D.C. police meet with Deanwood residents amid city’s surge in homicides

March 11, 2014

The police distributed color fliers with photos of the dead, each offering a $25,000 reward for help finding the killers. Eager residents in the standing-room-only crowd grabbed them up, even as some grumbled that D.C. police haven’t been as attentive as they should be in their Northeast Washington community.

Frustrated by a burst of violent crime in the Deanwood neighborhood, near the city’s border with Maryland, more than 100 people assembled for an emergency meeting Monday night at a recreation center blocks from where four people were slain recently. They live east of the Anacostia River, where 17 of the District’s 26 killings this year have occurred. The total for the city is more than double the 12 at this time last year.

“Whatever we say in here won’t help the relatives of these homicide victims,” said 91-year-old Benjamin Thomas, who has lived in Deanwood 60 years. “We all need to pray for them.”

His neighbors clamored for more police patrols and for more officers walking beats instead of driving by in cars. They pressed each other to become more involved in the community. Police promised to do more and countered with statistics — a 19 percent drop in violent crime in the area, including a 44 percent reduction in nonfatal shootings and reductions in robberies. They also emphasized the downward trend of homicides in the District, which reached a half-century low of 88 in 2012 and was just more than 100 last year.

But D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier acknowledged that encouraging statistics in some crime categories and long-term trends don’t matter when the one number everyone focuses on is up at this very moment. “We’re used to seeing five homicides in a single month,” Lanier told the crowd, noting the 14 killings recorded in January and nine in February. “What residents want to know is what is going on. Is there a gang war? Is there retaliation? Is it safe for me to go to the store?”

Police officials have said that only two killings resulting from separate attacks this year — both in Southeast Washington — might be related. The victims were friends who were shot days apart. The rest, including those in Deanwood, appear to be unrelated acts, many of them born out of arguments. Police said they’ve made arrests in 15 of the 26 homicides.

Although the pace of killings has slowed in recent weeks, police say they’re watching the numbers carefully. Police officials said domestic killings — twice as many this year as at this time last year — and the violence east of the Anacostia are causing the most concern.

“The focus is going to be on guns, activity and behavior that could result in violent confrontations,” Assistant Chief Peter Newsham said in an interview. Sporadic violence, as appears to be happening now, is more difficult to police and to prevent, he said.

Among the recent Deanwood killings, brothers Khalid Jamal Bryant, 34, and Jason Emmanuel Bryant, 26, were shot to death outside a church last month. George Edward Hartzog, 24, was killed on a street in broad daylight. And Tykia Dickerson, 19, was fatally shot in a domestic dispute.

Police officials said they have a warrant out in Dickerson’s case and assured people at Monday’s meeting that Hartzog and the Bryant brothers were targeted in unrelated shootings, although the officials did not disclose possible motives.

When the brothers were slain, the Rev. William H. Gibbs was rehearsing a play — for a wedding — with 15 adults and twice as many children. The pastor didn’t hear the shots, but the group saw the flashing lights of police cars through the windows of Antioch Baptist Church at 50th and Lee streets NE.

The Bryant bothers were not members of his congregation, Gibbs said. He said he has reached out to relatives but has not made contact.

Gibbs said that despite the outreach of police, many residents are afraid to help. “Getting the community involved means putting their family members at risk,” he said.

Residents at Monday’s meeting urged officials not only to improve police protection but also to offer more programs and jobs for youths. David Bowers, who runs a group called No Murders D.C., said authorities should not be satisfied with fewer than 100 killings. “Send a message,” he said. “Zero is the number.”

Paul A. Quander Jr., the deputy mayor for public safety, who was a prosecutor during the District’s most murderous years, rattled off initiatives to combat violence. But he pointed to continuing challenges that authorities face. In 2010, he said, teens in city job programs were hit by an epidemic of street robberies targeting them just after they got their paychecks.

Quander said that his much-scoffed-at tactic of parking a firetruck occupied by firefighters in the volatile Trinidad neighborhood does prevent trouble, and he vowed to do anything it takes to prevent bloodshed.

Quander said “every city agency is at the beck and call of the Metropolitan Police Department” to combat crime.

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