My journey to end murders in the District started a few days before Christmas in 2000. I walked down H Street NE passing out handbills and asking people whether they believed we could have a murder-free D.C. Many were doubtful.
I launched the movement anyway because I felt God had led me to it. When I first heard the call in 1997, ending murder in the former “murder capital” seemed too big a task. That year alone, 301 people were victims of homicide. In my late 20s at the time, I still wanted to enjoy life and was afraid of losing the freedom that I cherished.
After three years of restless nights, I relented. I was recently reminded of that now-defunct effort as I did some end-of-the-year house cleaning. I came across a T-shirt emblazoned with this message: NO MURDERS DC: Mission: To end murders in D.C. by 2005.
I thought of these words in the Biblical book of Habakkuk: “And the LORD answered me: “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it.”
The first few years of the movement were a rush of activity. There were meetings with mayors and police chiefs, go-go bands and mothers of murdered sons. We talked to judges and business representatives, passed out handbills at clubs and visited detention centers.
Our talks centered on three basic guiding principles: (1) one murder is one murder too many (2) the resources to end murder in D.C. exist within the District and (3) anytime a person is killed, the city should stop and ask how to prevent the next killing. We wanted to raise consciousness and connect the many public- and private-sector stakeholders that either were, or should have been, working to end murder here.
Eventually, our mission changed to this: “To end murder in Washington, D.C.” As I looked at the T-shirt with the original 2005 deadline, I thought of the words of the poet Langston Hughes: “What happens to a dream deferred?”
If we — the collective we of public and private stakeholders — had been successful by the end of 2005, then the 919 people killed in D.C. from Jan. 1, 2006, through Dec. 28, 2011, could still be alive.
The good news is that the number of people killed in the District is far less than the record, in 1991, of 479 murders. The year NO MURDERS DC started there were 242 homicides, and with three days to go in this year, 108 people have been killed. This is progress but not a victory.
As we head into 2012, there is a good deal of excitement in some circles about the District’s population growth and capital improvements. There are new bars and places to eat all over town. A trip to get your car inspected doesn’t require a day off from work anymore.
New recreation centers, stadiums and condos have many people feeling good about moving into the city. And although the number of murders has declined substantially, I can’t help but be haunted by this thought: What if all of the government and private-sector leaders worked together to end murder in D.C?
Political bickering with the former mayor led to a major slow-down of activity by NO MURDERS DC after the D.C. Council passed a law at the end of 2006 to create the Comprehensive Homicide Elimination Strategy Task Force. A comfortable though busy life, coupled with an initial rebuff for a meeting on the issue from the current mayor, has led me to drag my feet on this issue for over a year.
But I am being compelled to work on this issue again. This summer, a friend texted me after a child was killed, wondering why I was no longer active with NO MURDERS DC. Then there was the story of a grieving relative after a child was killed on Christmas in Prince George’s County (the work needs to be regional).
Of course, there’s the T-shirt I found and the sleepless nights have returned.
“Only” 108 murders sounds good from a relative statistical point of view. But one murder sounds awful to the family and friends of the deceased. Although it’s nice to talk about new bars and streetcars, it’s time for me to get back to working for a MURDER FREE DC (and PG as well). That’s my resolution. What’s yours?
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