The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The shootings in D.C. are predictable, and that makes them preventable

Paramedics, firefighters and police offers at the intersection of 14th and U streets in Washington on June 19. (Astrid Riecken for The Washington Post)
Placeholder while article actions load

At age 15, Chase Poole already had been shot and wounded twice, most recently in February. The following month, he was arrested in D.C. on a gun possession charge — a pretty good indicator of trouble to come.

That trouble came on Sunday while Chase was attending a music festival near 14th and U streets NW, a Black cultural event called Moechella. After the event, three people were injured by gunshots, including a D.C. police officer.

One lay dying: Chase, who police said had been armed with a handgun.

Motive remains unclear in shooting at U Street ‘Moechella’ event

To be clear, no one is blaming Chase for what happened Sunday. He is a victim. But the District has a violence prevention program specifically designed to identify people most likely to get involved in such deadly conflicts. It’s not quite the “pre-crime” intervention featured in the 2002 science fiction movie “Minority Report,” but D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s People of Promise Initiative has acquired the names of approximately 200 residents said to be “most at risk of committing or being victimized by violent crime.”

“We know that a relatively small number of people are responsible for a significant amount of the gun violence happening in our communities,” Bowser (D) said when announcing the program in April. “What we are doing is reaching out to those people, listening to them and figuring out what they need, and then working with them to get them on a better, safer path forward.”

Gun violence reduction plan recommends strategies to make D.C. safer

Although the program is still being rolled out, the killings of obviously at-risk youngsters and adults raise questions about its effectiveness and potential. You would think that someone with as many red flags as Chase would have been at the top of the list, getting the help he needed.

But as far as we know, he wasn’t.

Neither was Deandre Coleman, the 16-year-old who was shot and killed Wednesday night in the 4600 block of Hillside Road SE, about a half-mile from his home. Deandre had also been arrested recently and charged with having a handgun. His mother told The Washington Post that she had contacted D.C. juvenile court personnel and asked that her son be put under GPS monitoring to keep him home.

Youth, 16, fatally shot in Southeast Washington

She said she was told that could only be done if Deandre was deemed a danger to the community. “If a mother reaches out telling you that she needs help, why did you have to wait?” asked Dallas Coleman, the mother.

Good question.

The People of Promise Initiative is run by the D.C. Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement. I called to find out whether Chase, Deandre or any of the other recent victims of gun violence had received help from the program. I was told someone would call back, but I have not heard from anyone.

The risk factors for gun violence in D.C. were meticulously documented in a December study by the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform (NICJR). The factors include being a Black male, age 18 to 35, with “significant criminal justice involvement,” such as seven or more arrests.

“What is most predictive is if you are recently connected to a shooting,” said David Muhammad, executive director of NICJR. “That means that some time in the last 12 months, you or your friends or a fellow group member was either shot or arrested for a shooting, which sets the whole retaliatory cycle into motion.”

One factor often overlooked is social media conflict, “which often involved fighting over young women,” Muhammad said. “A lot of people think the shootings are just about gangs or drugs, but a lot of the time they are fighting because someone is dating the guy’s ex-girlfriend and taunting him about it on social media, and the next time the two guys see each other, the shooting starts.”

Seems to me that when we are talking about all the people at-risk of committing gun violence or being victims, we’re talking about a lot more than 200 people.

“Once you identify them, you have to engage these people with credible messengers, violence interrupters, life coaches and other service providers in a tightly managed program,” Muhammad said. “I’m expecting the District will get there in the coming months, but we’re not there yet.”

Bowser’s 2023 budget sets aside more than $80 million in non-police interventions to help fight gun violence and other crimes.

According to the NICJR study, about 70 percent of the gun-related homicides are “predictable” and therefore should be “preventable over time.”

But how much time? That $80 million is enough money to make everybody with a gun in Southeast Washington drop it where they stand. We know who is at risk and how to help them. We have the financial and the human resources to get the job done. Right now.

Speaking of the shooting death of Chase Poole, Wendy Hamilton, a counselor at Brookland Middle School, told The Post: “Before you judge him, that he had a gun — he was a baby who was loved, cared about, who had a mother who was trying her best to try a combination of things to put her son on the right track. It may have been too late, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying.”

Not for a mother’s lack of trying. For a city’s lack of trying hard enough.