Southwest Safety Meeting Talks Gun Violence Prevention, Accountability

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Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen (D) listens at the Feb. 17 Special Meeting on Crime Issues in Southwest DC. Screenshot: Webex

Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen (D) co-hosted a meeting on Southwest safety Wednesday night with commissioners from Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 6D.

It was the second meeting of a working group focused on increased violence in the area convened by the commissioners and concerned organizaitons.

Allen and ANC 6D Commissioners met virtually with neighbors as well as representatives from District agencies, including the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR), DC Housing Authority (DCHA) Police, the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement (ONSE) and the newly-created new Director of Gun Violence Prevention Linda Harllee Harper as well as the Office of the Attorney General (OAG). Community organizations active in Southwest, including Playing Field, SW BID and Training Grounds also appeared to discuss their efforts to engage with the community, in particular youth.

Many attendees said much of the violence is being perpetuated by youth under the age of 15. A neighbor described in a message read by Commissioner Edward Daniels (6D07) two separate carjackings on New Jersey Avenue a week apart. Both were committed by two very young people who had, the neighbor said “the audacity” to steal the second vehicle only a block from where they had taken the first. The second time, said the neighbor, who was an eye witness, the youth had a gun.

“These are children, and I mean, real children,” said Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) First District Commander Morgan Kane, clarifying that many offenders were 11 to 13 years old, saying that she wanted to hear community-based ideas on how to help these kids.

First District MPD Commander Morgan Kane at the Feb. 17 meeting. Screenshot: Webex

Dwayne Falwell of Traning Grounds, an organization that helps put young people on the path to meaningful careers, agreed. Over the past three years, he’s been working with ONSE in Southwest and said that over that period, shooters have become younger and younger. “The young guys [in their 20s] are O.G. now, compared to the 12 to 13 year olds out there,” he said.

Falwell said that the organization had found that incidents of disagreement could be peacefully worked out in many of the housing complexes, but that returning citizens oten bring long-standing concerns back to the neighborhood with them, disrupting the work. He said the organization wants to reach out to make contact with those individuals before they leave the national network of prisons to give them something to look forward to before they arrive home.

Others asked to become a greater part of the effort to find a solution. SW BID President Steve Moore advocated for increased utility of the 25-member ambassador team, many of whom are themselves returning citizens with connections in the neighborhood.

Allen said that the COVID-19 crisis was absolutely exaserbating the underlying factors that cause violent behaviors in the community, in part by creating insecurity in securiing employment, food and housing. He said that was one reason why the community needed to work to address the causes and trauma faced in Southwest, noting that when the pandemic finally receded, the problems would remain.

Director of Gun Violence Prevention Linda Harllee Harper appears at the Feb. 17 Special Meeting of ANC 6D. Screenshot: Webex

Harper said that it was too early to answer a question about whether Southwest blocks were included in the area identified as a concern for her EOC, citing concerns about identifying the “most” violent blocks. But she agreed with Morgan Kane, who echoed a need for the resources to address community concerns to be available in a centralized location, a role she said Building Blocks was considering.

The working group aims to focus on a two-tier plan, addressing both accountability for criminal actions but also prevention. Allen reminded attendees that many individuals face equal possibility of suffering from gun violence as they are to inflict it, and that there were layers of trauma that are often invisible for families throughout the District.

A working group met last week, and Allen said that the will meet again shortly to formulate concrete, actionable plans to address the situation in Southwest.

If you have comments on this matter or want to learn more about the working group, reach ANC 6D at [email protected] Contact Jeanne Mattison of Councilmember Allen’s Office at [email protected] or reach out to the Buiding Blocks program at [email protected]

Learn more about ANC 6D work by visiting www.anc6d.org