Brightwood residents met with Councilman-At-Large John L. Ray last weekend to discuss their concerns about local crime and to hear Ray's ideas for dealing with criminal offenders.
Meeting at the 4th District Police headquarters, a group of 65 concerned neighbors told of recent robberies, voiced angry complaints about police apathy and vowed to inform the police of suspicious activity in their area.
Ray urged his listeners to "call or write City Hall in support of the mandatory minimum sentences" proposed in an anticrime package currently being considered by the City Council. Ray described the provisions of the legislative package, focusing his remarks on the tough antidrug sections. For example, a person convicted of the sale or distribution of heroin could be sentenced to 10 years and a $25,000 fine or both. A conviction for distribution of heroin to a minor could double that penalty.
Ray cited police estimates that "more than half of all srious crimes are drug-related" and noted that addicts steal more than $300 million a year in the District.
Evenhanded sentencing, particularly for drug-related crimes, was Ray's chief concern. A number of studies have shown, he said, that the severity of a criminal sentence often depends on the identity of the victim.
"These are facts -- black crimes against blacks get very low sentences, black crimes against whites get very big sentences and low-status whites get longer sentences than higher-status whites," Ray declared. "We want the same treatment across the board."
Ray said he based his views on data compiled by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the National Urban League and other groups that show an inequality in sentences.
Saying the city is witnessing a growing number of deaths by drug overdose -- 62 last year compared with 42 in 1979 -- Ray added, "It doesn't matter who made those drugs available, they should be punished equally." Ray said that wealthy drug dealers tended to draw light sentences while "the poor lad on the street is put away in Lorton."
In response to Ray's talk, members of the audience related their experiences with crime in their neighborhood.
"I was robbed two Sundays ago by someone who'd been arrested five days earlier and was out before the ink was dry on the police report," said businesswoman Lenelle Johnson. "We're also paying for court-appointed attorneys to keep criminals out of jail, so we're paying double."
One older man urged his neighbors to report the individuals they know are committing crimes. "If you love yourself, you'll tell on 'em," he said.