Would Aristotle wear a mask?
Last year, D.C. experienced the highest number of homicides since 2008. The majority of the 166 murders were shootings.
This year, the District is on track to be just as deadly. In response, the D.C. government and Metropolitan Police Department are cracking down on “ghost guns” and other firearms that come illegally into the District. D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham is concerned about repeat violent offenders. D.C. lawmakers are investing in violence interrupters: community members who are trained in mediation tactics to stop disputes in their neighborhoods before they turn deadly.
What is causing the gun violence? And what do local police, lawmakers and community leaders see as the solutions?
Produced by Cydney Grannan
KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5. Welcome. Today we're talking about gun violence in D.C. Later in the hour we'll look at how D.C. youth are coping with the gun violence and the trauma that comes with it, but first why is gun violence happening at such a high rate in the District and what can be done to stop it.
KOJO NNAMDIWe'd love to have you join this conversation. Give us a call. Has gun violence touched your life? We'd love to hear from you, 800-433-8850 is our number. You can send us a tweet @kojoshow or email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can go to our website kojoshow.org, ask a question or make a comment there. Joining me in studio is David Bowers, Co-founder of No Murders D.C. David Bowers, thank you for joining us.
DAVID BOWERSThank you for having me.
NNAMDIBrandon Todd is a Member of the D.C. Council representing Ward 4. Brandon Todd, thank you for joining us.
BRANDON TODDThank you for having me.
NNAMDIAnd Peter Newsham is the Chief of Police for the Metropolitan Police Department of Washington. Chief Newsham, thank you for joining us.
PETER NEWSHAMYeah, thanks for having me too.
NNAMDILast year was the deadliest year that the District had seen in about a decade. D.C. experienced 166 homicides in 2019. It's my understanding so far this year there have been 31 homicides. Is that correct?
NEWSHAMThat is accurate. Yes, sir.
NNAMDIWhy do you think there is so much gun violence in the city?
NEWSHAMIt's a lot of different things, Kojo, that's contributing to gun violence in the city. From a law enforcement standpoint we've seen way too many firearms, illegal firearms in our communities. That's one of the things that we're focusing on. And it seems that a lot of the violence is involving folks with violent criminal pasts. So those are the two areas where we're focusing on as an agency, getting these illegal guns off the street. This past year we actually recovered more guns than we've recovered in a decade in our city, which shows that your police officers are out there working trying to remove them. But I think it's also an indication of the proliferation of firearms that we have in our community.
NEWSHAMAnd then with the violent offenders, all indicators are it's a small group of folks that are continuously violently reoffending in our city. And I think we need to collectively do something with that category of offender. And so you have a lot of different groups that are attacking it from different angles. And I think to attack this thing from different angles is the right way to do it. And so, you know, to that extent to the extent that we can participate in law enforcement to assist with that we're going to continue to do that.
NNAMDIYou may have just partially answered my next question. One statistic that many people point out is that there are fewer overall shootings, but still the number of homicides is rising. You seem to be suggesting that that's because it's limited to a fairly small group of people who are repeatedly doing this.
NEWSHAMYeah. I think, though, the data now suggests in recent years that the number of shootings is actually going up a little bit. So, you know, if you look at crime and we want to talk about a 10 year period in the District of Columbia of reported violent crime in our city has decreased dramatically in Washington D.C. Violent crime includes assault. It includes robberies and, of course, it includes shootings and homicides. With that violent crime reducing in our city, the one measure in the recent years that has remained constant is the number of shootings, and then the lethality of those shootings has actually increased. Last year it increased to 21 percent. We attribute that to the nature of the firearms and the high capacity magazines that are being recovered in the city.
NEWSHAMSo last year as an example, we recovered over 1,000 high capacity magazines. That's a magazine that has 10 or more rounds of ammunition in it, which will allow somebody who is shooting to fire obviously a lot more times. And there's a lot more likelihood with those weapons that the result will be fatal. And so the year before that to give you some -- a point of reference, we recovered about 700. So that's a dramatic increase in the number of those high capacity magazines that we're seeing.
