Brightwood Community Expresses Safety Concerns

In the aftermath of a homicide last month, members of the Brightwood community have implored neighbors and police officers to remain vigilant against illegal activity that ferments violent crime in pockets of their neighborhood.

The manner in which the Fourth District Police Department in Northwest should approach potential offenders, however, remains a topic of discussion. Amid the calls for a crackdown on loiterers, some residents have recommended addressing the root causes of youth violence.

“We have to continue to hold on to our young people and reach them where they are,” said Lois Cooper, 60, a lifelong resident of upper Northwest. “When you’re angry, you don’t put any value on your life.”

While Cooper applauded the conspicuous police presence along Kennedy Street in Northwest, she noted the unease she felt seeing officers and young Black men arguing. The quintessential response to recent homicides, she said, involves relationships between young people and elders rooted in love and respect for one another.

“I think that public safety should be the right to every citizen in this community, including the grandmother down the street and the teacher on her way from school,” Cooper said. “[But some people, young and old, feel there’s a lot of inequity in resources and services that are available, and they feel no one cares about them, which leads to reckless behavior.”

Four days before Thanksgiving, Dwight Banks Jr., 26, was fatally shot when gunfire erupted on 8th and Jefferson streets, blocks away from Cooper’s residence. His death counts among the latest in the more than 150 homicides to have occurred in the District this year.

The night prior, residents reported hearing gunshots near 5th and Kennedy streets. Another incident had been alleged to take place near 9th and Madison streets, according to a notable Petworth neighborhood blog.

Two days later, at a monthly Advisory Neighborhood Commission meeting, residents of ANC 4D filled the cafeteria of Washington Latin Public Charter School, pouring out a range of emotions. Metropolitan Police Department Chief Peter Newsham, accompanied by a dozen uniformed officers, listened intently as part of a last-minute change the agenda.

During the Nov. 20 ANC meeting, an MPD officer told residents that, immediately following the murder, officers had been knocking on doors and dispatching intelligence personnel to gather information about possible retaliation. In response to community frustration with the seemingly endless violent crime and slow police response, Newsham pointed to repeat violent offenders as the common denominator.

“There are cracks in the system and communities don’t pay attention to what happens after an arrest,” Newsham said. “If an offender has been convicted, and they subsequently go out and pick up a weapon, I can tell you that’s a person who has a high probability of using a gun in our city. Ending the trauma associated with the violence we see in this city far outweighs the individual freedoms of the convicted.”

Despite an influx of new residents and amenities, violence continues to grip the Brightwood community. In 2015, residents petitioned Mayor Muriel Bowser (D), less than four months into her first term at the time, for a plan to address a string of murders in the area. Chaos ensued last year after a teenager died in a gunbattle on the corner of Kennedy Street and Georgia Avenue, just days after a double homicide on nearby Rittenhouse Street.

ANC 4D Chair Lisa Colbert echoed Newsham’s sentiments, asking that residents continue to report suspicious activity and that the D.C. Office of Unified Communications, MPD’s hotline dispatcher, delivers caller information to police officers more efficiently.

On the evening of Nov. 18, Colbert had been returning home from a funeral when a neighbor frantically stopped her in front of her house to discuss the murder. Days after the monthly ANC meeting, Colbert expressed hope that Fourth District police and neighborhood residents would work more closely.

“It’s just about finding the right approach,” Colbert said. “The police should walk the streets and talk to the neighbors to make them feel more comfortable. They should be breaking up crowds and getting residents’ complaints about loitering. It would also help to be responsive in a timely manner.”

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