THE DISTRICT is headed toward ending the year with a dramatic drop in violent crime: fewer sexual assaults, fewer assaults with a deadly weapon, fewer robberies and fewer homicides. Normally we would cheer that good news. But the senseless murder this last week of a 17-year-old — apparently over a pair of sneakers — is a sobering reminder of the challenges that still confront the city and some of its most troubled neighborhoods.
The death of James Anthony Smith should be a call to action — for police, city agencies, elected officials and, most of all, for members of the community. The Ballou High School sophomore was shot Monday night on a basketball court at the Frederick Douglass Community Center in Southeast Washington in what police believe was an apparent robbery. He was found without the bright red Nike Air Jordans his mother had given him as an early Christmas present. "I can't believe he was killed, all over a pair of shoes," his mother told The Post's Peter Hermann, describing her son as a "good kid" who loved basketball and computer games.
He was the District's 110th homicide victim this year. This same time last year there were 129 homicides. But the number in Ward 8, where this young man lived and died, was the same, 44. That's about 40 percent of the total number of homicides in the entire city; Smith was the second student from Ballou shot to death this year. Some have called for more police, but police alone aren't the answer to violence rooted in the social issues of struggling neighborhoods — one of which is the too-easy availability of guns.
Police Chief Peter Newsham has credited the city's overall drop in violent crime — 23 percent compared with this time last year — to improved cooperation of city agencies in tackling some of the factors that lead to crime, such as lack of opportunity, substance abuse and mental-health issues. Officials should double down on those strategies with a renewed focus on neighborhoods that traditionally have been hardest hit by crime. Churches, schools, parents and teenagers themselves must be part of the effort, too. "We need some new re-education as to how we should act as a people," said D.C. Council member Trayon White Sr. (D-Ward 8). "We shouldn't devalue ourselves to an Air Jordan."
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