In response to the ongoing gun violence taking the lives of children in the District, community leaders relaunched the “Thou Shalt Not Kill” campaign in an effort to try to stem the tide on Jan. 10.
The relaunch took place at the Busboys & Poets in Historic Anacostia in Ward 8, with the owner of the eatery Andy Shallal serving as the host and one of the main facilitators of the event. Joining Shallal in the effort are former At-Large D.C. Council member William Lightfoot, Anacostia Coordinating Council Executive Director Philip Pannell and community activist Stuart Anderson. Denise Rolark Barnes, the co-chair of the Martin Luther King Jr. Peace Walk & Parade Committee and publisher of the Washington Informer served as a speaker at the event along with Council member Trayon White Sr. (D-Ward 8).
Pannell, 72, said homicide due to guns must be dealt with.
“This is a problem,” he said to the audience of 30 attendees in the Marion Barry Jr. Room. “The violence in our city is unacceptable. The murder rate is unconscionable. We have nonprofits and individuals working overtime to stop the violence. The sad thing is the violence is so routine, people have become desensitized to it. We won’t be able to stop this unless everyone gets involved.”
The relaunch took place as statistics compiled by the District’s Metropolitan Police Department revealed that as of Jan. 10, there has been a 100% increase in homicides in comparison to last year. The slayings of 13-year-old Karon Blake and Busboys & Poets employee Mario Leonard have spurred community conversation on dealing with the homicide problem and the relaunch of the latest effort.
Shallal, 67, said the fatal shooting of Leonard “hit close to home for me.”
“I think people in the city have grown numb to violence,” he said. “People are afraid to speak up when a homicide takes place. They feel the community won’t back them up [if they talk to the police about a case]. Many people believe unchecked gun homicides are the way it is. They think that is the way it is supposed to be. What is lacking in dealing with this problem is leadership. I am not a religious person but ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill’ resonates.”
In contrast to Shallal’s thought that people have become desensitized to gun violence, Barnes said many organizations are doing the work to quell the violence and they need more help from the community to be more successful.
Lightfoot, 73, said he started the inaugural “Thou Shalt Not Kill” campaign in 1992 when the city recorded 460 homicides.
“I was a city council member at-large and the chairman of the public safety committee,” he said. “I did it to let people know that the homicide rate was unacceptable and community members needed to do something about it. I am not sure whether the signs back then made a difference, but things eventually calmed down.”
Lightfoot said WJLA-TV (Channel 7) reporter Sam Ford suggested to him to put the signs back up recently and he agreed.
“The signs don’t make a difference by themselves,” he said. “The community must get behind the effort.”
The signs have a red background with “Thou Shalt Not Kill” in white writing. The campaign organizers said the goal is to have them posted throughout the city in the near future. Additionally, Anderson, who also serves as the co-chair of the Martin Luther King Jr. Peace Walk and Parade Committee, said there will be a contingent in the Jan. 16 parade of people wearing Thou Shalt Not Kill T-shirts.
In the long term, campaign leaders mentioned an effort to convince Mayor Muriel Bowser to put “Thou Shalt Not Kill” in writing on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE, similar to Black Lives Matter Plaza in Northwest.