D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser on Wednesday declared gun violence in the city a public health crisis and announced the launch of a first-in-the-nation prevention emergency operations center to combat the issue.

Wednesday’s announcement is part of a larger initiative, Building Blocks DC, aimed at addressing gun violence in specific city neighborhoods.

The mayor pledged $15 million to the initiative, which will be led by Linda Harllee Harper, the Bowser administration’s director of gun violence prevention.

“Today we are recognizing the scourge of gun violence for what is: a public health crisis that requires a whole-government approach focused on people and places in our community,” Bowser said at a press conference in the Anacostia neighborhood in Ward 8 to announce the initiative. “Too many lives have been taken, too many families have been traumatized, and too many neighborhoods have been left broken. With Building Blocks DC, we are committing to reversing these trends, saving lives and better supporting our residents and communities most impacted by gun violence.”

Building Blocks DC will interact with people most vulnerable to becoming a victim of crime or perpetrator of gun violence. Their initial thrust will focus on people who:

– have been repeatedly arrested for gun-related offenses.
– are under active supervision by the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency and the D.C. Department of Youth Rehabilitative Services.
– affected by gun violence and having experienced the ripple effects of gun violence.

The initiative will have a data-driven focus that is place-based. Using 2020 crime data, city officials identified 151 blocks that represent almost 2% of all blocks in the city but were the location of 41% of all gun-related crimes.

“Building Blocks DC will be taking a whole of government approach, in partnership with our most impacted communities, to address the urgent needs of our residents and co-create safe places,” Harper said. “The Gun Violence Prevention Emergency Operations Center will be our infrastructure creating a process to coordinate collective action.”

D.C. Council members Trayon White (D-Ward 8) and Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), who chairs the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, attended the news conference, along with Metropolitan Police Chief Robert Contee III.

White, who last month called for Bowser to issue a state of emergency on crime and violence in the city, said the mayor’s action “is a step in the right direction.”

“There is a perception that crime is down in the city but that is not true,” White said. “I am glad the mayor has done this because you cannot address a problem until you acknowledge that there is a problem.”

James Wright Jr.

James Wright Jr. is the D.C. political reporter for the Washington Informer Newspaper. He has worked for the Washington AFRO-American Newspaper as a reporter, city editor and freelance writer and The Washington...

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