John A. Wilson Building. Credit: Photo by Darrow Montgomery.

The shots rang out as twilight set over 14th Street NW Thursday evening. Diners and shoppers ran as a gunman opened fire between Riggs and S streets NW. One of those near the scene was CNN journalist Jim Acosta. He tweeted a video of people fleeing past Le Diplomate as the shots rang out down the street. The incident made national headlines and CNN anchor Anderson Cooper even interviewed Acosta live at the scene. Two victims were shot but both survived.

Almost a week later, a public oversight roundtable led by Councilmembers Charles Allen and Anita Bonds will discuss gun violence in the District. The joint roundtable will be held Thursday at 9:30 a.m. with a focus on Building Blocks DC—a public health initiative to tackle violence—and the Metropolitan Police Department’s Summer Crime Prevention Initiative. Building Blocks DC says it focuses on the 151 blocks where over 40 percent of D.C.’s shootings take place, which account for only 2 percent of the District.

“While the Council is on legislative recess, we still need to do oversight and a hearing on how the Mayor is addressing gun violence is important,” Allen said in a statement. “While those efforts are only a couple of months old and will take time to be fully realized, there continues to be urgency and a need for action now.”

However, only government witnesses will be speaking during this roundtable. The Council reports that crimes involving a firearm in D.C. this year include 90 homicides, 501 robberies, 473 assaults, and 5 sexual assaults. It says the oversight roundtable is to “discuss the District government’s response to these shootings and the operations and metrics of government violence prevention and reduction initiatives ”

Public witnesses who want to testify can submit written statements but are not being given an opportunity to provide discussion themselves. But for many residents, especially Black and low-income residents, this type of violence isn’t anything new. However, recent shootings are gaining national media attention that often sidelines communities living with this violence regularly. 

The Violence Goes National

National outlets were quick to report on the shooting outside of Nationals Park, which injured three people and scared the spectators inside. However, the day before, 6-year-old Nyiah Courtney was killed in Ward 8 after a drive-by shooting in Congress Heights. Five others were injured. Additionally, in the 24 hours prior to the shooting in Logan Circle, three men were killed by gunfire in separate Northeast and Southeast incidents. Hell, a man was shot just up 14th on Irving Street NW in Columbia Heights across from the Target, a similarly commercial focused area. Local outlets briefly mentioned it deep into their stories about the Logan Circle shooting—if they mentioned it at all.

“Somebody gets shot on 14th Street, and, you know, affluent people, rich people, white people, however those Venn diagrams come together, are tweeting about it; Jim Acosta is right there, so it’s on CNN. It’s sort of like, okay, so when the right people are upset, not only does it sort of rocket to the top of all concern in the city, but [the attitude is], ‘Oh my god this is terrible. This is so scary,’” political activist and former D.C. Council candidate Eugene Puryear told DCist. “I feel they just don’t actually get brought out about communities like where I’ve lived in Congress Heights.”

Ward 4, Building Blocked?

Ward 4 Councilmember Janeese Lewis George tells City Paper she will be using Thursday’s roundtable to bring attention to an area of her ward she says needs coverage by Building Blocks DC.

Lewis George says she and others have called for Kennedy Street NW to be included in the program. Former MPD chief Peter Newsham even called the intersection of 5th and Kennedy Street NW the “most dangerous intersection in [MPD’s] Fourth District” in 2019. Lewis George says she “was told recently that it didn’t meet the data requirements” and wants to know why.

“If you tell me that in order to have resources in our community we need to have even more homicides [than] there’s something wrong with our approach to public safety in DC,” she said in a statement. “Our community in Ward 4 is pleading with this administration to be proactive and not reactive, and there’s a real opportunity to do that through Building Blocks. I am tired of going to crime scene after crime scene and witnessing the trauma[,] fear and grief that comes from gun violence.”

Building Blocks DC did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

Residents interested in viewing the roundtable can find information to watch it live here and can submit written statements by emailing judiciary@dccouncil.us until Aug. 13.

Bailey Vogt (tips? bvogt@washingtoncitypaper.com)

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