The murder rate in the United States surged by 25% in 2020 and reached its highest number since 1995. The country’s major cities, including Washington, D.C., are the main source of the problem. Violent and property crimes in the nation’s capital are running rampant. The homicide rate is up 23% and motor vehicle theft is up 32%. Last year, despite the pandemic keeping residents at home for many months, there were more instances of arson, motor vehicle theft, homicides, and assault with a dangerous weapon than in 2019. As horror stories flood the news cycle and D.C. officials cut the police department budget, optics for crime control do not appear promising.
The Democrat-led city, touted as a welcoming and socially safe space for vulnerable communities, has seen some disturbing criminal incidents in recent months. On May 4, an Asian business owner was assaulted in his jewelry store in Northeast D.C. Samuel Delwyn Thomas was arrested and charged with aggravated assault after sending Chong Hu Lu to the hospital for 14 stitches along his face.
A 66-year-old Uber Eats driver, Mohammad Anwar, was attacked by two teenage girls. The Pakistani immigrant, who came to the U.S. with his family to “build their American Dream,” was delivering food in Southeast D.C. when the girls, aged 13 and 15, tried to carjack him with a stun gun. The incident ended in a horrific crash and Anwar died. The 15-year-old pleaded guilty to felony murder and was sentenced to juvenile detention for six years or until she is “rehabilitated.” The 13-year-old pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and will be sentenced in July.
Last month a road rage incident in the northwest part of the city – a relatively safe area, usually – turned violent. Kenneth Miles Davis of Maryland, 42, stepped out of his silver Maserati on May 19 and opened fire on a vehicle that he believed cut him off. The driver was shot in the shoulder, and her five-year-old and 11-year-old children were cut by glass. Police still haven’t found and apprehend Davis.
Last month, a grandmother was shot and killed in a drive-by in Southeast Washington. Just a few days later, a mother and her young son were shot in a dispute over a scooter. The violence in the city appears never-ending.
With the city opening and nightlife reviving, local businessmen and women are concerned that incidents such as these will become more frequent. Crowds are returning to bars and clubs, and an incident on Saturday, June 5 in the Shaw neighborhood triggered concerns and calls for a larger police presence. A man and woman were shot in the popular nightlife area. The man, unfortunately, did not survive.
Rob Heim, the general manager at Shaw’s Tavern, a well-known bar, said the area has had “a lot of break-ins … some juvenile activity that has been bothering guests, throwing rocks, throwing light bulbs, and climbing in windows.” Alexander Padro, a local politician and organizer at a nonprofit working towards revitalizing the Shaw neighborhood, said there has been a massive increase in open-air drug sales and illegal street games. He explained, “if we don’t get a lot more police attention shortly as people do come back and as the summer proceeds, we’re going to have a lot of problems.” Padro finds it important that people feel safe in the area, and a police presence, he believes, can do that.
City council members seem to disagree with the local advocate based on recent budget announcements. District officials created a Police Reform Commission to decrease the city’s reliance on law enforcement and invest in public safety tools. In their most recent report, the commission recommended fewer officers, more social workers, removing police officers from schools, and ending police involvement in traffic enforcement.
The city council cut $15 million from the police budget last year. Despite ending 2020 with 198 homicides – the highest number in 16 years – Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) wants to cut the budget this year by $36 million. Calls to defund the police coupled with the riots in 2020 caused more than 300 rank-and-file officers to leave the Metropolitan Police Department. The force has fewer than 3,300 officers, the lowest number in over 20 years, and is failing to recruit and hire more. As the city struggles to fight violent crime, the future of the nation’s capital looks dangerous and heartbreaking.
Read more from Keelin Ferris.