Prayers over priorities in D.C.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The flier announcing the candlelight vigil contained a standard invitation: "Join families, friends, clergy, and community leaders."

The reason, however, was uncommon. "Surround the future site of the District's first Crime Forensic Lab!" it read. "Bring your prayers, libations, songs, pictures and personal expressions to bless the lab's success."

The vigil, scheduled from 7 to 9 p.m. on Sunday at 415 Fourth St. SW, is sponsored by Mothers of Unsolved Murders, a group led by charter member Valencia Mohammed.

Yes, it has come to this in the nation's capital: the application of spiritual devotion to an inanimate, yet-to-be constructed $133 million forensic laboratory. The sponsors say they have a good reason to seek divine intervention. According to the flier, the District has recorded 4,000 unsolved murders dating back to 1969, and, it says, "35,000 rape kits have not been processed by the FBI."

D.C. police department spokeswoman Traci Hughes said the unsolved murders and unprocessed sex kit claims are "extremely exaggerated." But visit the D.C. police Web site, and you will quickly discover that the city's crime-solving capacity needs all the help it can get. More than 600 unsolved murders are on the list, one from as far back as 1962. The list includes six women murdered in 1971 and 1972 by the so-called Freeway Phantom.

Official figures on unprocessed sex kits were unavailable. But Hughes reported that 60 percent of sex-offense cases recorded thus far in 2009 have been closed. In 2008, the police closed only 53 percent of such cases.

Such a low closure rate for sex offenses, as with unsolved murders, ought to be cause for alarm. It probably is elsewhere. Not in the District.

There are no rallies at Freedom Plaza over sexual mayhem and dead bodies on streets east of Rock Creek Park.

Instead, we resort to songs and prayers on behalf of a forensic lab because hope of stopping murder and rape in the first place has been all but abandoned. Or so it would seem.

This much is true: Words about murder and rape hardly pass through the lips of clergy, who much prefer getting worked up to a fare-thee-well over the possibility of same-sex marriage.

So, too, the media, which dwell on the relative merits of speed humps in upscale neighborhoods, political jockeying between Mayor Adrian Fenty and the D.C. Council, and teacher demands for respect from Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, who's not inclined to give them any.

Oh sure, there are children trying to learn while street gangs are shooting outside their schools. And there may be girls worried about reaching maturity without getting sexually molested. But who really cares?

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