City Officials Are Criticized At Meeting on Violent Crime

By Elissa Silverman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Debra Seals-Craven stood before hundreds of people at Turkey Thicket Recreation Center last night and demanded an apology from D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty.

Her son Melvin R. Seals, 30, was found dead early Saturday at Morse Street and Montello Avenue NE. He had been shot 17 times, she said.

"Mayor Fenty, I'm very angry with you," Seals-Craven said as the mayor sat with his head in his hands. "No one contacted me to say, 'I'm sorry.' "

Seals-Craven was not the only grieving mother among the 400 people who gathered in Northeast Washington to talk about the recent spike in violent crime in the city, including the slayings of four men over the weekend.

Several times during the 90-minute meeting, women rose to vent their frustrations about what they considered the slow progress in finding their children's killers and to demand answers from city leaders. Fenty (D), D.C. Council members Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5) and Kwame R. Brown (D-At Large), and Assistant Police Chief Diane Groomes were seated at a table in the middle of the gym, with residents around them.

The event, broadcast on WPGC (95.5 FM), was difficult for Fenty. How mayors deal with a spike in crime is often seen as a test of their leadership.

Fenty and Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier responded to the violence over the weekend by deploying 1,200 officers, nearly three times the norm.

Seals-Craven said she wanted Fenty to do everything in his power to catch her son's killer, and she told the mayor that the city needs more cameras to assist police in that task.

"What's the difference in the price to put a camera up to catch someone speeding and putting a camera up to catch a killer?" she asked Fenty.

"Ms. Seals, I personally do want to apologize to you," said Fenty, who later delivered his condolences in person.

He said the District will soon tie more than 4,000 city-owned cameras on streets, in schools and in public housing complexes into a network that the police department will be able to access. He also highlighted last year's high homicide closure rate and said it wasn't fair to characterize violent crime as increasing in the city.

Fenty said his focus on fixing schools, building recreation centers and funding job-training programs for at-risk youths would help prevent killings.

Melvin Seals participated in a program sponsored by the city's Department of Employment Services. He graduated from a transitional employment program and was placed in the city's Public Works Department, said Tony Lewis, who taught a life-skills class Seals attended.

"He was a great guy, and he wanted to change his life," Lewis said after offering sympathy to Seals-Craven.

Fenty's answers did not please everyone in the audience.

David Bowers, head of No Murders D.C., asked Fenty whether he would commit money to recommendations made by the Comprehensive Homicide Elimination Strategy Task Force, which was created by the D.C. Council in December 2006. The task force will probably deliver its recommendations to the mayor in June, Bowers said.

Fenty said more meetings and studies were not the answer.

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