NNAMDIDavid Bowers, why do you think this is happening?
BOWERSI think, Kojo, there's been a lack in our city over time of signaling that this is A, not acceptable and coupled with an intentionality of a sustained comprehensive public private approach to ending murder in our city. So that's a mouthful. But I think -- so part of that is one we have to consistently say and I appreciate the chief and the mayor and the other leaders in the city over the last number of years have really begun to incorporate that notion. And worry one murder is one murder too many. So that's got to be the tone gets set.
BOWERSThe second thing is it's got to be made clear that that's an actual goal in our city is to get to zero and there's got to be an infrastructure in place. We like to say not a war room, but a peace room where we can go and know that every day there are people, who are tracking the work across agencies, all agencies in District government and non-government agencies working together daily, consistently tracking, who said they're going to do what and how.
BOWERSIf you think about how this coronavirus is spreading and the reaction by governments across the country there's a notion of there's a command center. All hands on deck and we will make sure this does not spread. And so the notion of taking that kind of command and control approach, sustained, cross agency and also bringing in private sector working with labs, working with medical officials, working with the government. That has to be baked in to how we do business so that regardless of who the mayor is, Council is, the preacher of the week, the non-profit group of the week, the mental health provider this month, doesn't matter who they are. It is baked into the way we do business in our city.
BOWERSAnd because we have not had that in my lifetime -- this is not recent. This is in my lifetime, we don't have that in a sustained way. Then we will continue to see the ebb, the flow, the ebb, the flow of homicides happening and not getting to zero and saying that's a realistic and sustainable goal.
NNAMDICouncilmember Brandon Todd, tell us about the violence your ward, Ward 4, has seen this year.
TODDNo, absolutely. Thank you, Kojo. Over the last couple of months we've seen some alarming rates of gun violence in Ward 4 in the fourth police district. A number of the -- you know, we had two homicides last month in the fourth district, which is very concerning to neighbors. A few things that we've been able to do and work with the Metropolitan Police Department and a number of government agencies is one ensure that we have robust patrolling, which is very very important. Have additional supports from the Office of Neighborhood and Safety Engagement, which provides us with violence interrupters who are charged with getting to the root cause of violent occurrences that happen in my ward and certainly across the city.
TODDA few things that we've done at the Council over the last couple of weeks passed a couple of pieces of emergency legislation, one that would prohibit the use or registration of ghost guns in the District of Columbia, which are guns that are undetectable. They're untraceable. And it's become a problem. I think this year alone just in Washington D.C. we've recovered 38 ghost guns. We also passed emergency legislation to establish a working group that is implemented to implement our 2018 Red Flag Law, which would allow the superior court the ability to issue extreme risk order to someone who should not have a gun.
NNAMDILast week you introduced a bill that would also create a D.C. license plate with the slogan "End Gun Violence." What should we know about this bill?
TODDWell, that -- I'll tell you a quick story, Kojo. I introduced that legislation at the request of a Ward 4 neighbor who lost a child to gun violence in the District of Columbia. And the license plate would do two things. It would bring awareness to the fact that we must end gun violence in the District and certainly in our country, but also the funds that would be captured for the license plates would additional resources to victims. It would provide ...
NNAMDILet's talk about how that would work, because some people might think that you're talking about replacing the license plates that say "No Taxation without Representation." You're not doing that.
NNAMDIHow would this work?
TODDThis will be just like any other specialty license as if for breast cancer or to support the environment. So when a neighbor -- a resident wants to go to the Department of Motor Vehicles they could opt to get the "End Gun Violence" license plate. And really it's set to bring awareness to the issue, but also the funds raised would go towards supporting victims.
NNAMDIThe funds raised -- will you pay extra for this special license plate?
TODDSo for the specialty license plates it's usually a $60 fee. And those funds will go to the office of victim services and justice grants, which supports victims of gun violence and or their families.
