Weeks after the D.C. Council unanimously approved the Revised Criminal Code Act (RCCA), D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) has expressed plans to veto the bill.
Bowser, a vocal critic of the RCCA, made this announcement on the morning of Jan. 3, a day before the bill was scheduled to go to Congress, with or without her signature. Her concerns about the RCCA centered on youth crime and the activity of the local courts.
“We can’t be satisfied with young people having weapons and killing each other,” Bowser said. “When there’s a policy that reduces penalties, it sends the wrong message. It’s the wrong way to go. We’re [also] concerned that the courts have the resources to keep up with the law [but] this law would suggest the number of trials would skyrocket.”
If passed in its current form, the RCCA, starting in 2025, will revamp the District’s more-than-a-century-old criminal code to create more uniformity in how crimes are classified and how the court system determines criminal liability.
Such changes will lead to shorter sentences for non-violent offenses while allowing prosecutors to seek harsher sentences for more serious offenses, including those involving the use of a firearm.
Other aspects of the RCCA include the elimination of mandatory minimums for criminal offenses and the implementation of jury trials for misdemeanors.
Under the RCCA, those convicted of crimes at the age of 25 and older could also petition for sentence reduction under the Second Look Amendment Act.
During the Mayor-Council breakfast in October, Bowser doubled down on her assertion that RCCA, like other measures that pitted her against the D.C. Council during the pandemic, would impede her public safety goals.
The RCCA culminates hours of Criminal Code Reform Commission (CCRC) meetings, council hearings and community meetings that took place over 16 years.
That’s why several community leaders, including Tia Bell of the T.R.I.G.G.E.R. Project, continue to demand that Bowser signs the RCCA into law. On Dec. 21, Bell and other Black leaders, some of whom designated themselves as Bowser’s staunchest supporters, signed and sent a letter to Bowser’s office in support of the RCCA.
For Bell, a Ward 7 resident, the RCCA represents a critical part of a long-term strategy to reduce violence in the District. She said that District officials must meet young people’s demands for public health responses to gun violence.
While Bell acknowledged Bowser’s sincerity about addressing violent crime, she said that the influx of police officers in marginalized communities has made the young people she engages through the T.R.I.G.G.E.R. Project more skeptical about local government.
“Young people want to heal and be heard. They don’t want the government to twist their words and use adultism,” said Bell, the T.R.I.G.G.E.R. Project’s founder and executive director.
“There is a lot of pain and hurt in the household. Young people are self-medicating [with drugs]. They know there are no root causes [of violence] being addressed. But it can’t be like that for long if we are to have peace and more life.”
The District ended 2022 with more than 200 homicides, even with an incremental decline in gun-related deaths toward the end of the calendar year. The onslaught of intra-community violence has polarized the debate on how to address this issue, with an increasing number of community members becoming frustrated with violence interruption efforts, and most recently debate about the RCCA.
In the latter stages of the RCCA’s journey through the legislative process, advocates in the DC Justice Lab worked to address misconceptions about the bill. Patrice Sulton, who serves as executive director of the DC Justice Lab, along with Makia Green of Harriet’s Wildest Dreams, also made the rounds to ensure that the finalized bill didn’t stray far from what the CCRC recommended.
Years prior, advocates in the criminal justice reform space came together in support of another bill, the NEAR Act, which focused on the development of community-based, public health-centered approaches to violent crime.
Though it passed through D.C. Council unanimously in 2016, advocates said Bowser’s budgetary decisions hindered the NEAR Act’s implementation. Throughout the pandemic, amid local and national conversations about overpolicing, Bowser remained adamant about increasing the capacity of the Metropolitan Police Department.
Capitol Hill resident K. Denise Rucker Krepp shared similar thoughts about public safety and the RCCA.
During the earlier part of December, Rucker Krepp wrote a letter to congressional leaders requesting that they strike down the legislation. She said she did so out of regard for the families of rape survivors and murder victims who would be further traumatized by the early release of perpetrators.
While testifying before the D.C. Council earlier in 2022, Rucker Krepp recommended a “carve out” in the RCCA that would bar convicted murderers and rapists from early release.
In 2016, Rucker Krepp’s frustration with the local court system reached its apex when she sued the U.S. Department of Justice for the release of data about prosecutions, or the lack thereof. This followed several unsuccessful attempts to secure that information.
Throughout her eight-year tenure as ANC commissioner, Rucker Krepp expressed her concerns about violent crime to D.C. Councilmember Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) and other council members. She has also shown support for victims of robberies, murders and rapes in her appearances at crime scenes, and subsequent demand for accountability.
Rucker Krepp said that Allen, chair of the council’s Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, lacks an understanding of how violent crime affects D.C. residents.
For Rucker Krepp, that mindset permeated into the passage of the RCCA, which she said would have benefitted from more community input.
‘There wasn’t as much information [about the RCCA put out there] as it should’ve been but we were in the middle of the pandemic,” said Rucker Krepp, a longtime advocate for rape survivors who’s transitioning out of her role as commissioner for single-member district 6B10.
“I don’t think D.C. Council members did a good job of telling folks what was going on. I didn’t see any flyers about it. I didn’t see Councilmember Charles Allen or At-Large Councilmembers asking us for input.”