Raasheem Jamal Rich committed one of the District’s 474 killings in 1990, contributing to a body count that earned the city the dubious distinction of “murder capital of America.” In January, he became the first homicide victim of 2013, a year that started with the fewest killings in recent memory.
The 40-year-old parolee was one of just four people slain in the District last month, though a fifth was added to the official count after a man shot in 2011 died Wednesday in a nursing home in Prince George’s County. It’s the fourth consecutive January that the District has recorded killings in the single digits, continuing a downward trend also seen in many other cities.
Rich spent two decades in prison, during which the number of people killed in D.C. plummeted. His conviction two decades ago, and his violent death this year, connect two wildly different moments in the history of crime in the District.
The killings in the early ‘90s turned the nation’s capital into the country’s epicenter of violence and drug abuse. The image is different today. Just days before Rich was fatally stabbed on the afternoon of Jan. 10 outside a liquor store on Alabama Avenue in Southeast Washington, the District’s mayor and police chief hailed a milestone: 88 slayings in 2012, the fewest in 51 years.
Each number, of course, corresponds to a name, and added up over the years the statistics and faces blur — more than 7,000 killed in D.C. since 1988, when murders began to surge at the onset of the crack cocaine epidemic. Victims’ families grieve, though there are fewer of them now; they cope with pain that does not diminish even as statistics say the city is now safer from the gravest category of crime.
Rich’s wife, Miah Rich, 37, grew up in Southeast Washington and was in high school when the shootings soared. “Massive numbers,” she said of the dead and wounded, recalling losing friends and classmates. “Killing became so routine it became scary,” she said. “Death became a way of life. I knew grandmothers and all their friends who were still alive, but their grandkids weren’t.”
Miah Rich was a friend of Raasheem’s at that time. It was just four months after his 18th birthday, in June 1990, when he saw Anthony Miguel Anderson with his girlfriend at a carnival at RFK Stadium and fatally stabbed him in front of a Bank-A-Ball game booth. A jury found him guilty, and he was sentenced to 12 to 36 years in prison.
Rich disappeared behind bars at the peak of the District’s homicide epidemic. There were 52 slayings in January 1989 and again in January 1990, according to Washington Post records. A D.C. police study of murder from 1998 through 2000 concluded that more people were killed in the first three months of those years than at any other time of the year, confounding conventional wisdom that hot summer nights ignite passions and create killers.
Over the ensuing years, the number of murders dropped not only in Washington but also in other cities. New York set a record low in 2012 with 414, and like Washington, the Big Apple is holding firm this month. Slayings are also down this year in Philadelphia and Baltimore; Boston, which had 59 slayings in 2012, is one of the few large cities other than Washington boasting single-digit homicide numbers this January, with three.
Chicago is a notable exception, with at least 42 killings last month, including nine in a single weekend, making it the deadliest January there in a decade.
The four killings committed in the District in January differed in type and location. Police have made arrests in two of the cases. The latest victim is Siobhan Nicole Lee, 18, of Takoma Park, who police said was shot in the head in Northwest Washington by a man she met on an Internet dating site. Before her was Tracy McFadden, 44, shot dead on Georgia Avenue, also in Northwest Washington. Dominic Anthony Davis, 27, was the second victim of 2013, found shot on 57th Street NE.
Raasheem Rich, who was paroled in April 2010 from Rivers Correctional Institution in Winton, N.C., was the first person to be killed this year, stabbed about 3:30 p.m. on Jan. 10. Police said there was a dispute inside Alabama Express Liquors in the 2800 block of Alabama Avenue SE; surveillance video shows three men, two of them wearing yellow reflective vests, as possible suspects. One man has been arrested.
The argument spilled outside, and police said Rich was stabbed with a pocketknife in the left side of the chest. Witnesses told detectives that the wounded Rich ripped off his bloody shirt and collapsed in a parking lot. He died later at a hospital.
Miah Rich said her husband may have known one or two of the men in the argument. She said her husband was killed in a petty dispute — “an unfortunate act of violence,” she called it — as he struggled to find work while on parole for second-degree murder. “He had a hard life,” Rich said, but noted that his three children all attended college.
“He was at a point in his life where he was frustrated about the lack of opportunities for guys on parole,” Rich said. “He wanted to do something mentoring children.” But she said one nonprofit group after another looked at his background and turned him down, and he picked up menial-labor jobs until he found volunteer work helping teach children to box.
“It made him so excited,” Rich said. “He felt he was giving something back.”
Rich didn’t want to talk about what had put her husband in prison, but she described his going from convicted killer to victim as karma, one act influencing another. That shouldn’t excuse his killer, she said, adding that prosecutors — who declined to comment — told her they’re considering offering the man arrested in Rich’s death a deal that would reduce his first-degree murder charge to manslaughter.
He would serve nine to 16 years in prison, less time than Raasheem Rich got for killing the man at the carnival. Said his wife: “To me, this is not justice.”