Northwest this year, officials have mulled how to strike a balance in increasing law enforcement presence and addressing the underlying causes of violent crime. The District’s Department of Forensic Science (DFS) reported the recovery of approximately 1,200 weapons from more than 500 crime scenes since October.

On Saturday, several people and government agency officials converged on KIPP DC Promise Academy on Benning Road for the fourth annual Peace Rally DC to End Gun Violence, a collaborative effort between ANC Commissioner Veda Rasheed (SMD 7E01) and members of the Ward 7 community, along with DFS, the Ayana J. Mcallister Legacy Foundation and WPGC 95.5 FM. The rally and march wrapped up with a concert on the grounds of the Benning Road Boys & Girls Club featuring EU and Sugar Bear.

After brief remarks from D.C. Council member Elissa Silverman (I- At large), Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Kevin Donahue and others, marchers walked along Benning Road and eventually crossed East Capitol Street as they cajoled neighbors, onlookers and even cyclists to accompany them to Benning Road Boys & Girls Club where music blared from speakers and guests received pamphlets about city services.

People of all ages joined the march, some said out of a concern for their future and that of their peers.

“I’m worried about the violence and people dying. We feel trapped and it’s too easy to come into contact with guns,” said Christina Carter, a lifelong Ward 7 resident and member of the Fort Davis Youth Community Alliance.

“For the youth, it starts in the home and we have a high rate of depression in our community,” Carter said. “We have no support system and turn to violence. I feel like the adults are taking too long to make change.”

In April, young people affiliated with the Black Swan Academy appealed to their council members during budget hearings for the expansion of mental health services as part of the organization’s #LentMeVent campaign. In their testimony, public and public charter school youth tied unmitigated mental illness that affects 7 million teenagers nationwide to higher rates of suspension, stints in the juvenile justice system and suicide.

Though the District spends more than its peer cities on social services, according to a report by the Urban Institute, Deputy Mayor Donahue, a District employee of 20 years, said local agencies under his purview have to collaboratively remove the social, emotional and economic barriers to resources.

“We have credible messengers and building things closer, to make sure we have services worthy of their trust,” he told The Informer on Saturday. “It’s not about lack of capacity. Sometimes, if we have a job program for someone who can’t get employed, it’s because of childcare or trauma.”

On Friday, White’s “Resources to the Block” event connected Ward 8 residents to representatives of the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement (ONSE), Department of Behavioral Health, Department of Employment Services and the DC Commission on Father, Men and Boys.

In front of Horace & Dickie’s on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue near Malcolm X Avenue, White, ONSE Executive Director Delbert McFadden, Cora Masters Barry and Ward 8 State Board of Education Representative Markus Batchelor, among several others reminded marchers about the circumstances that accelerate violence in under-resourced communities.

“Some people lack educational attention and have childhood trauma and issues. With community conflict, they’re not able to take transportation sometimes and get housing,” McFadden told The Informer.

For nearly a year, ONSE, through the Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results (NEAR) Act, has enriched more 50 likely victims or perpetrators of violent crime enrolled in the Pathways Program with resources that lessen the burden of acquiring gainful employment.

In her fiscal year 2020 budget proposal, Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) expanded ONSE’s violence interrupter program through which people with rapport in violence-afflicted neighborhoods establish relationships with residents and mitigate disputes.

“At ONSE, we look at the person and support the household, the siblings and the children,” McFadden said. “You have social media, generations of beef and changes in the housing structure. They need clothing, housing, food and soft job skills so they can fish for themselves.”

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