Facing a colossal jump in the homicide rate, Muriel Bowser headed to a sweltering gym at Congress Heights’ former Malcolm X Elementary School this morning to unveil a new anti-crime push. But boisterous activists associated with the #blacklivesmatter movement had other ideas.
“Some critics have said today’s event will be about arresting black men,” Bowser said. “And I’m here today to tell them, that’s not why we’re here.”
Bowser’s administration breaks her new “Safer, Stronger D.C.” legislative plan into 13 points, including more money for security cameras and forensic works. But the package also aims to put more police on the street, makes it easier for prosecutors to detain suspects who violate their pretrial release terms, and helps law enforcement search the homes of “violent criminals” on probation.
Bowser’s speech tried to preempt activists in the crowd concerned about the new plan, with lines echoing her State of the District address promise to make #blacklivesmatter “more than just a hashtag.” Bowser also announced policies that should please activists concerned about police brutality, like reforms to the District’s vague assault on a police officer law.
When Bowser started talking about increased policing, though, protesters in the crowd tried to shout her down with shouts of “no justice, no peace.” While they didn’t give the mayor the full Bernie Sanders by grabbing her mic, activists’ chants left her asking them to sit down and listen.
As some protesters climbed on top of chairs, Bowser resorted to asking former at-large candidate Eugene Puryear—-now a Black Lives Matter organizer—-to not stand between her and the TV cameras.
“Welcome to Ward 8, baby!” yelled one man in the audience.
The boisterous press conference was the latest in a series of public policy-slash-PR moves from the Bowser administration. Yesterday, Metropolitan Police Department Chief Cathy Lanier sent out a blast email explaining why the 2015 homicide tally now sits at 103. Last week, Lanier and Bowser promised higher rewards for tipsters.
Interestingly, Bowser dedicated a portion of her speech today to reiterate that Lanier will remain in charge of MPD, saying she had “every confidence” in the chief.
As the protesters became increasingly rowdy, Bowser told them to be quiet and hear the rest of her anti-crime plan.
“I will not be shouted down or scared away when it comes to the safety of the people of the District of Columbia,” Bowser said.
Maybe not. But after finishing her speech, the mayor left the gym immediately, protected by a line of Department of Parks and Recreation employees who blocked audience members from reaching her.
Bowser retreated behind guarded doors to a press scrum in a backroom of the former school, an unusually hidden place to meet reporters at an otherwise public event. Despite that, Bowser Chief of Staff John Falcicchio insisted to LL that the location didn’t have anything to do with the protesters.
In an interview after the speech, Bowser defended her new plan, saying it will focus on violent crimes instead of the minor offenses that activists fear are used to harass black people.
“I don’t come across any citizen of this city, any Washingtonian, who says it’s OK to commit murder,” Bowser said.
The violence has inspired the Bowser administration to turn the former Malcolm X Elementary into a makeshift rec center, where police light towers and makeshift memorials outside marked the neighborhood’s doubled homicide rate.