For Martin Luther King Day, we hear from an artist who makes civil rights heroes leap off the page.
The murder rate in D.C. has increased slowly but steadily in the past five years.
And while we might be a long way from the record 479 homicides recorded in 1991, even one death is too many.
So far in 2019, the Metropolitan Police Department has recorded 162 homicides. Nearly 70 of the victims were under 26 years old.
We discuss the people who lost their lives and the legacies they leave behind.
Produced by Julie Depenbrock
- Tyrone Parker Executive Director, Alliance of Concerned Men
- David Bowers Co-founder, No Murders DC
- Lloyd Wolf Photographer
Public Figures We Lost This Year
From Elijah Cummings and Toni Morrison to Herman Boone and Cokie Roberts, Kojo looks back at Washingtonians who passed away in 2019, and reflects on their legacies.
KOJO NNAMDIThe murder rate in D.C. has increased slowly, but steadily in the past few years. And while we may be a long way from the record 479 homicides recorded in 1991, this year, we're on track to finish 2019 with the highest annual murder rate of the decade. The Metropolitan Police Department has recorded 162 homicides, as of this broadcast, in 2019. Nearly 70 of those victims were young people under the age of 26. Joining us to discuss the lives and legacies of those we lost is Tyrone Parker. He is the executive director of the Alliance of Concerned Men. Tyrone, good to see you.
TYRONE PARKERThank you. Great to be seen.
NNAMDIDavid Bowers is co-founder of No Murders D.C. David, good to see you.
DAVID BOWERSGood to see you, Kojo. Thanks for having me on the show.
NNAMDILloyd Wolf is a photographer and teacher. He has been photographing the memorials of D.C. homicide victims since the year 2003. Lloyd Wolf, thank you for joining us.
LLOYD WOLFThank you for having us.
NNAMDIDavid, some would say where we are today as far as homicides and violence in the district is still progress from where we were in the '90s, at the height of the crack epidemic. But what would you say to that?
BOWERSYeah, I would say we, one, can't confuse progress from mission accomplished, that one murder's one murder too many. It has been since we founded the No Murders D.C. movement in 2000. The notion of one murder is one murder too many, the fact that the resources to end murder in the city still exists in this city, but we have to make it a higher priority.
BOWERSAnd I would say, Kojo, that if ever anyone wants to go at it from a statistical standpoint, saying, hey, we're statistically better than we were, that may be true. But go and share that with the families of someone who's been killed, someone who's been murdered, the father, the mother, the sisters, the children of those killed. And you'll realize that we can't stop and hold big applause parties for ourselves.
NNAMDI800-433-8850, Did you lose anyone this year? Give us a call and share your remembrance. Have you lost a loved one to gun violence? 800-433-8850, we'd like to hear from you. David, as part of a months-long project, Washington City Paper reached out to the friends and relatives of the victims of homicide in an effort to remember the lives lost in 2019. Why is work like that so important, that we don't simply look at numbers, but we see the names and the stories behind them?
BOWERSYou know, I believe -- and I really applaud the City Paper and Alexa Mills for doing this story, because it really -- when you humanize, right, the joys, the pains, the sufferings, the struggles, the dreams, the lost opportunities of people, it allows people to get more of a sense of urgency around the need to do this kind of work.
BOWERSWhen it becomes just a statistical analysis and running numbers on a spreadsheet and per capita numbers and etcetera, etcetera we can get detached. But when you put a name to it, like Lola Gulomova, when you say Damon Dukes or Zyair Bradley or Travis Ruth, and you read their stories, about people who had graduated high school, who had overcome troubles and now were bus drivers or international workers, etcetera, when you hear the stories, hear about the dreams and the families that love them, hopefully it'll get people more inclined to get involved in this work to say, we must get to zero.
NNAMDITyrone, you founded the Alliance of Concerned Men back in 1991. For listeners who might not be familiar, what sort of work does the Alliance do?
PARKERWell, basically, Kojo, we are primarily really what you would consider boots on the ground, individuals that are actually in the community, looking at how solutions and how can we begin to resolve this situation that we're confronted with. And understanding the fragileness of it, the culture aspects that are perpetrating these type of things in regards to violence. But even more than that, Kojo, coming up with solutions, hard-found solutions that will bring this thing to a conclusion is the part of the work that we basically are doing.
NNAMDIWhat motivated you to get involved in this kind of work?
PARKERWell, I lost my son, Kojo. I lost him over at place called (unintelligible) skating rink. The talent that my son had was amazing. He was slated to be the next biggest rapper in the city, and possibly in the country, following Biggie Smalls. Very popular. In fact, even to this day, he's recognized and constantly spoke about, talked about in regards to what he was. But that was the motivating factor that began myself with the Alliance of Concerned Men, to make an impact on what was occurring.