NNAMDILet's stay in Ward 4 a second. Here's Kim in Washington D.C. Kim, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KIMHi, Kojo. Thank you so much for having me. Councilman Todd, I am a long time Ward 4 resident. I live in the Brightwood community. I'm a vice president of the Brightwood Community Association. I want to first of all thank you for being very active, very approachable and very effective in Ward 4. We just greatly appreciate your help. You've been a great councilman. Our concern mainly in Ward 4, especially in Brightwood, as you mention, is the violence, the targeted slash gang violence that has occurred. Can you share some of your initiatives that speak to what is being done about that type of violence?
TODDNo, absolutely. That's the worst kind. Any violence is something that isn't acceptable, and I think we want to send the message as a city that gun violence will not be tolerated in our city. First what we've done is made sure that we have an appropriate level of Metropolitan Police Department resources, officers working overtime, additional officers patrolling whether in car, whether on foot, whether on bike in various parts of Ward 4. Really making sure that we have the entire governments' attention on how we end gun violence and homicides in Ward 4 and certainly across the city.
TODDI have convened a government wide task force. We had our second meeting last Friday. I believe that to end public safety issues is not just a job of the Metropolitan Police Department. But it's the job of every agency across our government whether you're talking about employment services, behavioral health, the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement. It is really every agency's responsibility to think about what appropriate level of resources we should have to accomplish this goal and how we're all working together to make sure that we're using the government's resources wisely. And that we're using every tool in our government's tool box.
NNAMDIBefore we go ahead, here's another caller from Ward 4. This is Jonah. Jonah, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JONAHHi, Kojo. I am an ANC commissioner in Ward 4 in the councilmember's district in Petworth. And I just had a question to the chief's point about attacking this from multiple angles. We had a homicide in 2017 during the day behind a daycare. And my community has been sharing with the councilmember recommendations since then. And we're having a challenge getting responses in terms of actually programs and initiatives up and running. I appreciate the license plate bill, but we're looking for some more concrete action. To the councilmember we submitted 17 recommendations to him on February 16th calling for a violence interrupter program from streets around the community. I'm curious if he'd be able to respond or commit to supporting those for us.
TODDSure, thank you, commissioner. And I was pleased that last year we were able to secure violence interrupters from the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement last year to have a dedicated team in Ward 4. Pleased that over these last several weeks we've gotten additional resources from the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement to make sure that they are working in tandem with the Metropolitan Police Department and with other agencies. I also want to note a piece of legislation that I've introduced. A number of times what we've noticed is that violent occurrences happen in or around log time nuisance properties.
TODDAnd earlier this year I introduced a bill that would allow the superior court the ability to attach a lien for repeat offender nuisance properties. And these would be properties that have drug, firearm and or prostitution issues on more than one occasion. It is not easy to have a property declared a nuisance. Certainly once that property is a repeat offender we have to let them know that as a government we're serious about making sure that they are good actors.
NNAMDIHave you seen the recommendations from this ANC Commissioner's office?
NNAMDIAnd do you plan on responding to them?
NNAMDIChief, we got a tweet from Carla who says, "I keep hearing that a small group of repeat offenders are committing violence. If they are known to the system, why are they back on the streets?"
NEWSHAMI think you've heard me say this before, Kojo. I think sometimes the consequences for gun offenders in particular are not changing behavior. I think we collectively need to ensure that we have all of the indicators that are out there. There was a study done in 2019 by the federal government regarding gun offenders in the federal system. And gun offenders were more likely to reoffend. They were more likely to reoffend violently. And I don't think that collectively that when we're dealing with that category of offender -- you have the gun offender, you have the repeat violent offender that we're ensuring that they're consequences that change behavior.
NEWSHAMPeople sometimes misconstrue when I say that. And they think that all I want to do is have people arrested. Nothing could be further from the truth. I think that some of these other initiatives that we have going on in the city are going to be extremely important for reducing gun violence. I want to thank you, Kojo. I understand for the second half of your hour today you're going to have victims of gun violence in our community on. And I think those stories of people who have lost a loved one to gun violence are critically important when we're making this decision.
