The Washington, D.C. homicide toll has exceeded 200 before October for the first time in a quarter-century, angering local leaders and creating anxiety for the nation’s capital residents.
A majority of homicides in the city, as has been the case in years prior, were attacks involving Black Americans living in the most impoverished neighborhoods of the city.
However, nearly every D.C. ward has experienced at least one killing this year and as many young kids and teenagers have been killed so far in 2023 as in all of 2022.
“We’re in a state of emergency,” Democratic D.C. Council member Trayon White Sr. told The Washington Post.
The Ward 8 city leader has called on his District government to invest further in substance abuse and mental health treatment for young people and rental assistance programs.
“Just like we take the Covid-19 pandemic seriously, we’ve got to take this pandemic of violence in D.C. seriously,” White said. “Until we get there, more blood will be spilled on the streets.”
White’s district has seen the most devastating crime impacts, recording over 75 homicides by mid-September. Ward 8’s homicide toll is more than double that of the following most afflicted area, Ward 7.
This is the first time D.C. has hit 200 homicides before October since 1997. That year, the city clocked 303 people by the end of December, according to D.C. police data. Since then, homicide totals have steadily decreased. However, those numbers have picked up since 2021.
The violence in 2023 has impacted nearly every community across all age groups. On Mother’s Day, 10-year-old Arianna Davis was struck in the head by a stray bullet. Last month, 71-year-old Eddie Curtis was found dead with gunshot wounds.
On Tuesday, a teenager was shot near Dunbar High School in northwest D.C. and another man was killed in the crossfire during a shootout in the southeast portion of the city.
While discussing the violence, D.C. Police Chief Pamela A. Smith admitted that a review of homicides in the city found eight cases that the department had not logged. As such, the actual number of homicides could be higher than official statistics.
“We acknowledge the fact that residents are concerned about the homicides,” Smith said. “We are doing everything we can to drive down those numbers.”
Many of the deaths also remain unsolved. Earlier this month, police said they have only closed 44% of homicide cases, the lowest rate in at least 16 years.
While the city has long struggled with violence involving neighborhood groups comprised of young Black men, Smith claimed that the homicides in 2023 have been driven by an increase in “relationship-based” disputes.
Last month, a 16-year-old girl stabbed and killed another young girl with a folding knife outside of a Mcdonald’s. The violence allegedly stemmed from an argument over sweet-and-sour sauce.
In the wake of the “defund the police” movement, the city’s police force has seen a massive downsize. Data from police shows that the city has around 3,328 officers, the smallest force in 50 years.
The city’s top leaders have pushed for tougher crime measures amid outcry from residents, slowly shifting away from the progressive approach to crime touted over the last several years.
In the summer, the D.C. Council enacted emergency legislation making it easier for judges to impose pretrial detention on those charged with violent offenses. Council member Brooke Pinto of Ward 2 has also proposed legislation allowing police to search people with violent crimes out on pretrial release.
But racial justice advocates have said the tougher-on-crime stance by the city is an unnecessary backlash to progressive policies put in place after the 2020 murder of George Floyd.
“The approach that they’re taking is really sending us back decades,” Frankie Seabron, a lead organizer of Harriet’s Wildest Dreams, “a Black-led abolitionist community,” said.
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