NNAMDIWhat is a violence interrupter?
PARKERA violence interrupter is a person, first of all, that has a legitimate commitment and concern about the community and being able to want to solve the problem, to deal with the challenge. And these individuals are basically ordinary folks that are living in the community, which I would consider our natural resources that are there, that have the desire to want to make a difference.
PARKERThe challenge is -- or I would say not even a challenge. The component becomes having the necessary support and the resources to equip these individuals to be able to be violence interrupters in the community in an immediate perspective.
NNAMDITyrone, one of the more than 160 lives lost this year was 40-year-old Clarence Venable, who was beginning training as a violence interrupter. What can you tell us about Clarence?
PARKERWell, basically, Clarence was being trained (unintelligible) the streets, a violence interrupter that's come out of Karl Racine's office. Great guy in the contest that wanted to make a transformation, and he was in training at that point in time. I've only met him once. They just happened to have been trained over at the Alliance of Concerned Men's office, in which a number of individuals were being trained in regards to this.
PARKERBut the interesting thing about it, Kojo, is that when this guy was killed, when Clarence was killed, the impact of the other individuals that were being trained to do this work, the spirit that they were basically confronted with to go outside and to see one of theirs that was being trained to circumvent the violence was there, on the ground, dead.
NNAMDITyrone Parker is executive director of the Alliance of Concerned Men. He joins us in studio with David Bowers, who is co-founder of No Murders D.C. Lloyd Wolf is a photographer and teacher. He has been photographing the memorials of D.C. homicide victims since 2003. Lloyd, when and why did you first start doing this, photographing the memorials of homicide victims?
WOLFThere's no one specific reason, but a major reason is I used to mentor a kid who had been formerly homeless in a program called Streets to Skills named Dion Johnson. And he had four of his family members killed in 13 months, and it really did a number on him. I'm still in touch with him. Saw him last night, actually. And this was in the '90s.
WOLFAnd I began to understand the impact of what homicide did to people much more, and the depths of pain it created. And in my assignments around the city I would see the memorials. And at one point I just started documenting them, a little at random at first, as I encountered them. And then became more systematic about it a few years later. I photographed probably close to 800 over the years.
NNAMDIWhen you show up to a memorial with your camera, what do you say to the family, if they're there? How do those conversations go?
WOLFMost of them are very positive. I call it, like, a little church meeting. I explain quickly what I'm doing, that I keep a blog to honor the people who died, and it's somebody's brother, son or mother or sister. And they're usually -- it was to honor people, and that usually drops any difficulties that would be between us. And conversations range a whole lot. I mean, some people are very stoic. Some people tell you a lot about the person, or how upset they are. I've been asked for money for funerals.
WOLFA lot of times, people talk about how terrible this is, you know, what the violence does to them. And, as one fellow said, it doesn't matter who you were, nobody deserves to be murdered and, you know, lose their life, that only the creator has the right to do such a thing. And that I see that the impact of the violence is community-wide. It's like this PTSD for, you know, the whole community is occurring, and it's very hard to break, and I feel it's just the right thing to do.
WOLFThe numbers of people who lose their lives are very high. If this 160 that we've had this year happen in a week, you can imagine the headlines. But, as David spoke, somehow it's acceptable to have a small...
NNAMDI(overlapping) Indeed, David, more than 40 percent of those killed this year in Washington are young people under the age of 26. At a service for one of the youngest victims, 11-year-old Karon Brown, Reverent Thomas Lee Caldwell delivered a eulogy, saying, quoting here, "This is not normal. There is something wrong in Washington, DC." What happened here?
BOWERSYou know, there's been a breakdown, I think, in our culture, and as humanity, in general, certainly in this city, but it's not unique to this city, where this has become normalized, a dysfunction, right? We accept lies, we accept violence, we accept murder, we accept the loss of life. And that's been numbing us for years, particularly when the people who are lost, disproportionately in this city, are African American or African American males, tend to be from poor backgrounds.
BOWERSThe city, when they did their analysis of homicide victims, talks about patterns of disadvantage, right. And so what happens is that people really don't care, and folks don't want to hear that. I'm in circles for my day job around affordable housing and then talking to folks from philanthropy, where they want to talk about racial equity, racial equity, diversity and equity and inclusion. That's a lot of the buzzwords.
