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Members of the Washington Wizards and a player with the Washington Mystics joined community leader and residents and anti-violence activists on Aug. 1 to discuss ways to confront gun homicides in the District.
The meeting took place at the R.I.S.E. Demonstration Center on the campus of St. Elizabeths East in Southeast Washington’s Ward 8. A crowd of 100 listened to speakers from the sports teams, District government, nonprofit leaders and residents who shared how they have been affected by gun violence.
“Gun violence has persistently devastated families and ravaged neighborhoods for a generation,” said James Cadogan, executive director of the National Basketball Social Justice Coalition.
“It is an epidemic that cannot be solved with a quick fix or antiquated tough on crime rhetoric,” he said. “The NBA family is committed to playing a constructive role in covering communities to drive meaningful investment in solutions that create safer environments and address the root causes of violent crime.”
As of Aug. 1, 126 people have died as a result of a homicide, according to statistics compiled by the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department.
D.C. Council member Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5), who spoke at the meeting, said there have been 2,200 incidents of violent crime in the city as of Aug. 1, with guns involved in the overwhelming majority of those crimes.
Linda Harllee Harper, the director of the District’s gun violence prevention program, said in July, 20 people died due to homicide with 18 young people having lost their lives because of guns.
Jay Jordan, the president of the Alliance for Safety and Justice and national director of TimeDome, said 95% of the murders in the District are committed by Black males with 95% of the victims African-American men.
“We have an ancestral obligation to figure this out,” Jordan said.
Testimonies Illustrate Painful Results of Gun Violence
Aswad Thomas, a former college basketball standout player who serves as the vice president of the Alliance for Safety and Justice, one of the organizations that co-sponsored the meeting, said he has first-hand knowledge about gun violence.
“I have been the victim of gun violence,” he said. “After I was shot, I was visited by law enforcement. All law enforcement did was talk about the case. They didn’t offer me any type of services as far as healing is concerned.”
Thomas said five-of-10 of his family members, all males, have been shot. He noted that the man who shot him had previously been a victim of gunfire. He lamented that in all of the cases, no one from local government offered opportunities for healing that would have included mental health services.
Sandra Gliss, a staff member for the Monumental Sports & Entertainment company which owns both the Wizards and the Mystics, has lost a child to violence. In a teary-eyed, emotional testimony, she said her grandson received mental health services from a provider, but only for a year, so she became his advocate.
“I was the one who provided mental health for my grandson for about a year,” she said. “No one else was available to help him heal even though I reached out to the city. Doors were slammed in my face. He’s OK now and is a student at Morgan State University.”
Monte Morris, a point guard for the Wizards, said the District’s problems with gun violence remind him a lot of his hometown of Flint, Mich.
“General Motors held up Flint until the market crashed [in 2008],” Morris said. “Because of the crash, General Motors cut a lot of jobs and people were out of work. Many didn’t know where their next meal was coming from and because of that, people started robbing and committing crime.”
Morris said Flint’s sagging job market along with the crisis of lead in the city’s water supply made living there traumatic and candidly admitted to seeing a therapist in order to deal with the challenges he experienced as a youth.
Natasha Cloud, who plays for the Mystics, has established herself as an anti-gun violence advocate and believes the gun violence culture in some parts of the District can change.
“We can be part of the solution when it comes to being here in Southeast,” Cloud said. “We need to put pressure on people who can provide resources. We need to make sure young people are safe. We need the community to know that they can call on us to help fight gun violence.”
“Allow us to help – we will step up for you,” she said.
Possible Solutions and Next Steps
Thomas said solutions to the city’s gun violence problem remain within reach with a more committed effort from multiple sources.
“We need long-term services and support from city officials who can provide programs to help people heal mentally and emotionally from gun violence,” he said. “It is important for partnerships to be formed with community organizations performing this work. There should be pressure on our policymakers to help the victims and perpetuators of gun violence to enact policies that are designed to help people. We should bring people together more to fight this problem. These solutions need to be part of some action plan.”
Harper believes a plan will result from the conversations held during the recent meeting but did not go into specifics or share a date for its implementation.
Council member Trayon White (D-Ward 8), who attended the meeting, supported the effort but said he’s more concerned about what happens next.
“It was good to see so many people here but we in the community need to know what the next step will be,” he said. “People on the outside, those who didn’t come to this meeting, need to be involved and know what happens next.”