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Add social psychology to the list of solutions that District leaders are floating to alleviate an uptick in homicides and shootings this year.
At a community peace walk sponsored by the Washington Global Public Charter School that took place in Southeast on Thursday, Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White rallied a crowd of students from multiple charter schools with his slogan, “do something.”
“It’s imperative that we all do something,” he told the group, which gathered outside the Anacostia Neighborhood Library and wore white t-shirts with four red hearts on the front—one for each quadrant of D.C. “Say ‘do something!'” The students cheerily responded: “Do something!”
Then he gave them a lesson on American psychologist Abraham Maslow‘s “hierarchy of needs,” a popular 20th century theory about what motivates people that is arranged as a pyramid.
“At the bottom is safety,” White explained, holding his arms out. “If you don’t feel safe, how do you maximize your potential? So if you’re at the bus stop, you’re on the subway, you’re riding with your parents, you’re going to and from school, the grocery store, the recreation center—it’s our job as adults, especially men, especially men, not to exclude women, to protect our babies in our community.”
“And that’s not being done,” he continued, saying Wards 7 and 8, located east of the Anacostia River, have the highest rates of violence and the most amount of youth in D.C. “So we have to have a paradigm shift in our community…to make sure you all are safe,” White said.
So far in 2018, White’s ward has seen a dramatic rise in homicides, with residents worried that the number will keep growing in the summer, and some griping about the recent demotion of a well-liked police commander who was responsible for the area.
Citywide, homicides are up 50 percent over last year as of Thursday, according to the Metropolitan Police Department, from 44 to 66. The police district that covers White’s ward has seen almost half of those killings: 32, or double the 16 that it saw by this point in 2017.
“Too many people [have been saying] crime is down,” White told the crowd, apparently referring to statements Mayor Muriel Bowser‘s re-election campaign has made this year. “Crime is not down. Crime is down the street, around the corner, when you’re heading to and from school.” He referenced the May killing of 15-year-old Ballou High School student Jaylyn Wheeler, who was fatally shot after leaving the school.
Following a violent Memorial Day weekend, Bowser’s administration said it was increasing police presence in Ward 7 and 8 by 25 percent, and also deploying government workers who could connect residents to mental health and jobs services in those wards. It also announced $800,000 in grants to community-based organizations focused on violence prevention.
The D.C. Council also took action, approving $360,000 for D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine‘s office to spend on “violence interruptors,” or people who have on-the-ground-connections to those at-risk of committing violence. White, for his part, proposed an emergency bill that encourages the administration to solicit private donations for anti-crime efforts. The Council passed it earlier this week.