D.C. Council member Trayon White’s request nearly two weeks ago for a state of emergency to address a stubborn surge in homicides has drawn widespread support from city leaders and residents who now are wondering how to solve the problem.

“We have to declare a state of emergency when it comes to crime and violence,” White said on Jan. 29 to 30 people at a news conference at the R.I.S.E. Demonstration Center in Ward 8. “We are burying our children. Something has to be done about the record number of shootings and homicides in the District.”

White, a Democrat, wants D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser to declare a state of emergency and to create a commission to address gun violence in the District and how to put an end to it.

White credited the Bowser administration for appointing Linda Harllee Harper to be the city’s new director of gun violence prevention but said the escalating homicide rate should be handled by a commission consisting of representatives from various sections of the District “and would have no more than 30 days to develop a set of recommendations which can be quickly acted upon.”

Although the District’s homicide rate leveled off as of Feb. 5 according to Metropolitan Police Department statistics, the numbers compiled in January were grim. By Jan. 29, the police department recorded 16 homicides since the year began, an increase of 14 percent compared to the same date in 2020.

By Feb. 5, two additional murders police department data reported 18 homicides, posting a six percent increase as opposed to last year’s number of 17 as of that date.

White insists the community needs to step up efforts to fight the gun violence and not leave the problem to politicians, the mayor or the police department. The council member has already taken steps to address the problem, according to a White staff member who told the Informer the council member will push for $10 million in fiscal year 2021-2022 for violence intervention efforts.

At a Feb. 4 news conference, Bowser said she heard about White’s state of emergency request and complimented his interest in the issue but made no declaration.

Mayor Bowser Agrees with White

“The council member is right to sound the alarm,” the mayor said. “There are too many senseless shootings in some parts of Ward 8 and many people are being tragically affected.”

Bowser noted Harper’s hiring and said her administration will support any effort to fight gun violence.

Ron Moten, a co-founder of the former anti-gang non-profit Peaceoholics, said White’s state of emergency call “was a good move” but said the District needs to “look at what worked in the past to see what we need to do in the future to get the results we want and need so desperately.”

Moten said many young people who partake in criminal activity have no solid male figures in their lives.

“There are no men encouraging them to do what they need to do in the community,” he said. “Plus, so many people are struggling with the coronavirus pandemic and the bad economy and many adults are barely surviving themselves. There is a sense of hopelessness in the community.”

Moten said young people, sensing tension in the community and feeling ignored are acting recklessly and are “willing to pick up a gun to get attention.”

“They use gun violence as a platform to get attention,” he said, “and that is the wrong way to do that.”

‘Invest in People’

Regina Pixley, former Ward 8 advisory neighborhood commissioner, said she supports White’s state of emergency call “100 percent.”

“This should have been done before,” Pixley said. “The mayor needs a plan to address violence in the city. I do think hiring Harper is a good start but things seem to be getting worse.”

Pixley agreed with Moten that the pandemic has taken its toll on the District. She said while Ward 8 doesn’t have the highest number of coronavirus infections, it does have the highest death rate in the city due to the virus.

Pixley said White’s idea regarding the community getting more involved in fighting gun violence “makes sense.”

“The community needs to step up,” she said. “People can start at their front door. We know who the shooters and the hitters are and we can tell them to stop what they are doing.”

Like Pixley, former Ward 8 D.C. State Board of Education member Markus Batchelor favors White’s state of emergency call. However, he said one way to curtail the homicide rate “is to deeply invest in people.”

“People feel left behind,” Batchelor said. “There should be access to quality education, mental health services and we have got to get people back to work. We have got to retrain people for the jobs the new economy is producing, not for the old ones that just won’t come back. There is a state of emergency on crime and violence, along with the public health emergency on COVID-19 but we also have an economic emergency.”

Batchelor credits the success he has had in life with a strong family and friends’ network in Ward 8 that provided him a safe space.

“I had a family and teachers in school who cared about me,” he said. “Those are things that make a difference in the life of a young person. If it wasn’t for that network, I wouldn’t have served a term on the school board but a sentence in prison.”

James Wright Jr.

James Wright Jr. is the D.C. political reporter for the Washington Informer Newspaper. He has worked for the Washington AFRO-American Newspaper as a reporter, city editor and freelance writer and The Washington...

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