NEWSHAMIt's so impactful not just to an individual and a family when someone is lost to gun violence, but an entire community can be devastated by this. I like what my colleague said regarding we need to -- when it comes to gun violence and homicides in our city, we need to all do -- play our role and do what we think is best and reduce this. That includes our Pathways Programs by our one's office where they're taking high risk young men and they're turning their life around through providing them resource and opportunity. You hear the mayor talk about providing opportunity to folks who could potentially be involved in this behavior.
NEWSHAMAll of those initiatives are going to be critically important. From my side on the law enforcement side there is a category of brazen, violent gun offenders in our city who need to be treated appropriately. In some cases, they do need to be separated from society, and to the extent that we turn them back out into our communities we're not going to be as successful in impacting the today violence, the violence that's going on in our community right now.
NNAMDISomething that you've been talking with the U.S. Attorney's Office with. But I'm afraid we now have to take a short break. When we come back we'll continue this conversation. You can still call us. What do you think can be done to stop shootings in the District? What would you like to see lawmakers and D.C. Police do? 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about what can be done to curb violence in D.C. with Peter Newsham, Chief of Police for the Metropolitan Police Department. Brandon Todd is a Member of the D.C. Council representing Ward 4. And David Bowers is the Co-founder of No Murders D.C. David Bowers, Carla, who tweeted us earlier tweeted again. "The city needs to put in place a Vision Zero for gun violence," which is precisely what you're advocating.
BOWERSYes. Amen to that. Folks needs to know that Vision Zero is the notion of -- it actually started internationally -- a notion of how to get to zero fatalities in terms of pedestrians and motorists and the like, and was adopted in the city several years ago. And so we do. The notion of a murder free D.C. that we've talking about for 20 years. One is one too many. So the Vision Zero concept it's interesting, Kojo, I went on to the Department of Motor Vehicles website over the holidays to take care of some car business if you would, and what pops up? There's a Vision Zero pledge around those fatalities, right?
BOWERSAnd there's language on there about commitment to saving lives on the District streets, all hands on deck approach, goal to eliminate fatalities and serious injuries to travelers on our transportation system through more effective use of data education, enforcement and engineering. Replace homicide, right, with the pedestrian fatalities, that's exactly what we need is that Vision Zero approach that we were talking about.
BOWERSA couple of key things to keep in mind, one we believe -- and I've been working with the Comprehensive Homicide Elimination Strategy Task Force appointed by the mayor and the Council. There needs to be centrally located in the executive branch that transcends whoever is in office that kind of peace room concept that notion of the Vision Zero that work will be captured there. Agencies all know that they'll be reporting into that across agencies, breakdown silos. Councilmember and I were talking about this. So that kind of authority needs to be vested we think in the executive branch of the mayor so that all these agencies are coming in.
BOWERSAnd then to the councilmember's point, there need to be performance metrics for every city agency related to the prevention of homicide. It was a request we made actually when Anthony Williams was mayor almost 20 years ago. We believe it's still a good idea to this day. So if you had -- if you know in the executive office of the mayor that kind of command and control authority there for all agencies, if they're being evaluated on that and you had non-government entities constantly coming and working towards that zero that Vision Zero, that is the goal.
BOWERSWe don't stop until we get there. And we keep non-government folks, houses of worship, fraternities, sororities, clubs, radio personalities, all players, all of us, held accountable to specific actions. That's how we get to zero.
NNAMDICouncilmember Todd, obviously, you've talked with David Bowers. You approve of this, but what role can the Council play in crafting such an approach and working with the executive?
TODDNo, I think that legislatively we could work towards that. I think it really is something that should happen with the executive. That's exactly why I have pulled together this government wide task force, because it isn't a single agencies responsibility. It's really the entire government's responsibility. Certainly I'm going to chat with David about the proposal that they have. And, you know, I think I agree fully; it has to be all hands on deck. We as a city have to continue to send a message that the use of a firearm will not be tolerated in the District of Columbia.
