DC v. Chicago: It takes more than a declining murder rate to unite a city

The statistics and stories of homicides and violent crimes show D.C. is just another Chicago. Photo: Ronald Starks-El

WASHINGTON, November 5, 2013 – When the murder rate and shooting statistics from Chicago and Washington, D.C. are compared, it would seem on the surface that D.C. is more fortunate than Chicago. However, other statistics and some real life events tell a different story. It is the story of a divided city, official Washington, the “City of Marble and Glass,” and the District of Columbia, “Dodge City” where the bullets still fly and the violence never ends.

As reported by Harry Jaffe, D.C.’s homicide rate has had a slight increase and recent data based on spot shooter technology reveals that there were 39,000 shootings over the last eight years. Data from Washington Hospital Center Medstar Shock Trauma Unit also presents shocking information. From 2006-2010 4,003 people were treated for intentional, violently inflicted injuries. Of those injured 1,438 were from gunshots, over 1,300 from stabbings and more than 1,200 from various other assault categories.

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Fortunately, only 200 died from those assaults, but that does not mean that only 200 lives were affected. This raises the question why there is so much focus on just the murder rate. The lives of all 3,803 who survived after being assaulted were changed forever, not just the lives of the 200 who died. Even when the physical wounds of an assault heal, the victims, their families and their neighborhoods remain wounded with fear. There is also a significant financial drain on law enforcement, the courts and the prison system. A study conducted by the Vera Institute shows that each shooting costs fifty thousand to five million dollars.

Those numbers are shocking, but the human devastation behind the statistics is heartbreaking. In 2009, in a northeast corner of the District, gunfire reminiscent of the Wild West erupted between two neighborhoods in Clay Terrace. The guns were not six shooters, but weapons with 100-round drums of ammunition. When the smoke cleared, two people were left dead and three others were injured. In the same year, a petty beef between friends over a cheap drugstore bracelet resulted in ten people being shot, five died. This became known as the South Capitol Street Massacre.

Shelly Parker had one child killed in that massacre, 19 year old William Henry Jones, and another, 15 year-old Jabari, was wounded. Tears flowed during an interview as Parker said, “My children were looked at as just a number as the politicians did the memorial walks and then forgot all about the families.” Time and time again official Washington gets out of “Dodge” as soon as possible. Only events like the Navy Yard shooting get sustained attention from the “City of Marble and Glass.”

The narrow focus by the press on declining murder rates enables our local politicians to revel in the fact that Chicago, and not D.C., is the new “Murder Capital” of the United States. They tell us that fewer murders mean that the old D.C. is behind us and that we now live in “one city” that is united and booming.

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Those who work in the trenches think otherwise. In May 2013, blocks away from the U.S. Capitol, there was a mafia-style double drive-by shooting in which 13 people were shot. In a separate incident, a young mother died after being shot several times as she boarded a Metro bus. She was carrying her daughter who was shot in the face. Her little girl is now being raised by the grandparents who are still trying to come up with the $75,000 for the plastic surgery little Koddie needs to lead a normal life.

Just last week, MPD reported that four masked men awaited three victims as they entered their home where the armed intruders were already holding five other occupants of the home captive in the basement. They took one male victim to a room where they physically and sexually assault him as they demanded money. They also physically assaulted the other two victims.

Pages of similar tragedies can be filled, not about Chicago, but about D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray calls Washington a world class city and recently bragged on twitter about an article that said D.C. is the best place for 20 something’s to live. Just not the 20 something’s of the parents responsible for voting Gray into office. Unfortunately, it is the best place to die for the 12 to 20 something’s East of the River.   

By some measurements, “recession proof” D.C. is quickly becoming the number one city in America. Falling murder rates serve to camouflage the reality of life in “Dodge City.” If we ever want to be truly one city, then those who hold the power in the “City of Marble and Glass” need to stop pretending that the murder rate is a satisfactory measurement of a safe and civilized community.

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In the past we had comprehensive strategies to reduce homicides and violence. Unfortunately, the root causes of violence are no longer being effectively addressed. Now the poor are being used and pacified just long enough for the bulldozers of gentrification to scoop them up and put them out of our city. This has become the new norm for dealing with the violence hidden behind the falling murder rates. From the perspective of a strategic violence prevention specialist, it is scary to watch those strategies abandoned. 

The sad reality is that nothing changes in this city until the lives of those who live and rule in the “City of Marble and Glass” begin to experience the same violence witnessed every day in D.C.’s “Dodge City” neighborhoods. We can only hope that the shock of the tragic Navy Yard shooting may have awakened official Washington to the reality that it takes more than a declining murder rate to measure and unite a city.  


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Ronald Moten

Ronald L. “Mo” Moten is a fifth generation Washingtonian. He had brushes with the law as a youth and later was incarcerated at Danbury Federal Correction Institution where he earned his GED from the state of Connecticut. Upon his release from prison in 1995, Ron began providing outreach and then became the spokesman for Cease Fire Don’t Smoke the Brothers. He also taught at the Village Learning Center, one of the first D.C. Public Charter Schools. He was appointed to Ballou Senior High School PTSA, The Mayor’s Taskforce to Eliminate Homicides, and to Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton’s Commission on Black Men and Boys.

Ron is best known as a co-founder of Peaceoholics in 2004 with Jauhar Abraham. With Ron as the COO, Peaceoholics became a nationally known nonprofit organization successfully combating violence and promoting peace among youth. Peaceoholics’ results were remarkable sending 160 troubled youth to college, employing 361 D.C. citizens and brokering over forty truces between rival gangs. He and Mr. Abraham developed a curriculum called Rebuild the Village Triangle in One model for schools, institutions, and communities that focuses on positive youth and family development, and empowering communities.

In 2012 Ron ran as a “Civil Rights Republican” for the Ward 7 D.C. City Council seat. He is committed to the historic principles of the Party of Abraham Lincoln, Jack Kemp, and the many black Civil Rights Republicans who fought for freedom, responsibility and opportunity such as Fredrick Douglass, Nannie Helen Burroughs, Dr. Benjamin Carson, and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.


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