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District marks 100th homicide of the year

Chanel Dickerson, left, assistant chief of the District’s Patrol Services South, comforts Jade McKenzie on July 17, 2018. McKenzie teaches at the DC Scholars Public Charter School, which homicide victim Makiyah Wilson, 10, attended. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)

He was 25, a museum worker and a father. Travis Barksdale died Thursday, shot two minutes after midnight just around the corner from his home in the Edgewood community in Northeast Washington.

He was the District’s 100th homicide victim of 2018.

“It’s like a dream I can’t wake up from,” said his mother, Katrina Barksdale.

With Travis Barksdale’s death, homicides in the city are up 35 percent from last year. Other victims this year include a 10-year-old girl headed to an ice cream truck, a boy shot in an attempted robbery and a young woman who was training to become a chef.

Officials said they have been working to quell the violence, which is reminiscent of that in 2015, when a surge in killings in the nation’s capital and other cities across the country alarmed residents and police. That year, the District had its 100th slaying on Aug. 22 and by year’s end had counted 162 killings.

D.C. homicide database: Every homicide in the District since 2000

There have been hopeful signs. While the summer months often are among the deadliest, the pace of killings has slowed in recent weeks. Other violent crimes, including robberies and assaults, are down this year from 2017.

In addition, homicide statistics this year reflect 12 deaths that occurred in past years but were discovered or were ruled homicides only this year.

Katrina Barksdale said her son was a hard-working, family-
oriented man who adored his 3-year-old daughter. He recently worked at Madame Tussauds wax museum, where he crafted wax hands for the figures, she said.

Standing Thursday outside the home on Evarts Street NE that she shared with her son, Katrina Barksdale said she could not imagine who might want to harm him.

“I’m numb, I’m numb,” she said, fighting back tears as loved ones rushed to comfort her.

This year’s violence has been concentrated in neighborhoods east of the Anacostia that are historically troubled by crime and poverty, and residents persistently complain that city services there are inadequate.

Earlier this year, police declared a “crime emergency” in one of the area’s political subdivisions, Ward 8, sending in dozens of extra officers and boosting the effort to seize illegal firearms. By early this month, the ward had experienced as many killings as it had in all of 2017. Citywide, police have taken more than 1,000 guns off the streets this year.

“Whenever you have homicides going up in the District of Columbia, we feel a sense of urgency,” Police Chief Peter Newsham said. “This is just as frustrating for our police officers as it is for the folks who live in this community. We want to make sure we’re doing everything we possibly can to prevent the next one.”

As in years past, officials blame many of the killings on a proliferation of illegal guns and a quick resort to firearms by people involved in petty disputes. The police chief complains of violent offenders returning to the streets, and the union representing officers says city leaders have focused on critiquing the way police operate but have not concentrated enough on crime-fighting.

D.C. Council hearing used to grill police over stop and frisk tactics

The violence has not, however, struck a nerve across the city as it did in 2015, when a Washington Post poll found that violent crime was a top concern for residents. That year, high-profile random killings, including those of a man stabbed on a Metro train and a young journalist shot at a bus stop, had residents on edge. Robberies and armed assaults also were up, adding to the sense of crisis.

The 162 homicides recorded in 2015 were the most in the District since 2009. The number dropped to 88 in 2012, the fewest recorded in a half-century. Last year, 116 slayings occurred.

Alleged motives in killings this year include anger over being stiffed on a gun purchase, a dispute over a sex-for-drugs deal and romantic jealousy. Several victims were bystanders who were killed in random robberies or by gunmen who opened fire on the streets, police said. One of those victims was 10-year-old Makiyah Wilson.

At a recent Beat the Streets event, a community festival where officers and residents mingle over food and games, Marvin Gross, 26, implored Newsham to catch the men who killed the child. Makiyah was stepping out of her home on Clay Terrace NE on the evening of July 16 when four masked gunmen leaped from a car and began shooting.

“I told him, ‘Ya’ll need to get those people, man,’ ” Gross said, while looking toward two of his children, one aged 2, the other 6 months. “That’s a little kid — I’ve got five girls — so that touched home real quick for me. I started to cry.”

One neighborhood where violence is all too common

Gross said Makiyah’s death reminded him of the friends and family members he has lost to gun violence in the District. That casualty count, he said, includes three cousins — ages 18, 19 and 28 — who were killed in 2007 and 2008.

“Back to back to back, my family got hit,” Gross said. “It impacted me to the point where I haven’t been able to trust nobody, really.”

In an interview, Newsham blamed much of the violence on personal disputes and the easy availability of guns.

But he also added that he was frustrated over a D.C. Council hearing last month in which four council members and dozens of residents spent hours analyzing and criticizing a June 13 search of young men by police on Sheriff Road NE.

Officers found a pellet gun and drugs, as well as scales commonly used to weigh drugs for sale, although people at the scene accused police of planting an armed man in the group to create an excuse to search everyone present. Newsham has denied that, and he lamented the lack of a broader debate on how to stop the violence. At the hearing, Newsham was at pains to remind those listening why his gun-recovery squad is aggressive — “real people really dying.”

“To be honest with you, it is frustrating to see the council focused on a particular incident of a police interaction with a community instead of looking at overall strategies regarding gun violence,” Newsham said.

Sgt. Stephen Bigelow Jr., the chairman of the D.C. police labor union, said the council hearing has left officers frustrated as they work to stem the killings. “The voices of the criminals are being heard and our officers are being thrown under the bus,” he said.

Surge of violence hits District neighborhoods; three killed in one afternoon

Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) defended the day-long hearing, saying, “I think you can have highly effective policing and use policing tactics that work with the community.”

Allen, who chairs the council’s Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, noted that the District provides programs to help people find jobs, keep ex-offenders on track and focus on dangerous neighborhoods in an effort to prevent killings. The emphasis, he said, is, “How can we interrupt homicides before they happen?”

“The 100th homicide is just as tragic as the 99th, the 98th, the 97th, and so on and so on,” he said. “We have to be equally outraged by each one.”

The District’s 93rd homicide victim of the year was Andre Hakim Young.

Young, who worked as a sound engineer, was shot to death July 30 while trying to mediate a dispute over an eviction, according to his family and police. A 23-year-old man has been charged in the case.

“He was just a man with a really good heart,” said a former girlfriend, Sabrina Fields, 38.

Young, 47, lived in Maryland and had five children, ages 16 to 29. He owned Millennium Sound, a company that worked with bands in a range of genres including jazz, rock, go-go and gospel. He volunteered for 14 years as a football coach for a boys’ and girls’ club in Glenarden.

Though not as schooled as others working in the technical side of the music business, Young was a sought-after talent who quickly won over those who doubted his abilities, Fields said.

“There were times at venues, people would try to train him on how to do stuff,” she said. “By the end of the night, they were asking him, ‘How did you get it to sound like that?’ ”

Fields does not see a simple way to stop the violence.

“I don’t think there’s one thing to blame,” she said. “I know God doesn’t make mistakes, but people do. And a lot of people out here are damaged due to all kinds of trauma and abuse. . . . People act out on other people.”

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