A D.C. TEENAGER who had been shot more than a year earlier died from his injuries on Jan. 5, becoming the city’s first homicide victim of 2018. Five days later, on Jan. 10, another teenager — Paris Brown, 19 — was shot and killed in Southeast Washington. Before the month ended, seven more people were fatally shot, and a 1-year-old was beaten to death. It was a deadly start to what is proving to be a particularly deadly year in the District.
With three months still left in the year, the District has already surpassed last year’s homicide total. As of Thursday, there have been 127 homicides, up 41 percent from the same period in 2017 and more than the 116 homicides for all of 2017. Violent crimes, including robberies, sex abuse and assaults, are down this year from 2017 and D.C. officials are quick to point out the long-term trend in homicides has been going in the right direction. There’s no question the situation is a far cry from the early 1990s, when the crack wars made D.C. the “murder capital” of the United States, with an average of 400 deaths a year.
That, though, is no comfort to those who have lost sons and daughters, fathers and mothers to the surge in gun violence. Most of the killings are centered — as has historically been the case — in the city’s poor, struggling neighborhoods; Wards 7 and 8 have been the hardest hit. Many of the victims are young black men who have had contact with the criminal-justice system. Often the killings result from petty disputes — a romantic rivalry, a perceived slight — and much too often, innocent bystanders — a little girl getting ice cream, an aspiring chef — become the collateral damage. Cataloguing the year’s 100th victim in August — 25-year-old museum worker Travis Barksdale — The Post’s Peter Hermann and Michael Brice-Saddler noted the lack of public outcry that has accompanied previous spikes in violence.
Has the city become numbed? Resigned to killings that seem intractable and that residents of more prosperous neighborhoods don’t see as a threat to them? D.C. and police officials as well as federal law enforcement authorities reject that notion. “Whenever you have homicides going up in the District of Columbia, we feel a sense of urgency,” said Police Chief Peter Newsham. “One homicide is too many,” U.S. Attorney Jessie K. Liu told us. Police this year declared a crime emergency in Ward 8, dispatching extra officers and doubling down on seizures of illegal guns. Federal and local officials point to ramped-up youth outreach and violence interruption programs.
There is no single or easy solution to what is clearly a complex problem, but we think Mr. Newsham is right to focus more attention on the proliferation of illegal guns. Of particular concern is whether there are sufficient consequences deterring convicted felons from reoffending with crimes involving guns. The mandatory minimum for felons in possession of a firearm has stayed at one year as other cities, notably New York, have stiffened punishments. According to Mr. Newsham and Ms. Liu, recent changes in sentencing guidelines by the D.C. Sentencing Commission will mean that repeat offenders who have committed gun crimes will be back on the streets sooner. That’s a problem the D.C. Council should take up.