Monday, August 10, 2009

Out of Control: Shaw Shootings Continue

View Shots Fired (Past 6 Weeks) and other reported crimes in a larger map

It sounded like firecrackers. That many shots, so close by, in such quick succession. It had to be some kid's leftover stash from July 4th.

I was on my way into my house after a late night of walking my dog and attempting to clear the grass that had slowly overtaken the brick sidewalk on my block, when I heard them. I jumped. As did the man turning the corner. He had the same reaction. Must have been fireworks.

Denial ended when one of the locals pounded on my door at 1:30am. By his account, two teens who were involved in no good were shot and killed. I checked the MPD listserve. According to Third District Commander George Kucik's 10:49pm post, "Members of the Third District are on the scene of a shooting in the 400 block of N St. NW. Two subjects were hit and are suffering non-fatal gunshot wounds to the leg and arm." So apparently, they'll survive.

A look at the map above puts this latest shooting into perspective. Over the past six weeks, the Shaw area has had at least 15 reports of shots fired, including tonight's hit, as well as an incident in which a suspect pulled a gun on a victim in neighborhood park, but ran away when he saw the police.

The police have been out in force. There is typically a squad car parked in front of my house (a few feet away from tonight's shooting) most nights and a good part of the day. I've seen officers walk the neighborhood a bit more often and even the occasional motorcycle or bike cop. MPD is also using "compliance checkpoints" in the immediate area. But it's obviously still not solving the problem. Just last week, Mayor Fenty signed his new crime bill just three blocks from these shootings with Attorney General Peter Nickles, MPD Chief Cathy Lanier, and Acting U.S. Attorney Channing D Phillips by his side (video / press release).

What is the solution?

Well, first there needs to be good detective work to put these shooters away. We have police camera's mounted on these intersections. Have they helped identify shooters? Are they vigorously pursuing leads or is each report of shots fired only a momentary blip on the Shotspotter machine and, unless someone is hit, a non-crime? And this includes pursuing leads related to lower level crimes. For instances, I'm willing to bet that those involved in the shootings tonight have also been involved in uninvestigated car break-ins around the neighborhood.

Second, we need prosecutors who don't let killers slide. For example, Tony Randolph Hunter was beaten and
killed at 8th and N about a year ago on his way to Bebar. It was initially considered a hate crime and murder. But his attacker pulled "gay panic" defense (the attacker claimed he was defending himself against an advance from a gay guy who apparently, in Shaw no less, went up to the attacker and three others and grabbed the attacker sexually, then the victim died as a result of "hitting his head on the sidewalk" after an "altercation"). That's what the prosecutors apparently presented to the grand jury and the killer is charged with simple assault subject to a max of 180 days. We should give serious thought to electing our Attorney General and getting full local power over our prosecutors and courts.

Third, the city needs to make sure it is spending its public safety dollars wisely. That means requiring measurable progress and accountability when it gives
millions in grants and contracts to organizations such as Peaceaholics. Could those funds be better spent on youth sports leagues, extended recreation center hours, or job training programs?

Fourth, with respect to Shaw, the city has to take responsibility for the condition of the neighborhood. That means: (1) selling off DC owned vacant lots and houses (there are quite a few) and putting them into productive use; (2) strictly enforcing nuisance property laws and the higher vacant property tax, which might lead to new retail and housing; (3) renovating parks (such as those on the 600 Block of N and at
NJ/O); (4) improving infrastructure (i.e. grass overgrown sidewalks, utility issues); and (5) reducing the feeling of lawlessness or preferential treatment by more consistently enforcing the law. Instead, the DC Council is considering rolling back the vacant property tax. It is putting a social service agency with a 59-space surface parking lot at Bundy School
(located right in the midst of these shootings) rather than use the vacant property as an opportunity for a residential and recreational use, as envisioned by the its own still warm off-the-press Comprehensive Plan. Is there a plan and timeline for reopening Shaw Middle School or it add another vacant building to the neighborhood for the foreseeable future? Why didn't the city include a cafe in the new Watha T. Daniel Library to add vibrancy to the streetlife?

Fifth, the city has to stop repeating mistakes, such as not building out the Convention Center retail and lining up tenants before it opened. Don't be fooled into believing that major projects, such as the planned Convention Center hotel, spur development unless other issues are addressed before it arrives. Are tenants lined up for the new O Street Market project?

Sixth, the city ought to consider taking more aggressive legal action against the owners of the properties from which many of these shootings originate. Police officers are not and cannot be private security guards. They cannot routinely patrol private property (apartment buildings, coops), but must await a call for service or personally view suspicious activity. Years ago, after one too many shootings and known drug dealing, prosecutors brought a nuisance action against the owners of the apartments along the 1400 Block of R Street NW in Logan Circle. The litigation ultimately led to a settlement that required the owners to hire new/additional private security guards and evict problem tenants. It made a difference.

Finally, residents need to step up. Quite a few people know who is involved in the shooting. Start talking.

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