**FILE** D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (Robert R. Roberts/The Washington Informer)
**FILE** D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (Robert R. Roberts/The Washington Informer)

A swell of bipartisan support for a congressional resolution that strikes down the Revised Criminal Code Act (RCCA) has, in part, compelled D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) to bring the law back to the D.C. Council for further review. 

On Monday, Mendelson sent a letter to Vice President Kamala Harris (D) announcing his withdrawal of the RCCA from the congressional review process. In the letter, he told Harris that because the Senate had not yet voted on the legislation, he was able to make this move, per the Home Rule Act. 

Last week, President Joe Biden (D) told Senate Democrats that he wouldn’t veto the disapproval resolution should it make it to his desk. His subsequent tweet, in which he cited concerns about the D.C. Council’s override of Mayor Muriel Bowser’s veto of the bill, incited fury among statehood advocates who said the president infringed on the District’s home rule. 

The Senate had been scheduled to vote on the RCCA disapproval resolution this week. The bill had already passed through the House with overwhelming Republican support and the votes of 31 Democrats. Though Democrats carry a slight majority in the Senate, a similar outcome was expected, especially since Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) and others said they would vote in support of the disapproval resolution. 

Over the past few weeks, the RCCA attracted politicians eager to show their tough-on-crime stance. While some District residents viewed Biden’s comments as an affront to the statehood, others who had been apprehensive about the RCCA saw the president’s position as further confirmation of a progressive takeover that has turned the District into a violent city. 

On Monday, Mendelson doubled down on his assertion that House and Senate Republicans derided the RCCA without any intimate knowledge of what’s in the legislation. However, he acknowledged that council members must engage District residents, specifically those from communities affected by violent crime, about the specifics of the bill. 

“We need better messaging when it comes to violent crime and comparisons with other states,” Mendelson said. “Our current criminal code is considered one of the worst in the country and not modeled in best practices.” 

Senate Leadership and Mayor Bowser Weigh In 

A Senate leadership aide reportedly said that the Senate vote will carry out as planned, despite Mendelson’s removal of the RCCA from the congressional review process. 

The 16-year road to RCCA’s unanimous passage in the D.C. Council involved the formation of a commission and council hearings. Mendelson said that Bowser, a vocal critic of the RCCA, had ample opportunity to offer her input about the RCCA but hadn’t done so until the midnight hour.  

After the D.C. Council overrode Bowser’s veto in January, she introduced legislation that would bring elements of the RCCA before the council once again for public comment. In speaking about the RCCA over the last few weeks, Bowser said that constituents, particularly those affected by violent crime, didn’t have ample opportunity to provide feedback about the legislation. 

As of Monday, the Metropolitan Police Department has recorded 38 homicides and more than 400 armed robberies for this year, an increase from what had been seen around the same time last year. 

On Wednesday, Bowser is scheduled to conduct a public safety walk along Georgia Avenue, the same day that activists will converge on Union Station to stand up against congressional interference in District policy.  

Bowser’s walk follows an announcement about the expansion of the Multiagency Public Safety Task Force, which, since last year, has collaborated with the Homicide Reduction Partnership to tackle violent crime in pockets of the city that accounted for more than 20 percent of citywide homicides in 2021. The task force, which had a presence along the U Street Corridor, Georgia Avenue, and Connecticut Avenue recently took on Adams Morgan as an additional nightlife site. 

On Monday, Bowser said she shared Mendelson’s sentiment that the Senate vote shouldn’t happen. However, she declined to specify whether she and Mendelson discussed his removal of the RCCA from the congressional review process before he carried out that tactic. 

A Question of Whether the People’s Views Were Represented 

Since the start of the year, leadership within the DC Justice Lab, an ardent RCCA supporter, have fought toe to toe with what has been described as a misinformation campaign. 

Last month, DC Justice Lab Executive Director Patrice Sulton told The Informer that the RCCA creates uniformity in how punishment is doled out for criminal offenses, and ensures that penalties are aligned with the degree of harm caused by the offender. In her recent response to Biden’s announcement, Sulton lamented how federal imposition sets D.C. back in achieving racial equity. 

Amid ongoing efforts to tie the RCCA to the fight for D.C. statehood, some District residents, like Aristotle Theresa, say that the well-endowed nonprofits that are the front lines of this fight have the potential to distort what has been a movement of significance to native Washingtonians. 

Theresa, a Ward 8 resident and principal of Stoop Law, said he considered Republicans’ RCCA disapproval resolution more of a home rule issue than one of statehood. For him, Bowser’s ascent to the national stage during the pandemic and 2020 election brought the District the national attention that fermented this current fight on Capitol Hill. 

Theresa went on to criticize elected officials and nonprofit organizers who he described as out of touch with the valid fears of Washingtonians who are increasingly becoming victims of carjackings and random acts of violence. 

As the D.C. Council prepares to reexamine the RCCA, Theresa expressed hope that council members take into consideration what Bowser said and give Washingtonians who don’t frequent the Wilson Building some assurance that their concerns are being heard as well. However, Theresa questions whether, for the time being, that’s likely to happen with organizers using a moment to bolster a polarizing political movement. 

“Statehood has been an issue for a long time, and they take the criminal code revision, which divides us, and make it a statehood issue,” Theresa said. “That’s a pure nonprofit, strike-while-the-iron-is-hot agenda. It ends up fracturing a movement, and hopefully that doesn’t happen. I think it’s a definite setback.”

Sam P.K. Collins

Sam P.K. Collins has more than a decade of experience as a journalist, columnist and organizer. Sam, a millennial and former editor of WI Bridge, covers education, police brutality, politics, and other...

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