Credit: Darrow Montgomery/file

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D.C. will soon have violence interrupters and intervention efforts in more neighborhoods. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced yesterday that the city will expand programs aimed at preventing gun violence, healing affected communities, and referring individuals at high risk of gun violence to social services. The number of violence interrupters will expand from 30 to 80. Starting in early 2022, the programs will operate in three new neighborhoods: Shaw in Ward 2, Edgewood in Ward 5, and Congress Park in Ward 8. The Pathways Program within the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement, which connects young people at risk of gun-related activity to resources, will seek to reach 130 more residents with the city’s $4.5 million investment of federal funds into Pathways, Bowser said.  

She, along with ONSE Director Del McFadden and Linda Harllee Harper, director of gun violence prevention, made the announcement alongside a crowd of violence interrupters and advocates at a press conference at the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center in Congress Heights. The announcement comes soon after the Office of the Attorney General announced that its own violence intervention program, Cure the Streets, will expand into four new neighborhoods in the spring

These expansion efforts are part of the city’s larger plan to pour $9.6 million of federal funds into community-based safety and violence prevention programs. They come amid a record-breaking rise in homicides across the District211 people so far this year—that most recently includes the killing of high school senior Larelle Washington, who was shot near KIPP DC College Preparatory Public Charter in Ward 5, where he was a senior. Washington planned to join the Marines after graduation. He is the second KIPP student killed this year.

“Anytime a situation takes place where there’s a shooting, a VI is going to both communities to make sure that there is not retaliation,” McFadden said Thursday. “I know for sure that if it wasn’t for the work of the violence interrupters, that the number that we’re looking at presently will be much higher than it is right now.”

Asked why Columbia Heights is excluded from the new sites given multiple recent shootings in that area, Bowser said Thursday the city is “working hand in hand with our violence interrupters and the police to deal with what’s happening.” She added that the city is also coordinating with the Metropolitan Police Department to find out who is responsible for the incidents. But Bowser didn’t specify how or which violence interrupters she was referring to, and her office did not respond to City Paper’s follow-up inquiries by publication.

After publication, a spokesperson for the Deputy Mayor’s Office of Public Safety and Justice said via email: “Within the Columbia Heights community, Violence Interrupters are currently assigned to Columbia Heights Village, Columbia Heights Metro, 14th and Fairmont Streets, and 14th and Euclid Streets extending to 14th and Irving.”

The city has violence interrupters engage in areas that may require additional violence intervention outside of focus areas, Deputy Mayor Chris Geldart says.

The lack of clarity around cooperation among Building Blocks DC, ONES, and the OAG has been most perplexing to some D.C. residents. McFadden tells City Paper that ONSE staff holds bi-weekly meetings with Building Blocks DC staff and other regular meetings as issues come up. McFadden says the program staff strategizes on topics like how to deescalate situations for feuding communities. The ONSE director credits the agencies’ collaboration for making “100 days of peace” happen in Anacostia and Langdon Park back in 2019, reflecting a 40 percent reduction in crime from the year before, according to McFadden. While Bowser mentioned metrics such as the number of gunshots and the number of gun-related fatalities for agencies’ priority areas, it’s unclear how ONSE has measured success since the recent uptick of violence.    

“A lot of times you can’t document how many murders you’ve stopped,” said Momolu Stewart, a violence interrupter who was released from prison in 2019 after receiving a life sentence for murder as a teenager. He describes his success in a recent act of violence prevention: When some guys in Northeast D.C. were gambling with dice, one of them, distraught at losing his money, looked ready to get physical; Stewart talked to him and prevented the fight. 

But not even poster violence interrupters can hide the need for better interagency collaboration. After the press conference, Bowser press staff connected City Paper to Charles King, a violence interrupter from Northwest who works under the ONSE office. King said he naturally works with his counterparts in the OAG program because of his preexisting relationships with other violence interrupters. He and his interagency peers often share information and come up with solutions together. But King is hoping for more systemic communication between the agencies at all levels of the organizations. He said if ONES and Cure the Streets, both of which work with contractors, had a streamlined communication system, they could better share resources and information.

“The best thing in life is communication,” King said. “Without communication, there is no action that can be done.”

Ambar Castillo (tips? acastillo@washingtoncitypaper.com)

UPDATE: This post includes updates from the deputy mayor for public safety and justice. An earlier post incorrectly described Building Blocks DC as an agency instead of an initiative under the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement.

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