BOWERSAnd I've said to people, listen, at a fundamental level, since the year 2000, since we came into this century, over 3,600 people have been killed in this city. That's more than died on 9/11. We literally transformed the government and the way it functions after 9/11 -- and we should have, right. But, in this city, we tolerate that and yet we want to use these buzz phrases around equity and around racial inclusion. Listen, 3,600 people, one is one too many, and disproportionately, in this city, they tend to be young, black and males and from poor backgrounds.
BOWERSAnd so what happens is we, fundamentally, as a society, have said, we don't care enough to make the investment of our time, of our talent, of our policies from the public sector side and the private sector side to make sure this is not tolerated, and we get to zero. If we had a different outlook, we could walk into any church, any government office, any media office and say, show me your person who's responsible to make sure we get to zero. We can't do that. And until we can, as a society, we need to own up to the fact that we actually are okay with this.
NNAMDILloyd Wolf, you visited Karon Brown's memorial and spoke with a man who was praying there. What did you talk about?
WOLFHe was in a lot of pain. It was in a gas station. It was a very busy space. It was not a quiet space. It's like right near the pumps, in a pretty large shrine. It was his grandfather. He was a Muslim man. I could tell by the way he was praying. And, after a while, I respectfully approached him. I waited until he kind of came off his prayer. And he told -- I didn't know who he was, and he told me, this is my grandson. And the pain was just dripping off, I mean, his stoic personality. And I just -- we talked -- you know, I said, you know, I'm sorry for your loss, this sort of thing. You could see he wasn't going to get over it.
NNAMDIDavid Bowers, you have said, and just repeated, that the real work to end murder in this city has to be institutionalized. You grew up here, now you serve on an antiviolence taskforce. What should that comprehensive plan look like? What needs to happen to get to a place where our homicide number is zero?
BOWERSYeah, it's a great question, Kojo. A couple things I would say. One, the work has to be institutionalized in a way that someone is held accountable, right, to make sure we plan, we act, we evaluate and then rinse and repeat, right. So, there's got to be a clear plan, there's got to be sustained action, and there's got to be evaluation. Is it working? Do we need to double down? What's not working? What do we need to stop?
BOWERSIt has to have public and private sector involvement. It can't just be government, but it can't be private sector alone. Every segment should be involved. Kojo, I picked up -- I walk around and carry -- and my late father was in the legal field -- I walk around with a legal folder. And in it I carry the Safer, Stronger D.C. Advisory Committee final report that was issued in May of 2016, 55 recommendations. Fifty-five recommendations.
BOWERSSome of those have been implemented, others have not. So, there are plenty of good ideas, right, ranging from mental health and education and job opportunities, the interrupters that you and Tyrone were talking about earlier. There's a range of things. That's great, period, next sentence. If we ask somebody, right, what's the status of this, right? Have the things been implemented? What's working, what's not working?
BOWERSYou cannot walk into a single office, to a single person whose job it is to track that, until we get to that, that kind of institutionalizing of all the many different places. We are a city of reports. There are plenty of reports that have been issued. There are plenty of good ideas. The key here is, as my old football coach Thomas on the Wilson Tigers back in 1987 told the kid, he said, I can teach you technique, but I can't teach you heart. The technique are the what's to do, the specific things.
BOWERSPlenty of folks have evaluated that and given recommendations. We just eluded to some. But the thing that keeps us from getting to zero here is that we don't have the heart to put in the sustained commitment of accountability for all of us. That's what's missing, at a fundamental level. The varying different elements around education or drug treatment, etcetera, those things have all been outlined in wonderful reports, including that one which was done from a public health approach.
BOWERSBut until we have that heart to really make it standard operating procedure, not some pilot initiative, not something where two different elected officials in the city have two different approaches or something, and everyone knows it, until we get past that kind of dysfunctional operation in this town and where private sector, nonprofit groups can be beefing on the streets about who's got the most popular antiviolence program and elected officials are beefing, until we get to that point, we won't get there.
NNAMDIDavid Bowers is co-founder of No Murders D.C.. David Bowers, thank you so much for joining us.
BOWERSThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDITyrone Parker is executive director of the Alliance of Concerned Men. Tyrone, always a pleasure.
PARKERThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDILloyd Wolf is a photographer and teacher. He has been photographing the memorials of D.C. homicide victims since the year 2003. Lloyd Wolf, thank you for joining us.
WOLFThank you for this opportunity.
NNAMDIThis segment about Washingtonians we lost this year was produced by Julie Depenbrock. We will be off for the holidays for the next few days, but tune in Friday for our final Politics Hour of the year. We'll have a look at the biggest political stories of 2019 and the decade. Until then, Happy Holidays from me and everyone else at The Kojo Show, and thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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