Two young men in the Hill East neighborhood were shot the night of Wednesday, August 28th. They were sitting with friends on the porch of a home belonging to his grandmother on the 1400 block of A Street SE, neighbors said. One man was struck twice by bullets. The friend was stuck once, and police said multiple bullet casings were found in the area.
Police are investigating the shooting, but at this point they appear to have little to go on. Still, the shooting has raised questions about ways to ensure everyone feels safe in the community, reigniting debates about video surveillance and increased police presence in the area and the need for greater community engagement.
A community meeting has been planned for Sept. 4 to provide a forum for these issues.
Advocate and Leader
The young man, Robert, is described by Chair of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 6B as “a trusted advocate and leader in our community.” Jayaraman, who had been helping to mentor Robert as the latter moved towards his career goals, said that he was able to visit Robert in the hospital on Thursday evening. Robert had recently completed a construction and project management program and obtained a position with a local developer.
“He asked that I share that he is doing fine and in good spirits but grateful that the outcome was not any worse,” said Jayaraman. Robert underwent surgery and is recovering.
A neighbor has started a Go Fund Me page for Robert to help him and his family with medical bills and lost wages.
Now, Jayaraman is holding a meeting to discuss ways to ensure community safety and to determine specific requests to make of District officials.
“In my conversations with neighbors since Wednesday night, I believe that there is a shared resolve within the whole community that more needs to be done to improve safety on our blocks,” said Jayaraman. “Mobile bright lights can provide temporary respite from our immediate fears, but it cannot address the underlying problem that people from outside of our neighborhood are using it to conduct illegal activities.”
The police report indicates that the circumstances of the assault were unknown. Still, the shooting raised concerns about community safety centering around the intersection of Independence Avenue with 15th and A Streets SE. Jayaraman hosted a meeting June 17th to provide a forum for the community to discuss their concerns, which included drug-dealing, loitering, public drinking, late-night parties and theft.
Neighbors discussing the issues on a community social media site were understandably frightened and angered. One resident wrote that he had heard his children describe the sounds overheard as the shooting took place and the police arrived to investigate.
He called for the police and politicians to come up with ‘real solutions’ to what he called ‘a long-term problem’ in the area. In the days that followed, neighbors circulated a petition calling for the installation of police cameras at the intersection.
Others questioned the merits of an increased police presence or constant video surveillance saying that more of these would only lead to less peace in the area, arguing that cameras are not helpful in deterring crime.
Others wrote that the idea of increased surveillance by camera or officers made them ‘uncomfortable’. “More surveillance, more police=more violence, less peace,” wrote one resident.
Get Involved with the People
Hill East resident Maurice Cook said that the character of the particular corner has been the same for the past thirty years at least, much of his life. He said that it is the very challenges that neighbors are facing now that made it possible for many of them to afford homes in the area. “The structure hasn’t removed the element that actually created the affordability,” he said. “You can’t untie the two things.”
Two months ago, Cook and Virginia Avniel Spatz, members of the DC Cross River Dialogue (CRD) group wrote a piece called “Don’t Over Police Hill East” for the Hill Rag in response to the June community meeting. The two called on neighbors to work towards building relationships that consider the costs to the neighborhood and black neighbors of increased police presence.
In August, Cook said more police would not solve the problem, instead calling on the community to get together to problem solve. “Get involved with the people who are involved with this stuff and try to support them as best as you can,” he said.
“People are getting hurt every night on some corners in this city. Can this corner be used as a model? I don’t know,” he said. ‘But there are people already trying to deal with this on a more frequent basis in our city.”
Jayaraman said that the community ‘needs to take back our block’ whether through community policing or by demanding action from District agencies. Councilmember Charles Allen (Ward 6-D), Attorney General Karl Racine’s Office, and a representative from the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) have been invited to attend the meeting.
Jayaraman said that he hopes a large number of neighbors will appear to demonstrate the community resolve.
The meeting will take place 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 4 at Community Action Group in the Harold J. Gordon Building (124 15 St. SE).
Contact Commissioner Chander Jayaraman at (202) 546-2609 or firstname.lastname@example.org with questions or to obtain further information.