NNAMDIIn the short term, Chief Newsham, the D.C. Police is focusing on hotspots across the city as part of last fall's crime initiative. Can you tell us what that is and how effective it's been?
NEWSHAMSo what we have done and we're going to do it again this year. We have a summer crime initiative that runs from May through August. And what we do is we identify the areas in the city, which are most chronically plagued by violence. We have a number of statistical measures that we use to develop those areas. And then we use police resources. So we do additional traditional policing in those areas, but we also call in all of the other government agencies to come in and provide resources in those areas. We've been running those programs now for the last 11 years.
NEWSHAMIn every single instance when we've run a summer crime initiative we've shown pretty significant decreases in violent crime in those areas. So it has been an effective tool for us. This past fall we actually for the first time we had a fall crime initiative, because we had an uptick in gun violence in particular areas of the city. And again when we used that initiative in those areas we again saw pretty dramatic reductions in violent crime.
BOWERSKojo, I just wanted to mention on the Vision Zero, too, Moms Demand Action and Every Town for Gun Safety and Students Demand Action have become very active in D.C. around that issue of creating a Vision Zero for gun violence in D.C. So we're excited to see various constituencies, folks from various backgrounds really starting to lean in on the issue.
NNAMDIHere's Dale in Washington D.C. Dale, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DALEYes. Thank all three of the guests for being there. I was a block captain for 20 years. We're very active up here in Ward 4, and we have a role to play as citizens. It's a two way street. We've done walks. What we've done is we got to know the commander in Ward 4, the police officers, the precinct officers and various things and I just think that the citizens have a role to play. It's a two way street. And I'll prove that by saying that I emailed Chief Newsham and he answered my email and we got action. Thank you very much.
NNAMDIThank you very much.
NEWSHAMSo, Kojo, if you allow me please to comment on that. It's folks like that who have rolled up their sleeves for 20, 30 years in our city. We go back 20 years in Ward 4 and you look at the level of violence that they had in that community 20 years ago. It was much worse than it is today. Now, there is less of a tolerance for any gun violence in Ward 4, which is really a great thing. But a guy like that who is working collaboratively with his government partners and it doesn't necessarily have to be the police, those are the folks in our community really that I say, hats off to and congratulations on the reductions of violent crime you've seen in your community.
NNAMDIIndeed. David Bowers, you got the final say because along the line of what that caller just said, when you started No Murders D.C. you did not have a personal connection to gun violence. I don't think many people are drawn to this cause if they're not personally touched by gun violence. What do you think it would take to have more D.C. residents, who are not personally affected by the violence get involved?
BOWERSI think on a couple of levels. One it's just got to rail against our humanity when we see this kind of carnage, right, this kind of unnecessary suffering. That's one. Two people have to believe that it is possible. We are able to do better, to do greater things, and we have. And so to the chief's point, we have seen reductions. We have seen progress. And sometimes people feel overwhelmed. One you have to feel like this is unacceptable on a human level. Two we can do it. That was one of the principles from No Murders D.C. that one murder is one murder too many.
BOWERSAnytime a homicide happens we should stop collectively as a city and say, what do we need to do to make sure this doesn't happen again? But the third guiding principle was that the resources to end murder in the city exist in the city. So we have to believe that we should, that we can. And then to the chief's point just get engaged in sustained ways. And know that all of us literally can get to that zero. It's not some pie in the sky vision. It can be real. We have made progress, but don't hang the mission accomplished banner up yet until we don't have anyone in our city suffering from the scourge of homicide.
NNAMDIDavid Bowers is the Co-founder of No Murders D.C. Brandon Todd is a Member of the D.C. Council representing Ward 4. Peter Newsham is the Chief of Police for the Metropolitan Police Department. Thank you all for joining us. Going to take a short break, when we come back we look at how D.C. youth are coping with the gun violence and the trauma that comes with it. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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