Joseph “Jo-Jo” Baltimore. Deon Gay. Melvin Turner Jr. The sight of blood-stained clothes while I held Myron Morgan Jr. as he took his last breath.
Those are just some of the murders in the District neighborhood where I grew up. It was hit hard by the crack cocaine epidemic, which ruined thousands of lives across the District. I still carry the scars of growing up in a community where an African American male is celebrated for living to see his 18th birthday.
Unfortunately, the neighborhoods of my youth are unchanged. In a few short weeks, 2015 has become an unacceptably deadly year for our youth. In January, three young men in the Langston-Carver neighborhood were injured in a shooting. Andrew Newman and Phillip Jones, both juveniles, were murdered. Equally disturbing, another shooting took place at a vigil for Phillip, an Anacostia High School student who had recently been accepted into the Labor Department’s Job Corps.
I am outraged, and I hope you are too.
Much like life in the Stronghold neighborhood where I grew up, the indifference shown by some of our youth today toward their own lives and the lives of others is corrosive. A report by the National Institute of Justice confirms that the result of the indifference can beget more crime, finding that youth exposed to gun violence are more likely to engage in violent crime. Moreover, the long-term consequences of juveniles participating in violent crime are borne out in another report by the National Institute of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, which indicated that “30-60 percent of juvenile delinquents known to the police or juvenile courts persisted as adult offenders.”
Many individuals and organizations are working to reduce youth violence. However, we must confront one of our greatest challenges: apathy. Everyone in the District should be livid when a minor is murdered, regardless of our socioeconomic status or how far we live from the tragedy. The indifference of adults to the plight of our youth only perpetuates the culture of violence. Our children recognize when we do not care, and though they may not trace back their decisions to our complacency, their decisions and ability for empathy are compromised by it. We must resist the urge to dissociate ourselves from the news reports and from thinking that a young life taken from us is the inevitable consequence of life in the District.
I will not stand by and accept the status quo. As chair of the D.C. Council’s Committee on the Judiciary, I am reaching out to government agencies, community leaders and residents to convene a hearing to discuss solutions that address the root causes of the problem. I am also developing initiatives that will amplify our outrage and stop the youth violence.
I do not have all the solutions, but I am committed to working tirelessly to change the culture of violence in our city. The problem requires more than a law enforcement response. Many of the initiatives will require residents from all walks of life to buy in to the simple idea that any murder is unacceptable. Our educators, community leaders, service providers and business owners must participate in changing the odds for our children.
We can do better. Everyone should demand it.
The writer, a Democrat, represents Ward 5 on the D.C. Council.