Killing And Dying In D.C.

Crime scene tape and knife over capitol dome and police siren
This column was written by Katrina vanden Heuvel.

If I do well in school can I jump over jail?
If I pray every night can I jump over this hell?
Will the preacher say a special prayer?
Will the social workers really care?
It doesn't seem that as a child it should be my fault
All these hurdles to jump over before I could even walk.

from "Against All Odds," by 17 year old Cardarius Becton, Life Pieces to Masterpieces Program, three months before he was shot in the back and killed after being robbed.

The nation's capital has declared a Crime Emergency in response to a recent surge in homicides and armed robberies. But, as Courtland Milloy writes in the Washington Post, "Violent robberies are certainly nothing new in the Washington area…To a certain extent, however, these black-on-black crimes seem to be of interest only to the victims, their families and closest friends."

What has changed is gentrification, a new proximity between rich and poor, and the recent crimes being black on white. "The sense of security among the affluent and influential has been shaken," according to Milloy.

Adding to the sadness and outrage is the lack of political will, vision, and commitment to promote real change — to truly fight back against the poverty and hopelessness. To be sure, no one — including Milloy — is minimizing these crimes or the suffering of innocent victims. Yet it must be recognized: "Here's part of the problem: Juveniles, many of whom have been robbed themselves — ripped off by parents and schools and communities that couldn't care less about them — have become hardened and increasingly violent."

And while DC Police Chief Charles Ramsey has responded with increased rewards for information leading to arrests, and greater deployment of police officers, that is not what will change the tide of crime in DC or any other city. Again, Milloy: "But it's unlikely that money and police alone will solve the problem. The city is being terrorized — and, as residents of many low-income neighborhoods will tell you, it's been that way for years. When discussing terrorism abroad, we talk about giving would-be terrorists a better choice — of giving them hope of a better life and providing them with the tools to help them realize the fruits of freedom and democracy. Now that the homegrown terrorists have our attention, maybe it would be a good time to show how that's done — in the nation's capital."

There are no shortage of mentoring, tutoring or apprenticeship programs — with proven results — taking kids from the most difficult situations and helping them turn their lives around. In fact, one DC mayoral candidate, former VerizonDC President, Marie Johns, has highlighted such programs on her Fighting Poverty Tour. The Tour is designed to examine the economic divide in the nation's capital — the city with the largest wealth disparity in the nation — and offer leadership and ideas where current elected officials have failed.