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As the District reels from a violent May and seeks to reduce killings and shootings with summer nearly here, the feds are sending in new prosecutors to pursue violent crime and fraud cases, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for D.C announced on Tuesday.
But some racial-justice activists in D.C. are questioning the effort, saying it will not deter violence and will result in greater incarceration in African-American communities.
The office will soon receive three assistant U.S. attorneys as part of a national strategy by Jeff Sessions‘ Justice Department to prosecute acts of violence, drug trafficking related to the opioid crisis, and unlawful immigration. DOJ is placing 311 new assistant U.S. attorneys in various “priority areas” across the country, including D.C.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, two of the new D.C. attorneys will “work on multi-agency investigations focusing on neighborhood crews and gangs in the Sixth and Seventh Police Districts,” which cover areas east of the Anacostia River. In its release, the office cites “the recent uptick in violent crime in these areas,” although a spokesperson notes that Maryland and Virginia area also getting additional resources.
As of Tuesday, homicides across D.C. are up 49 percent as compared with this time last year, per data from the Metropolitan Police Department. So far in 2018, 64 people have died in homicides, versus 43 people in 2017. But violent crime is down 7 percent and total crime is down 9 percent over last year, MPD says.
Thirty of the homicides recorded in 2018 took place in Ward 8, the District’s poorest ward, up from 16 there at this point in 2017—an 87 percent increase. Gun robberies there have also jumped to 71 this year from 50 last year, representing a 42 percent increase, police data show.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for D.C. has roughly 300 attorneys in total, says the spokesperson. About half of these attorneys work on cases at D.C. Superior Court while a smaller team works on cases at federal court.
“We hope to have the new attorneys on board as soon as possible,” the spokesperson explains. The new attorneys will help with MPD’s Summer Crime Initiative, which targets police service areas where a higher risk of violence exists.
Activist groups like Black Lives Matter D.C. and Stop Police Terror Project D.C. are reacting to the news with skepticism. “This will do nothing to stop violence,” the latter tweeted. “We should be divesting from police, prisons, and prosecutors, and investing in people and communities instead.”
BYP100, a youth racial-justice group, called DOJ’s move “absolutely disgusting” in a tweet. “Absolutely disgusting. No housing . No jobs . Expensive transportation and food. But sure let’s just hire more prosecutors and put more people in jail,” the group said.
The spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for D.C. says the office has no comment on those reactions, “except to say that the additional resources are meant to improve public safety.”
In recent days, the District has increased officer presence in the police districts covering Wards 7 and 8 by 25 percent. The D.C. Council also approved $360,000 for D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine‘s office to implement a “violence interruptor” program to prevent crime with help from residents, while D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser‘s office announced $800,000 in anti-crime grants.
The third assistant U.S. attorney joining the U.S. Attorney’s Office will work on “complex fraud cases” such as procurement fraud and health care fraud, which grew significantly in D.C. from 2013 to 2017, according to the release.