Legislation recently brought before the D.C. Council centers upon the city’s violence interrupters, not only because it’s named after a community member who trained for that job, but because it discourages acts of violence like that which abruptly ended the activist’s life.
Earlier this month, supporters watched as D.C. Council member Trayon White Sr. (D-Ward 8) introduced the Clarence J. Venable Violence Intervention and Prevention Workers Protection Act during a legislative meeting.
In the weeks following Venable’s death, citizens coalesced around the effort to address what longtime activist Sandra Seegars described as a situation of severe proportion.
“Violence interrupters don’t have guns, bulletproof vests or handcuffs. It’s just them confronting criminals and high-risk people,” said Seegars, a member of the Concerned Residents Against Violence (CRAV).
If passed, the legislation would amend the Taxicab Drivers Protection Act of 2000 with offenders receiving time-and-a-half for committing acts of violence against residents performing their duties as violence interrupters.
In December, Seegars counted among a bevy of people, including Ward 6 resident Ronald Williams, the Rev. Anthony Motley, Gloria Hightower of Ward 2, Joseph Johnson of Ward 8, and Anthony Muhammad and Mary Cuthburt of the Seventh District Metropolitan Police Department Citizens’ Advisory Council, who advocated for the introduction of the bill.
“Violence interrupters need something to protect them so the offender or would-be murderer will think twice,” Seegars said. “Clarence Venable’s murder showed me that having a specific title doesn’t stop you from being in harm’s way. There’s no regard for life.”
On Nov. 22, Venable had just left a training at the Alliance of Concerned Men’s office on Dubois Place in Southeast when an assailant shot him at close range. Venable, 40, died from his injuries, never to realize his goal of mediating neighborhood disputes on behalf of Cure the Streets, a violence interrupter program operated by the Office of the Attorney General (OAG).
At the end of last year, the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) recorded 166 homicides and more than 800 gun-related injuries in the District.
As of Monday, eight gun deaths have already occurred in the new year.
OAG launched Cure the Streets in 2018 as a public health response to gun violence, establishing bases in Wards 5 and 8. In conjunction with the National Association for the Advancement of Returning Citizens, officials train community members in stopping neighborhood conflicts, connecting people with services and engaging neighbors.
Violence interrupters trained and dispatched by the OAG and the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement (ONSE) have the responsibility of using their intimate knowledge of neighborhood politics to settle disputes between opposing individuals and groups.
Since its inception, Cure the Streets has hosted several community events, Safe Passage walks and a Thanksgiving Day of Service. At the beginning of the 2020 fiscal year, Cure the Streets received part of the $2 million secured in a settlement Attorney General Karl Racine negotiated during the AltaGas-Washington Gas merger. The current fiscal year’s budget also includes $20 million allocated toward the expansion of ONSE’s violence interrupter program in several communities in Northwest.
Per the Office of the Attorney General, the Cure Violence model has reduced gun violence in cities across the nation by at least 20 percent. However, the program has received skepticism from District residents frustrated with gun violence which MPD Chief Peter Newsham tied to illegal guns during a year-end press conference. To that end, some east-of-the-river residents have demanded tougher penalties and a stronger police presence in their communities, even as Newsham recognized the work of ONSE’s Pathways program in reaching at-risk youth.
As deliberation continues about how to best combat violent crime, the Clarence J. Venable Violence Intervention and Prevention Workers Protection Act has made its way to the Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety where D.C. Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) and other committee members will determine its fate.
In his introductory statement on Jan. 7, White, still reeling from the death of his friend and colleague, reflected on how the bill would affect violence interrupters as they seek to accomplish their mission.
“It was tragic Mr. Venable lost his life trying to save lives in this community,” he said. “This legislation I’m introducing provides enhanced protections for violence interrupters and prevention workers while performing their duties.”