As the band onstage played one of their final sets of go-go music, Brittany Hardy and her family headed home from a shopping center parking lot in Prince George’s County with food in their hands and smiles on their faces.
“Put the guns down and keep the kids safe,” she said.
The “Our Streets, Our Future” rally — which brought together employment, counseling and mentoring resources — is one of several initiatives from county agencies this summer to help curb gun violence and prevent crime through community engagement. Though homicides have dropped about 30 percent compared with this time last summer, gun-related arrests and weapons recovery are up, and carjackings remain a concern, officials say. County police have investigated 45 homicides this year compared with 65 by this time last year, Police Chief Malik Aziz said at a news conference Tuesday.
Hours before the rally, which was organized by State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy, Aziz separately announced the department’s summer crime initiative.
The countywide effort will focus on reducing gun violence, Aziz said. Special attention will be given to Langley Park and Lewisdale, Dodge Park, Clinton Plaza, parts of Temple Hills and District Heights, and areas along the D.C. border, among other locations. Aziz said increased patrols and other resources have been deployed in those areas.
The department will put on more than a dozen community events, such as neighborhood walks, community meetings on crime prevention, athletic activities for young people, and trainings with seniors to help them avoid being targeted, Aziz said. The initiative aims to go beyond adding more cops on street corners, the chief said.
“What we did is to blossom our thinking, to move our thinking in a more holistic approach,” Aziz said.
As of Tuesday, the department had recovered 828 guns so far this year, compared with 660 last year, and made 577 gun-related arrests, a 20 percent increase over last year, Aziz said. Carjackings were up to 219 this year, compared with 134 by this time last year. The department has made more than 80 carjacking arrests, which Aziz attributes in part to the establishment of a carjacking interdiction unit. And though carjackings are up overall, the county has seen a decrease in the past few weeks.
Violent crime is down 16 percent in the past month, Aziz said. That includes the start of the summer crime initiative, which began June 13 and continues through August 28.
However, Aziz noted that over the past two weeks, “high-powered weaponry” has been used in crimes. A 6-year-old girl was shot and critically injured in a shooting Monday in Fort Washington, and a 14-year-old boy was hospitalized with serious injuries in a shooting on June 21 in Riverdale, police said.
In neighboring D.C., homicides are up 21 percent compared with last year, and as of Thursday, 12 people 18 or younger have been homicide victims this year, prompting increased concern and efforts from city leaders to reduce violence. The city has been increasing the involvement of police and residents trained in conflict resolution to help address violence, in addition to stepping up its efforts over the July Fourth weekend.
In Prince George’s, Aziz said the department hopes to see youths involved in the activities and noted the department’s focus on addressing the “disturbing trend” of some youths committing crimes and gun violence.
Founded last summer in response to increased youth violence, County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks’s Summer Passport Experience, for 12-to-15-year-olds who applied for the program, begins this Tuesday. It provides activities throughout the county to keep kids safe and engaged during the summer, said Gina Ford, communications director for Alsobrooks. The county’s Summer Youth Enrichment Program, already underway, will provide summer employment opportunities for about 6,000 youths, Ford said.
The Oxon Hill rally, organized in partnership with D.C. Council member Trayon White Sr. and Prince George’s County Council member Edward P. Burroughs III, drew more than 200 people to the Eastover Shopping Center parking lot, where local organizations, vendors, job readiness groups and local police agencies had set up booths.
Braveboy said fighting crime is about more than prosecuting people.
“We are focusing on protecting our communities by getting people out of our communities who mean us harm,” Braveboy said in an interview. “Now, there are people who have committed offenses in the past, they’ve been held accountable, they may commit another offense. But that’s because they don’t have the resources. This is what’s going to make the difference.”
A large white canvas provided by the Prince George’s Arts and Humanities Council stood next to the stage, blank except for the words “Our Streets, Our Future” in big, outlined letters. One by one, people stopped to contribute colorful designs and messages, including “GUNS DOWN” and “STOP VIOLENCE.”
Rhonda Dallas, executive director and chief curator of the arts council, said the canvas is the start of an effort, in collaboration with the state’s attorney’s office, to bring murals to areas that have been particularly affected by gun violence.
“We’re going to galvanize the community,” Dallas said. “We all have a creative side. Self-expression, self-awareness, just being respectful of your environment and making sure that it’s safe.”