The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A violent night in D.C. as Senate votes to nix crime bill

There were five shootings in the city from Tuesday night through early Wednesday evening

Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) speaks in Petworth, where a man was fatally stabbed inside a library this month. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)
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A man was killed, and two others, including a 15-year-old boy, were injured in a shootout Tuesday night in Southeast Washington, according to D.C. police, a deadly incident that came as national political leaders turned their focus to crime in the city.

The shooting — one of five in D.C. from Tuesday night through early Wednesday evening — came a day ahead of the Senate voting to block an overhaul of the city’s criminal code. Opponents of the legislation claimed it would have made the city less safe by reducing maximum penalties for some crimes, such as carjackings, and the move by a bipartisan group of lawmakers to nix the measure sparked debate about public safety and D.C.’s ability to govern its own affairs.

What to know about the D.C. criminal code

“There are so many people getting killed — too many,” said Mary Faulkner, the 69-year-old grandmother of Dana Faulkner, who was killed in the shootout Tuesday night in Woodland Terrace in Southeast Washington. She described her grandson as a new father.

Just before the Senate voted on the crime code resolution Wednesday evening, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) joined Police Chief Robert J. Contee III and other public safety leaders on a community walk in Petworth, where a man was fatally stabbed in the neighborhood library earlier this month.

Bowser said she is planning to hold a public safety summit in April to bring together local and federal officials to discuss ways to combat crime. She said that in the next 30 days, she will also present a new legislative package to the D.C. Council to address crime. Bowser did not offer specifics but said the proposal would be separate from changes she had previously suggested to the overhaul of the criminal code.

The mayor said the proposed legislation will “make sure we have policies in place to hold people accountable.”

D.C. has now recorded 40 homicides this year, a 33 percent increase over the same period in 2022. While violent crime is down 8 percent, driven largely by a drop in robberies, the District is on pace for a third consecutive year with 200 or more killings. Before 2021, the last time D.C. had at least 200 killings was 2003.

Overall crime in D.C. is up 25 percent, driven in large part by the doubling of auto thefts this year, which police attribute to a social media challenge targeting Hyundai and Kia vehicles.

D.C. is ahead of Philadelphia, Chicago, Atlanta and New York City in per capita homicides this year, but it was third in that group in per capita killings in all 2022, according to statistics from the police departments. The trend is the same for robberies. D.C. is near the bottom of those cities in per capita auto thefts.

Tuesday’s killing of Faulkner, 23, came during a 7:45 p.m. shootout in the 2700 block of Bruce Place SE, D.C. police said. Faulkner was pronounced dead from a gunshot wound to the head, police said, and another man was found wounded at that location.

Police said 10 minutes later, officers found the 15-year-old critically wounded by gunfire more than two miles away, at Wheeler Road and Mississippi Avenue in Congress Heights.

A police spokesman said investigators believe the teenager was shot on Bruce Place and driven in a vehicle to where he was found. Police said they did not know if the youth was in the vehicle when he was shot. Attempts to reach the teenager’s relatives were unsuccessful Wednesday. Two other teens — ages 13 and 17 — have been shot and killed this year.

D.C.’s mayor and police chief have said they are trying to rebuild a force that has lost hundreds of officers, and they have at times found themselves at odds with a liberal D.C. Council. Bowser herself vetoed the criminal code overhaul, which police and others objected to, though the council overrode her before federal lawmakers stepped in.

Proponents of the overhaul argue that criticism of the sentencing changes are overblown. The bill, they say, brings technical maximum penalties in line with what judges had been handing down all along, and in some cases increases penalties for crimes involving firearms.

But even many Democrats opposed the measure and were willing to reject the idea that D.C. should govern its own affairs to stop it. Demonstrators supporting home rule gathered outside the Capitol on Wednesday afternoon, and police said they made more than a dozen arrests.

Congress remains in authority over the District but the Home Rule Act of 1973 gave residents some control over local affairs. Here's what you should know. (Video: Amber Ferguson/The Washington Post)

Despite vetoing the bill, Bowser ultimately urged Congress to stay out of local affairs. President Biden has said he would sign the resolution to block the bill.

At the end of a news conference at the community walk in Petworth, neighborhood resident Michelle Engert told the mayor that people “are afraid of this community now” and that her elderly neighbors won’t take the bus.

Bowser noted her administration had made investments in alternative justice programs, and described her approach to crime fighting as “prevention, opportunity, enforcement.” But, she said: “In order for prevention and opportunity to work, enforcement has to work. There has to be consequences, and right now we’re lacking in consequences.”

Moments later, Engert, a former federal assistant public defender in Maryland, said in an interview: “I know what consequences look like, and I know what a lack of opportunity looks like. But I also know what it’s like to live here and be scared to go to the grocery store, or use the Metro or the bus.”