D.C. Council member Vincent Gray recently held a crime summit in his ward and encouraged the residents not to complain about criminal lawbreaking but to do something about it.
Gray, a Democrat who represents Ward 7 and did so in that capacity from 2005-2007 before he became chairman of the council from 2007-2011 and the mayor from 2011-2015, has become alarmed at the escalating homicide rate.
“We are only two months into 2019 and we have had 12 homicides in the ward already,” Gray said. “In a space of about 12 months, we have had 42 homicides. We want to hear from you and if we get one or two ideas that will work, we will be happy.
“We want this session to be to be solution-oriented,” he said. “We don’t want to celebrate the problem; we want to know how to move forward.”
The summit took place at the Jones Memorial United Methodist Church that sits off of Benning Road NE. and where the Rev. Loretta Ewell Johnson serves as the pastor.
Overall, the crime rate in the District has taken a significant dip, with reductions in sex abuse, assault with a dangerous weapon, robbery, burglary, motor vehicle theft and arson.
However, homicides remain the top concern citywide, with a 60 percent increase from this time last year, from 20 in 2018 and 32 presently.
D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham and Durriyyah Habeebullah, the commander of the 6th District that covers much of Ward 7, sat at the head table with Gray and Delbert McFadden, the director of the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement (ONSE). Newsham emerged as the main speaker of the event, delivering a 20-minute presentation before taking questions.
“We want to hear from you,” said Newsham, who took over the District’s police force in 2016. “You are particularly affected by gun violence. Gun violence is killing us.”
Newsham said individuals using guns have been the main culprits and the firearms have come from Maryland and Virginia. He said the goal of his department “is to get illegal guns off of the streets.”
“Seventy-nine percent of homicides in 2018 were committed with the assistance of firearms,” he said.
The chief startled some in the audience of 200 when he said 93 percent of people who killed someone with a firearm have an arrest record of 10 offenses on average and 82 percent of the victims have an arrest record on average of 10 offenses.
“I was also surprised to know that 45 percent of people arrested for [gun charges] are under court supervision,” he said.
Newsham said somberly 50 percent of the homicides victims are between the ages of 20-29.
At one point while Newsham spoke, an agitated woman approached him slowly, shouting “my house just got shot” and “I am tired of MPD.” Police officers led the woman out of the church.
Ward 7 resident Ambrose Lane said systemic problems facing some Black men such as job and housing instability and a lack of a marketable education must be addressed by the District government because “not fixing these things will result in the same problems.”
However, Eric Muhammad, also a Ward 7 resident, laid the blame on the residents.
“If we in the community don’t do something to stop this violence, we will have another meeting like this,” Muhammad said. “What is happening in our community isn’t an accident. This problem can’t be solved by the police alone but by us.
“This problem of killings has to be addressed by the grassroots people.”
Newsham, in response to a question, said the popular Orange Hats program that peaked in the early and mid-1990s where residents patrolled their neighborhoods has died down significantly and he will work with any group to resurrect it or any group committed to fighting crime.
The audience expressed support for a 15-year-old, who said too much violence takes place in his neighborhood and many young people are afraid to go out after school.
“Black people need to act like a family because we are not doing that,” said the teen, whose mentor, Keith Tariq Cunningham, asked him to come to the meeting and express his thoughts. “Family members don’t hurt each other.”
After Newsham spoke, McFadden talked about how his agency interacts with violent offenders and their families and works with organizations such as “The Training Ground” to help people who have committed crimes and their families cope.
Johnson agreed with Muhammad, saying residents are the key to bringing down the homicide rate.
“We have to do this, not anyone else,” Johnson said. “We know who the culprits are. We know who are bringing in drugs and guns in the community. It is up to us to have a better community.”