Still without a safety net

Saturday, November 21, 2009

We have been down this road on youth violence many times, each trip leading to the same dead end. Why bother, some of you have asked. Believe me, judging from the city's response, I have asked myself the same question.

But if I don't continue this journey, how would you know about the damage? The dead can't speak, city workers are too scared, the D.C. government won't talk and civic leaders don't care.

We should care, however. The young men I'm writing about are not animals to be feared and avoided, or cold statistics for research projects.

They once laughed, played and dreamed as children about what they would be when they grew up. Somewhere along the way these young men in our city, mostly black, were badly broken by hands that should have handled them better. Hands at home. Hands on the corner. Hands in the schoolyard.

Some of those hands belong to the government of the District of Columbia.

This week you may have read about 17-year-old Jeffrey Britt. He was arrested on Friday, Nov. 13, and charged with the premeditated murder of George Rawlings, a 21-year-old who was boarding a bus on H Street NE.

You also may have read that earlier that day, Britt and Rawlings had separately attended the funeral of 19-year-old Ashton Hunter, who had been shot dead on Oct. 31.

What you did not read, and would never know if it were left to the city, is that at the time Hunter was being gunned down and Britt was allegedly pulling the trigger on Rawlings, both were under the legal supervision of the D.C. government.

I sought a comment from the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, which supervised Hunter and Britt. I received the department's standard response: "As you are aware, by law, we are precluded from commenting on cases involving individual youth."

With Hunter dead and Britt arrested, the only interest served by secrecy is that of the D.C. government.

I also sought comments on Hunter and Britt from Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), chairman of the D.C. Council's human resources committee, which oversees DYRS.

Wells replied by e-mail that DYRS Director Vinny Schiraldi had called shortly after the crimes to say that the youth were involved with DYRS. (The disclosure was "an improvement," noted Wells.)

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