The wave of ongoing gun violence that continues in the District has emerged as a primary campaign issue for those candidates running for the two at-large D.C. Council seats up for grabs in the Nov. 8 general election.
“I am a native of Ward 5,” said Giuseppe Niosi, the Republican Party candidate. “We should all have the right to feel safe in our homes.”
Whether on the campaign trail in the District or participating in candidate forums such as one held on Sept. 7 at the Matthews Memorial Baptist Church in Ward 8 in southeast D.C., candidates have found it essential to address the District’s problems with public safety.
As of Sept. 9, statistics from the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia (MPD) report homicides at 146, a 1% increase from last year’s number, 144, on the same date. Violent crime overall has also increased 1% from 2,674 incidents versus 2,648 one year ago. Crime overall has decreased by 1% compared to this time last year, MPD statistics reported.
The concern about crime has gained the focus of neighboring Prince George’s County which recently re-invoked its juvenile curfew due to the rise in gun violence – a decision that has since fueled discussions about the need to follow a similar course in the District.
Karim Marshall, an independent, said action on preventing gun violence hasn’t taken place on the council and that serves as one of the reasons he chose to enter the race.
“Our rising crime rate is a reflection of the lack of will to address the problem,” Marshall said. “We are not doing a good job in our criminal justice system. We need to use our resources in a smart way. We have not lived up to our responsibility.”
Marshall said the mayor and the attorney general should work more closely together through their individual programs to reduce the crime rate.
Fred Hill, another independent candidate, said the crime rate “is unacceptable” and the city’s leadership “is playing games with people.”
“It’s not just police that should deal with gun violence but the community should too,” Hill said.
Hill said neighborhoods suffering from strong rates of gun violence tend to lack educational opportunities for young people and are located in food deserts. He believes that addressing those problems might go far in reducing the rate of gun violence and making the city safer for youth.
He added that the council should exercise better oversight over the police department and increase its funding.
“We don’t need to defund the police but support the police,” he said. “We do not have enough officers. We lost 1,300 officers before COVID came. Defunding the police destroys the morale of the department.”
David Schwartzman, the D.C. Statehood Green candidate, said police brutality in the District must stop.
“Police abuse and harassment has to end,” Schwartzman said. “I believe there should be a citizens police review board that is elected by the people and have subpoena power.”
Independent candidate Graham McLaughlin said District leaders must take a holistic approach to fighting crime with more residents becoming involved, instead of only government officials, in coming up with viable solutions.
Council member Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) said solving the root causes of crime, such as lack of educational and job opportunities, could serve as preventive measures. However, she emphasized that she serves as a legislator and does not belong to the executive branch of the District government that enforces the laws.
Council member Anita Bonds (D-At Large), who will represent her party in the general election, largely agreed with Hill in that the community should get more involved in fighting crime and mentoring wayward young people.
Council member Kenyan McDuffie, who serves as a Democrat on the legislative body but has entered the at-large race as an independent, said the solutions begin and end with how police officers conduct themselves and interact with residents.
“People do not feel safe in their communities,” McDuffie said. “People who deal with law enforcement need to be held accountable for their actions.”