Families in crime-plagued Northeast and Southeast D.C. neighborhoods must have looked with envy at the police presence during last Saturday’s Demand Free Speech rally around Washington’s Freedom Plaza. It was, in a word, massive.
At the slightest sign of a flare-up that might spark trouble, even a verbal altercation, police were on the spot. Suspected troublemakers were followed closely by cops on bikes and motorcycles. Streets remained under police watch well into the night.
Students who routinely walk to and from school with fear and anxiety might well be astonished to see that their city has on hand so many uniformed men and women bearing badges and guns. It is a sight seldom seen in their parts of town, where dangers are only steps away.
A June column took note of 50 violent crimes, including homicides, that have occurred within 1,000 feet of just six elementary schools in the eastern part of the city since the beginning of the year.
Families in those neighborhoods looking at police out in force around Freedom Plaza probably wondered why they can’t get a little of that where they live.
For sure, their neighborhoods don’t draw the attention of the city’s political big shots to the extent enjoyed in the Freedom Plaza environs.
Don’t get me wrong.
Let a young man get stabbed to death in broad daylight at a Northeast Metro station or a 10-year-old girl headed to an ice cream truck get shot and killed, and you better get out of the way of city-hall brass rushing to assemble before a bank of microphones, where they can give full-throated denunciations of “senseless violence” (as if violence is ever worthwhile).
But rest assured, before the bloody street gets hosed down, the brass will have sped off to their well-guarded headquarters in the John Wilson building.
“Where your treasure is,” says the scripture, “there is your heart.”
The hearts of this city’s leaders are set on other things, namely opportunities that make them look good to their backers — such as awarding sole-source government contracts to insiders and filling city jobs with hacks and hustlers.
As for crime, the canned response of the District’s political leadership is to gnash teeth, deplore violence, attend funerals, hug survivors and quickly return to the business at hand: scheming and dreaming up programs and projects to which they can point with pride.
Which may help explain why children and neighbors huddled in their homes in the eastern part of the city last Saturday might feel estranged from downtown. Unlike the Freedom Plaza crowd, residents there are left to cope with surrounding perils without the presence of uniformed police officers standing guard on the sidewalks — as was the case last week when a dozen D.C. cops stood guard outside Harry’s Bar while some of the Proud Boys, the self-designated Western-chauvinist fraternal organization that promotes ending welfare and closing the border, were inside having a drink.
Resentment? Not toward police officers who deploy where they are told.
Bitterness? Yes, but against ourselves for allowing the existence of a climate in which children worry themselves sick about what to do to not get killed, and where parents are on the lookout not for usual hazards such as bad weather or childhood diseases, but for violence that might rob them of a child’s life.
Last week, The Post’s Perry Stein reported on three students who formed an anti-gun advocacy group, Pathways 2 Power, and attended a dozen city meetings to push ideas that would create a safe passage for students in their commutes to school. Their initiative deserves applause. We adults deserve a kick in the butt for having it come to that.
To his credit, Council member David Grosso (I-At Large), disturbed by school lockdowns, shots being fired around school buildings and young lives lost to gun violence, has come up with a proposal designed, as he described on his website, to help children “travel safely to and from schools every day during school hours and after school activities.”
Grosso would have the city provide shuttle buses from Metro stations to the city’s public and public charter schools where children have the fewest transportation options.
Whether the Council would approve Grosso’s proposal or Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) would sign it into law is anyone’s guess.
Other ideas being floated: Expand the number of residents trained to identify and interrupt violence in the Cure the Streets program created by D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine and assign more of these street-savvy workers to areas around schools in high-crime areas; fund a program where, in the absence of other safe means of transportation, ride-hailing companies can be summoned to get students to and from school. And, as with Freedom Plaza, double down on the protectors — but when they get there, stay there until the threat is gone.
Expensive? So are dog parks, free DC Streetcar rides and politicians’ salaries.
Children come first — or, at least, they should.
Read more from Colbert King’s archive.