In Donald Trump’s new home town Sunday night, there was a homicide. Thirteen gunshots were fired in a neighborhood less than four miles from the White House. When D.C. police showed up, they found Kenny Bell, a 30-year-old black man, dead on the grounds of the Ferebee-Hope Recreation Center in Southeast Washington.
The rec center is in Ward 8, which is predominantly black and scarred by deep pockets of poverty but also home to a vibrant middle class. Of the 135 homicides in the city last year, 46 were in Ward 8. During President Trump’s campaign, he referred to such crime-plagued areas as “a living hell.”
Now he was just a 10-minute motorcade ride away from one, having pledged to curb violence, reduce unemployment and improve schools in such places.
“I will produce for the African Americans,” Trump said.
Did he mean it?
There are some in Ward 8 who would like to believe him. Perhaps living in a high-crime area and seeing the devastating effects of homicides, day in and day out, leaves you little choice: Cling to hope or succumb to despair.
“During the past 14 years, I have been to 96 funerals, mostly for young, black male homicide victims,” said Trayon White Sr., 32, who represents Ward 8 on the D.C. Council. Three of them were in the past two weeks. “If we can get Justice Department grants for public safety programs and mental health services, we ought to at least make an effort to do so.”
Nearly a month into Trump’s presidency, however, Trump has shown no sign of producing anything but more misery for the nation’s poor and working class — black and white alike.
His efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act could leave millions of the nation’s most vulnerable residents uninsured. His tax-cutting scheme would certainly enrich corporate America, but it could also reduce incentives for developers to create more affordable housing. His administration already includes appointees who have advocated for cuts in Medicaid, food stamps and Head Start programs.
On the campaign trail, Trump appealed for black votes with a harshly put observation about life in troubled neighborhoods: “You’re living in poverty. Your schools are no good. You have no jobs. Fifty-eight percent of your youth is unemployed. What the hell do you have to lose?”
The answer, so far, appears to be food, housing, health care and education.
In the nation’s capital, slashing the federal budget would likely increase a racial wealth and income gap that is already obscenely wide. White households in the Washington area have a net worth 81 times that of black households — $284,000 compared with $3,500, according to a report last year by the Urban Institute.
In 2013, the top one percent of families nationally made 25.3 times as much as the bottom 99 percent, according to a study by the Economic Policy Institute released in June.
Yet during the presidential campaign, those at the bottom rung were cast as the primary cause of all that was wrong with America. Trump said immigrants coming from Mexico were not the best, but rapists and criminals. He tweeted that black people were responsible for 81 percent of homicides against white people.
His claims were not just divisive, they were lies.
Meanwhile, immigrants fear being rounded up and deported now more than ever, the white working class continues to die of suicide and drug overdoses in record numbers and black Americans in poor neighborhoods are overwhelmed with the knowledge that they may be the only ones worried about the violence taking so many black lives.
Instead of having a president working to solve our common problems, we have one who has set up each group to hold the other in contempt on their way to the grave.
On Tuesday, Valentine’s Day, White wasn’t waiting for Trump to address the problems of his new city. He launched a “Red Ribbon Safe Communities” initiative in which couples gathered to discuss ways to make their communities safe. “We need to build stronger families,” White said. “Residents need to become more active in the community because, in the end, the solution lies with us.”
Spread love, not bullets, was the theme.
But, as White knows, there can be no separating chronic, concentrated poverty from increased violence.
A few days before Bell was killed, a gunman fired 12 rounds into a crowd on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE. Four people, including a 17-year-old girl, were hit and wounded. It could have been a dozen homicides.
“Our ward has one of the highest unemployment rates, per capita, in the country,” White said. “People are very stressed, a lot are desperate. If Trump can help with workforce development and job placement, then I’m willing to focus on what we have in common and not our differences.”
What does White have to lose?
To read previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/milloy.