Jawana Hardy spent much of last Friday night visiting various Southeast neighborhoods and speaking to community members who have lost friends and loved ones to gun violence.
For three years, she and others have made these weekly treks throughout Ward 8 as part of what’s known as #GunsDownFriday.
After attending a candlelight vigil in Woodland Terrace, Hardy stopped in front of Mart Liquor near Mellon Street, not far from where Deon Kay lost his life during a police encounter last fall. At the time, Hardy, who goes by Miss Hardy DC, didn’t anticipate that corner later becoming the scene of a high-profile murder.
Hours later, upon learning that six-year-old Nyiah Courtney had been killed in a hail of gunfire, Hardy immediately started praying, reaching out to family members and collecting materials for a memorial she erected on the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X Avenues on Saturday evening.
As Nyiah’s mother lies in a coma, and other family members continue to grieve the young girl’s death, Hardy said the same questions about police officers, particularly the degree to which they are able to prevent murders in historically overpoliced and underserved communities, continue to weigh on her mind.
“On one side of the coin, those guys are hanging out right there. Do you want to lock those guys up or do you want police to try to de-escalate violence?” Hardy asked. “You would think with the police there, people wouldn’t shoot but they do! We must not wait for the police to create change, we must do it ourselves.’’
Calls for Quick Action
Nyiah’s murder on July 16 not only raised the District’s death toll to 103, according to data from the Metropolitan Police Department [MPD], but elicited calls for more direct police action, the elimination of loitering spots and harsher penalties for violent offenders.
On Monday, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) notified the D.C. Council that she’s allowing MPD to use as much overtime as necessary to tackle the increase in violent crime. In her letter to the council’s Committee of the Judiciary and Public Safety, Bowser said residents don’t feel safe.
This has especially become the case after three people, one of whom counts as a baseball fan, suffered gunshot wounds outside of Nationals Park on Saturday night. The shootout sent players and fans running for cover and triggered an evacuation of the grounds. MPD officials said the other two victims had ties to a vehicle recovered at the scene and have since been questioned.
In the aftermath of Nyiah’s murder, MPD Chief Robert Contee III issued an emergency shutdown order for Mart Liquor, which has become the target of a burgeoning movement against the proliferation of liquor stores in Southeast.
MPD has also issued a $60,000 reward for information about Nyiah’s murder and circulated surveillance video showing gunfire coming from a silver Toyota driving down Malcolm X Avenue.
Community events throughout much of the week provided multiple opportunities for reflection on Nyiah’s death and that of other young victims of gun violence.
On Sunday, legions of young people, teachers, coaches and community organizers converged on the field at Stanton Elementary School for the annual gathering in honor of Karon Brown, an 11-year-old who lost his life in 2019.
The six-hour event included spoken word, music, yoga, a performance from go-go band ABM and comments from community members.
One of the speakers, Kevin McGill of Firehouse Ministries, implored youth to listen to their elders. He further implored elders to have more of a presence in young people’s lives.
In regards to the need for more police, McGill stressed the need for balance but said that police officers and other people in power often do little to prevent crime with the information they have at their disposal.
“We have more police agencies in D.C. than anywhere else but kids can ride with AKs,” McGill told The Informer.
“We know neighborhoods are beefing but people are reactive, not proactive. More police leads to more arrests and incarceration for no reason. [That’s why] we need programs for kids who are nine and ten years old so they can have a different mindset,” he said.
Residents Request Police Presence and Diligence
More than a year ago, George Floyd’s murder sparked protests in D.C. and across the U.S. It also compelled localized conversations about defunding police and relegating some of the responsibilities of officers to other agencies.
The D.C. Council passed legislation that launched a DC Police Reform Commission which compiled a series of recommendations including the deployment of behavioral health specialists as first responders and the expansion of community resources for the city’s most vulnerable.
Months later, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) announced a $59 million comprehensive, public health-focused approach to ending gun violence that relies on violence interrupters, services for returning citizens, youth programs and an enhanced safe passage program.
Even so, some people like Ward 7 resident Muriel Cooper have espoused the need for police to maintain a presence in the community. Cooper, who moved to Deanwood three months ago, counted among her primary concerns the frequent sound of gunshots outside her window.
“From what I’ve seen, the Metropolitan Police Department is adamant about making sure people are safe,” Cooper said. “They do their due diligence. Wards 7 and 8 have the anti-violence initiative and they do what they can to prevent crime. There’s a balance and it starts at the top. It’s about training and ensuring the people in authority are competent.”

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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