D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine told a story about a grandmother in Ward 8 who wants for her grandson to be safe, but when that 8-year-old tells his grandmother that she needs to hit the ground as soon as possible when she hears noise to avoid being hurt, the city has work to do.
At the Violence Prevention and Interruption Town Hall meeting at THEARC in Southeast, Racine said elected officials, public servants and others in the community must come together in understanding what they need to do to reduce violence.
“Sadly, all too often in our city we hear about stories like this all the time,” he said July 19. “My colleague talked to this grandmother the other day where the grandson had like almost become a parent to her.”
Racine, the city’s chief legal officer, claimed his office has studied what works in other communities around the country to reduce violence.
For instance, he said Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore conducted medication programs in four of the city’s worst neighborhoods that reduced violence up to 56 percent. The report labeled “Evaluation of Baltimore Safe Streets” program got released in 2012.
In Chicago, he said a similar program got conducted that showed violence reduced by 73 percent. However, crime increased in other parts of the city where resources didn’t get deployed.
“Unfortunately, in Chicago, and indeed the state of Illinois, they have serious budget issues and so they were not able to continue the funding for these programs,” he said. “Guess what happened, crime went all the way back up.”
Kevin Donahue, deputy mayor for Public Safety and Justice in D.C., and expert panelists touted the NEAR Act as legislation that can deter crime and violence.
Donahue said there are 20 points in the act that calls on the D.C. government to do things it’s currently not doing. These services, funded by the government and managed by nonprofits, range from work release for DC Jail inmates to direct interventions such as social workers at emergency rooms.
If you want to get to the root of violence in neighborhoods, [then] you have to have a lot more people in the kitchen than just the police department,” he said.
Donahue said the social work aspect has been in operation for a year that began at MedStar Washington Hospital Center in Northwest and then Prince George’s Hospital Center in Cheverly, Maryland. It will spread next year to Howard University and George Washington University hospitals in the District.
“The NEAR Act is a law passed unanimously by the council, signed by the mayor and funded over the past few months with money that will kick in on October 1,” he said. “At the core of the NEAR Act it was born out of the city thinking of how to respond to what was then an increase in homicides.”
Ward 8 Councilman Trayon White, co-host of the town hall, introduced the Safe Way Home Act of 2017 that will operate in tandem with the NEAR Act.
White said $750,000 would be available for nonprofit organizations to apply for to use for after school programs, mentoring and other programs for youth.
“There has been a divestment in youth intervention in D.C. and as a result we see the violence, so today we are trying to empower people in their own community and in schools,” White said. “This bill is designed to put money in non-profit communities for those who do the work on the ground and in the trenches.”
Some people in the audience got restless with all the statistics and money and demanded action.
“Just by virtue of being here what you’re saying is there has been enough violence and you don’t want to tolerate it anymore,” Racine said. “It’s important to have a critical mass of people to be vocal every time violence occurs to say this is completely and totally unacceptable.”