In the aftermath of a shooting that claimed three lives, some members of the Brightwood community, with the support of their councilmember and other officials, continue to demand that people living and congregating along Kennedy Street receive violence prevention resources.
For Sheree Battle, neighbors old and new must also rally around young people at this time instead of criminalizing them.
She said community members, out of fear for their safety, often neglect to understand the totality of these young men and women’s experiences.
“Did you ever walk up to this man and ask if they need help?” Battle asked residents and others who gathered in the car lot near Hortons Funeral Home on Sept. 15 during a peace walk organized by D.C. Councii member Janeese Lewis George (D-Ward 4).
Battle, a Brightwood community member, operates a nonprofit for youth not far from where six young people were shot during Labor Day weekend, three of whom had been pronounced dead on the scene.
News of Donnetta Dyson, Keenan Braxton, and Johnny Joyner’s deaths on Sept. 4 sparked outrage and discussions on social media, the Wilson Building, and throughout the District about how to further include Kennedy Street, and other parts of Uptown, in the District’s plans for curbing gun violence.
While she agreed with that course of action, Battle said the solution started with community members. She suggested genuine and consistent engagement of residents most affected by violence and economic inequities plaguing the District.
“Let’s start with education,” said Battle, executive director of the Life Success Center for Children Youth & Families. “ Some of these people are hurting and need resources. We can’t just sit around talking about people. It’s not getting us anywhere.”
Ramping Up Violence Interruption Efforts
Councilmember George recently wrote a letter to D.C.Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) requesting the expansion of Building Blocks to the Kennedy Street corridor.
Building Blocks, launched earlier this year amid an increase in homicides, brings together various District agencies to address gun violence from a public health standpoint.
If Bowser follows through, the unifying violence prevention force will buttress efforts by the Office of the Neighborhood Safety & Engagement [ONSE] to quell violence and introduce Kennedy Street’s most at-risk residents to personal development and employment opportunities.
Immediately after the September 4 shooting, ONSE, in collaboration with 15 agencies, communicated with grieving family members and, to a certain degree, helped them make funeral arrangements. Violence interrupters also monitored social media and leveraged their rapport with at-risk community members to prevent retaliation.
In 2018, ONSE expanded its operations to Kennedy Street via Collaborative Solutions for Communities, an organization based in Northwest that provides family support services, job training, and violence prevention.
As has been the case in communities east of the Anacostia River, these resources would be directed toward Kennedy Street residents and affiliates designated as most prone to engaging in or becoming victims of violence.
Leadership within ONSE has also gelled together plans to increase the enrollment of Ward 4 residents in the Pathways Program that, for years, has connected cohorts of young adults to personal and workforce development opportunities.
ONSE Executive Director Del McFadden emphasized these solutions as essential in stopping violence at its core.
“We understand the community is hurting. We will be there for them, continue to support them, and push and try to work with the key individuals,” McFadden told The Informer. “
It’s important to get into the minds of those individuals and try to replace the self-defeating behaviors. A lot of this work is built on relationships and trust. It takes time to get there.”
Restoring a Sense of Self-Esteem
As of Sept. 17, Metropolitan Police Department [MPD] recorded 149 homicides, an increase of 12 percent from the total recorded at this point last year.
The phenomenon has revealed schisms among residents and elected officials about how to tackle violence.
While some prioritize prevention, resources, and opportunities, there have been just as many calls for boosting police presence in communities.
Melvin Stackhouse, a Ward 7 resident and cousin of Johnny Joyner, had more of a nuanced perspective. He told The Informer that, in regard to his cousin’s murder on September 4, MPD could’ve done more to stop the assailants, as shown in footage that circulated on social media.
For Stackhouse, the ideal solution for gun violence involves all government agencies and residents aggressively addressing the strife of young people.
In his work with the violence prevention movement No Slide Zone, Stackhouse recounted meeting young people from various parts of the District dealing with trauma and low self-esteem that often manifests in acts of violence.
“Some of these people have dreams to make it out, but to thrive in their community, watch their kids grow up, and not worry about making it back home,” said Stackhouse.
“Why do they have to be validated to be successful? Why can’t they just be themselves? Everyone doesn’t have self-love and self-respect due to what they’ve been through. They just want to be loved.”