The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion A summer so lawless in D.C., it feels like the Wild West

WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 21: DC Metropolitan Police hold a standoff with a suspect barricaded in a house following a shooting that left one woman dead at 18th Street and Lawrence Street Northeast in Washington Friday, August 21, 2015. (J. Lawler Duggan/For The Washington Post)

For a while there, the spirit of the Wild West returned to our nation’s capital in the guise of the stagecoach.

In its day, the stagecoach epitomized the Wild West. It traveled difficult and dangerous routes transporting drivers and passengers, many of whom were worried sick about whether they would make it home to their families. At times, the threat was so great that stagecoach owners avoided stops where safety was jeopardized.

This week, the District’s stagecoach went down that path.

On Monday, Metro announced that buses would avoid nighttime stops for one week in the 2400 block of Elvans Road SE because someone had fired at the W8 bus the previous Friday night, striking a passenger. Last month, a Metro bus driver was threatened at Savannah and 19th streets SE.

Andre Nickens, who was waiting at the bus stop in the Elvans Road cul-de-sac, told WUSA (Channel 9) that "it's the danger zone right here. This whole neighborhood is dangerous." On Sunday and Monday, WUSA reported, the W8 bus did not travel down the dead-end street after 7 p.m.

Metro concluded that a strategic detour and conceding territory to the criminal element were the better part of valor.

After protests from the riding public and calls from chagrined city officials, Metro reversed its decision. But the reality of the situation can't be changed: Lawlessness that would put the old Wild West to shame has taken root in parts of our city.

We probably have more gunfights on our streets than occurred in Tombstone and Deadwood combined.

And law-breaking takes place with impunity.

Time was, most shootings and killings in the District occurred under the cover of darkness, offering the best chances for evasion and escape.

Not so today. The brazenness is staggering.

In one afternoon this month: A 21-year-old man was shot multiple times and died around noon on the grounds of St. Luke Roman Catholic Church on East Capitol Street; at 3:50 p.m., a 17-year-old in Southeast took a gun to the apartment of a woman and her 12-year-old boy — the mother died from gunshot wounds; at 4:45 p.m., a man was shot and killed in the 2700 block of 17th Street NE.

And on a recent Saturday afternoon in broad daylight near a busy Metro station in Shaw, an innocent bystander was killed in crossfire.

As is customary with a spike in crime, calls came forth to put more police on the streets, as if more cops on the corner are the answer.

Consider this D.C. police news release: "On Wednesday, July 29th at around 11:00PM, at Piney Branch Road and Missouri Avenue, NW, three people were shot, each sustaining non-life threatening injuries. While in the area, MPD officers observed a subject running with what appeared to be a gun. The subject running was captured and recovered was a firearm."

Significance? The triple shooting occurred within eyesight of the police department’s Fourth District headquarters.

What part of “impunity” is not understood?

In the D.C. real estate market, the mantra is location, location, location. And where does D.C. crime take place? Anywhere it wants to.

Yes, most of the violence is concentrated in neighborhoods east of North Capitol Street. But chalk that up to the perpetrators’ choice, not because the rest of the city is considered off-limits.

Just ask the folks who live in the vicinity of the 3200 block of Woodland Drive in upper Northwest, where Savvas Savopoulos, his wife, young son and housekeeper were brutally murdered.

Which gets us to the city’s response. Expanded police powers seem to be among the solutions of the day. One city hall proposal would make it easier for authorities to search people on parole or probation and take into custody those found to be in violation.

Repeat violent offenders, according to Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), are a chief problem. She makes the point that at least 22 homicide suspects were under supervision pending trial or on probation or parole at the time of the crime, and almost half, or 45 percent, had prior gun-related arrests in the District (compared with 27 percent in 2014).

Not to get all existential, but the problem is much deeper than synthetic drugs, high-capacity gun magazines, turf wars, rejiggering police deployment or keeping an eye on repeat violent offenders.

We have on our hands — in our neighborhoods, on our streets and maybe living next door — walking disasters: individuals who believe that their lives matter, but not yours or mine. Neither do our laws and institutions.

The Wild West’s outlaws felt that way, too. But it didn’t turn out so well for them. Won’t for ours, either, in the long run.

The challenge, as always: to keep our potential outlaws from going down that path. That’s not up to the police. Look at the faces of the killers and their victims. It’s on us — parents, preachers, politicians, community pontificators — all who profess that black lives matter, to prove it.

Read more on this issue:

The Post’s View: A deadly summer in the cities

Kenyan R. McDuffie: I am outraged. You should be, too.

The Post’s View: Homicides in the D.C. region paint a disturbing picture of 2014