There may be peace in some places on Earth this Christmas, but not in some parts of our nation’s capital. The spirit of the season hardly intersects with daily life on the streets, where death seems to carry the day — as shown by the numbers.
As of this week, more than 80 homicides committed in the District this year remain unsolved, according to the Metropolitan Police Department. This stunning finding does not include all unsolved homicides carried on law enforcement books.
Today’s focus is only 2018.
Consider what that means: Perpetrators of more than 80 of this year’s murders may be walking D.C. streets. They may be on the bus or subway, strolling past the grocery store, taking in a movie, shooting hoops on the playground, even sitting in the classroom.
A majority of murderers eventually get caught; the police say they manage to solve about 70 percent of homicide cases each year, though not necessarily in the years in which the crimes are committed. That still leaves many killers who are getting away with murder.
Readers of this column know I’ve been writing about crime in this city for what seems a lifetime. These pieces seem only to constitute background noise.
Murder doesn’t stir up much concern. Metro fare jumping, online sports betting and burnishing the city’s environmental portfolio attract the attention of D.C. lawmakers.
Maybe it’s because not all of Washington is under siege.
Of the 158 homicides in the District as of Dec. 20, 128 were east of North Capitol Street in the Southeast and Northeast quadrants, with Southeast leading the way with 81. That is more than a 40 percent increase over this time in 2017.
But this glance at statistics captures more than the number of bodies falling on our streets. Sorrow is found in the generation doing the dying. Nine of this year’s victims were between ages 10 and 17.
Boys and girls in the flower of their youth who should be experiencing the wonders of growing up and looking toward the holidays are being mangled, maimed and left for dead.
The year got started in January with 17-year-old Joevon Patterson-Smith, a Ballou High School student with special needs who was attacked in a classroom after he refused to let two people use his cellphone. Beaten, hospitalized, declared brain-dead, Joevon died on Jan. 29.
And as the year drew to a close, Gerald Watson, a 15-year-old ninth-grader at Anacostia High School, was chased down by two masked assailants on Dec. 13. He was shot 17 times at close range in a stairwell next to the apartment building where he lived with his mother and grandmother. One of the suspects arrested and charged with first-degree murder was Malik Holston — who was 16 years old.
In July, 10-year-old Makiyah Wilson, heading to an ice cream truck, was hit in the chest by one of several shots fired indiscriminately into a crowd of people by two men in black masks who drove off in a black Infiniti. Holding Makiyah in her arms, her mother, Donnetta Wilson, was heard to cry out, “Please don’t let my baby die.” Prayers don’t always get answered the way we want. Makiyah died in a hospital shortly afterward.
Last May, the homicide rate spiked 41 percent from the same time the previous year, from 39 to 55. Police Chief Peter Newsham, during a “Crime Walk” tour in the 14th Street NW corridor with Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), declared: “We’re going to stop this little uptick in violence. . . . We’re going to end up having a good summer here in the District.”
Promises don’t always come true.
Another writer’s rant?
Yes . . . and no.
I can’t get past the cruelty, the suffering, the violence.
It’s hard to enter a season of great joy and a time for a forward look at life in the midst of so much brokenness.
At a news conference Tuesday, when two homicide arrests were announced, Bowser denounced violence in our city that she said is “fueled by illegal firearms.”
I don’t think that’s the whole story.
Hatred, greed, jealousies, fear for survival fuel violence. The drug business, dysfunctional gang culture, poor social conditions where aggression and threatening behavior abound inspire violence.
What guns do is make violence easier, enabling the people who want to kill or hurt badly.
Yes, get at the guns. D.C. police are taking guns off the streets as fast as they can find them: 2,191 last year, 1,870 in 2016; 35 firearms recently recovered between Nov. 26 and Dec. 3, including a Taurus 9mm handgun toted by a 16-year-old.
But getting at what ails this city means delving deep into the problems that are churning families, children, neighborhoods and community life — in which turning to a gun is easy — and where the spirit of Christmas has no home.
That’s where our attention belongs.
Read more from Colbert King’s archive.