Monday, February 6, 2023
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Opinion | Stopping D.C. gun crime starts with helping our children


District Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) struck many of the right chords in her Thanksgiving message. Her notes of gratitude for having the chance to lead a city as dynamic and inclusive as D.C. were in harmony with her support of the new hospital breaking ground east of the river and the covid-19 centers opened across the city. Her condemnation of antisemitism, racism, anti-LGBTQ hate and attacks on women’s rights had the right tone, too.

Bowser, however, hit a sour note when she sounded off on ending “the gun violence that is terrorizing our country and stealing the lives of our young people.” The root of that problem is not the gun. It is the dismaying number of violent people picking up guns and using them.

The number of violent crimes committed with a gun — homicides, sex abuse, assault with a deadly weapon, robbery — has jumped by 847 over the past two years compared with the previous two years.

In response, Bowser has plowed millions into the city’s violence-prone areas through a wide variety of activities aimed toward diverting people — both potential victims and perpetrators — away from criminal activity. Her initiatives fall under the realm of a program dubbed Building Blocks DC.

In February, Bowser’s deputy mayor for public safety and justice, Christopher Geldart, explained just what Building Blocks DC is all about. Speaking at a D.C. Council hearing, Geldart described the program as a “framework” and a “strategy,” adding, “It’s not a place. It’s not a people. It’s a way to do business.” Whatever that means.

Geldart, a violence-prevention expert, handed in his resignation last month after a personal trainer in Virginia alleged in a criminal complaint that Geldart had assaulted him, and after questions emerged over whether Geldart was violating the requirement that high-level city officials reside within city limits. Bowser accepted his resignation, describing it as a “mutual” decision. (A court hearing has been set for Dec. 8 for his assault and battery charge.)

As that sinks in, consider, too, that there aren’t any publicly available performance metrics to show how the city’s multimillion-dollar violence-prevention efforts are faring — or failing.

“We’ve literally thrown everything at the problem,” Bowser said this month.

The picture remains grim.

Homicides, while down 8 percent thus far in 2022 compared with last year, are still up from two years ago at this time.

Carjackings continue climbing: 434 compared with 374 at this time last year. Carjackings involving guns have skyrocketed 71 percent.

Of the 118 carjacking arrests year to date, 70 percent involved juveniles. Most range in age from 13 to 17.

Not to speak of bloodshed.

Ninety children have been hit by bullets so far this year. Fourteen didn’t survive. Stack that against 47 who were shot last year, with six dying.

Try getting your heads around this: A 15-year-old boy charged in the August shooting of Washington Commanders running back Brian Robinson Jr. is also charged in the October fatal shooting of a 15-year-old, Andre Robertson Jr., struck as he sat on a porch. That 15-year-old was 14 at the time he allegedly shot Robinson and Robertson. He’s not alone.

A 13-year-old is also charged in connection with young Robertson’s murder. And a 17-year-old is also charged in connection with Robinson’s wounding.

Police, prosecutors, defense lawyers, judges and criminal-justice reform advocates go back and forth over how to hold these youths accountable. They will quarrel over probation vs. incarceration vs. community diversion programs, etc. It gets sorted out, for sure, but to no one’s complete satisfaction.

What’s more, authorities are grappling with the problem at the back end.

At the front end, Bowser and her violence-prevention team pore over data. They design and revise schemes to stem violence and keep young people alive.

There must be more to think about when it comes to these children — and that, for goodness’ sake, is what they are.

Those youths aren’t born to carjack, to rob, to pull out guns, to shoot and kill, including each other.

Why are some of our children turning out this way?

Look inward. They are being shaped by their environments and their relationships growing up. Something is missing in their young lives. Something needs shoring up.

This isn’t a segue into the wonderfulness of an intact family.

Neither is this the start of a blaming-and-shaming game about unstable families in our community, though family relationship dynamics have changed dramatically in my lifetime.

We might be in a new world. Nonetheless — and however it’s structured — family matters. So, too, fathers. That’s where work needs doing by community elders and leaders, seasoned parents and teachers, including — and I’m not proselytizing — our churches.

The community should come together and strike a chord, if for no other reason than to lift up and help nurture those 13-, 15-, 17-year-olds — before they cross the line.

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