Last night’s Shaw crime forum featuring DC Councilmember Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) followed a pattern we have seen at similar rodeos in the Dupont–Logan area: questions and venting from frustrated residents, which were were met with detailed explanations of the criminal justice system. Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans and a representative of the U.S. Attorney’s Office were also there and actively participated in the meeting.
Mendelson did a mea culpa of sorts on his recent statement that “Crime in Shaw is not a legislative issue,” saying it was a poor choice of words. Evans noted that he has another anti-gang bill that will be introduced today.
Mendelson defended himself by noting that lots of anti-crime legislation has been passed by the Council during his tenure as chair of the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary. Moreover, he seemed to put some of the blame for DC’s violent crime problem on the system, i.e., the U.S. Attorney’s Office. A representative of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, on the other hand, told attendees that their office prosecutes crimes to the fullest.
So, what did the meeting accomplish? Mendelson seems closer to lending his support to a broader anti-loitering law, has already backed a school-zone loitering law, and wants funding to examine the District’s revolving door. Evans has an anti-gang bill due out today, which Mendelson should give a timely hearing and fair consideration. Mendelson and the U.S. Attorneys Office both got an earful and one can hope that what they heard will add vigor to their efforts and give them helpful perspective in their decisionmaking.
Yes, I did get to ask Mendelson my question, “Why is DC’s murder rate 4.56 times higher than New York City’s?” I got no explanation or theory as to why our homicide rate and other violent crimes are staggeringly high compared to other major cities.
However, I think I did manage to get Mendelson to agree that our violent crime numbers are “staggering” in comparison to New York; pretty sure he nodded “yes” and agreed. Does this constitute a small victory? I don’t know, but I do know that DC needs to have this discussion, difficult and painful as it might be.
We’re all busy patting ourselves on the back because murders have declined to 134 this year (as of Dec. 10) in a population of 588,000 people. New York City, with 8,274,000 people, had 413 murders as of November 22. Here is the ugly reality: If DC’s homicide rate were the same as that of New York City, our number would be 29 murders–not 134.
As a city (and that means all of us), we have not even begun to deal with the issue of violent crime. During last night’s forum, while detailed explanations of a dozen or so different types of crime laws were discussed and explained, I kept thinking to myself, “It’s all just band aids. There is no comprehensive approach.” (In the short-term, though, it will be interesting to see if the new anti-gang bill being introduced by Evans gets anywhere in the Council.)
What this city needs is a full-front approach to dealing with violent crime along the lines of the mayor’s push to reform DC’s public school system. We know there is no problem getting the DC Council actively involved with that issue.
Last night, Phil Mendelson met with a handful of citizens from the Shaw/Mount Vernon Square area to talk crime. Jack Evans was there, too, as were reps from the U.S. attorney’s office and MPD. LL stopped in after the gay marriage rally, early enough to see Evans and USAO’s Albert Herring sniping over prosecutions. LL will share further thoughts later, but do check out Cary Silverman‘s rundown of the meeting. The biggish news: ‘Mendelson committed to looking at a Chicago-style anti-loitering ordinance, moving away from his longstanding opposition to such laws as a violation of liberty.’