The D.C. Council had a long first day back in session yesterday, as members heard public testimony on the recent crime spike into the wee hours of the morning.
Nearly 70 people signed up to give their solutions for dealing with a 41 percent rise in homicides at the public hearing, convened by Ward 5 councilmember and public safety committee chair Kenyan McDuffie. Many people echoed the same suggestions activists have offered up in recent weeks: focus less on incarcerating people, and more on building community services and paths to employment.
Pols and mayoral officials also weighed in—taking up the first hour of the event which began at 5 p.m. and would last until 3 a.m. Thursday.
Ward 8 Councilmember LaRuby May read the names of 35 recent homicide victims in her ward, before urging each Council committee to help take a holistic approach to the issue. Ward 3’s Mary Cheh tried to diagnose the cause of the homicide spike as “hopelessness,” while Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans floated the idea of bringing back vice units. All but Vincent Orange and Phil Mendelson made an appearance at some point during the 10-hour hearing.
Before the public got a chance to testify, McDuffie said Mayor Muriel Bowser had requested that Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Kevin Donahue be able to “provide some context to the discussion.” That context: Despite the homicide spike, overall crime is only up 1 percent.
He also highlighted Bowser’s recent initiatives, such as increasing social and human services in areas after a traumatic crime and increased police deployment. That, he contended, has already driven crime down. Overall crime in the last 30 days is down double digits compared to the previous 30 days, he said.
But some didn’t buy what Donahue had to say. Black Lives Matter activist Eugene Puryear continued to play gadfly to the mayor, saying the Department of Employment Services does not do enough to help returning citizens find employment.
“There are many people in Ward 8 who are afraid of criminals, and they’re afraid of the police, too,” Puryear said.
He was joined by Ron Moten, the anti-violence activist who ran the controversial Peaceoholics organization, in arguing for better solutions than jailing people.
“To me it’s very offensive for me when somebody comes in here and talks about crime has gone down,” said Moten, who followed Donahue at the witness table. “We’ve been feeling the pain in our community; it just didn’t start, it’s been going on for three years.”
Photo by Darrow Montgomery