Shortly before noon on Friday, Aug. 12, inside a bathroom of the McDonald’s restaurant at Verizon Center at 6th and F streets NW, a 25-year-old man was shot in the left side of his face, the bullet exiting his cheek.
Police arrested the shooting suspect the next day. He was 15 years old.
This kind of story gets little media coverage. It’s just another snippet about black youth violence, noteworthy only because the criminal behavior occurred downtown.
The McDonald’s shooting was drowned out by the steady drumbeat of raucous presidential campaign news, daily tales out of the Rio Olympics and another headline grabber: the retirement of 26-year veteran D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier, who is going on to greener pastures and a greener paycheck as head of security for the National Football League.
I, too, track these kind of stories. But I can’t let go of that gun-toting 15-year-old. There are plenty of other youths in our city just like him — off-track, at the margins and headed for the cliff. Their futures are among the least attended problems in our city.
The McDonald’s shooting puts the role of our much-acclaimed police chief in perspective.
Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) heaped praise upon Lanier for building and professionalizing a police force that most of the community now trusts. As Lanier said at her news conference, the police department’s mission is taking “guns and violent offenders off the streets daily,” a task she pursued with diligence.
But even Lanier, despite her skills at policing and community engagement, could not do very much about a young person who is motivated to shoot someone and has the means to do it. Police chiefs aren’t mind readers. They can’t be in all places at all times. Their officers can conduct searches and arrest suspects after an attack occurs, as happened in the McDonald’s shooting, and hopefully get a conviction.
But when it comes to turning our youth away from robbing, stealing, shooting and stabbing one another, that burden doesn’t belong on the shoulders of a police chief or any cop.
The 15-year-old in the McDonald’s bathroom was beyond Lanier’s attention and responsibility until he pulled the trigger.
Let’s turn our attention away from the glitter of downtown and toward historic Pennsylvania Avenue, where the mayor and D.C. Council members collect their six-figure salaries at the well-guarded John A. Wilson Building. Do they — and the media, for that matter — care or even know that the 15-year-old charged in the McDonald’s shooting is far from the only teen terrorizing the town?
Let’s look at four days this month:
Friday, Aug. 5, two 15-year-old male juveniles were arrested for an assault with intent to commit robbery on H Street NW.
Saturday, Aug. 6, an 18-year-old male, a 16-year-old male juvenile and a 48-year-old man were arrested for a robbery on Massachusetts Avenue NE.
Tuesday, Aug. 9, a 15-year-old male juvenile and a 13-year-old male juvenile were arrested for an attempted robbery on 7th Street NE.
Tuesday, Aug. 9, a 16-year-old male juvenile and a 17-year-old male juvenile were arrested for a robbery committed on the Metropolitan Branch Trail in Northeast.
Tuesday, Aug. 9, a 16-year-old male juvenile and a 19-year-old man were arrested for an armed robbery on Valley Place SE.
Thursday, Aug. 11, a 15-year-old male juvenile and a 13-year-old male juvenile were arrested for an assault with intent to commit robbery on 51st Street NE.
Between Jan. 1 and Aug. 16, D.C. government statistics show that 2,059 juvenile arrests took place in the District. At that pace, 2016’s juvenile arrest figures may rival or possibly exceed the number of juvenile arrests for 2014 (2,979) and 2015 (3,141).
These grim numbers are greeted with virtual silence by city officials.
The one outstanding exception is D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine, who has been beating a drum about the problem of young people leaving schools and entering the criminal-justice system (the “ school-to-prison pipeline,” as he dubs it). Since he assumed office in January 2015, Racine has been pushing for more efforts to identify the young people most at risk of delinquency to steer them away from the kind of behavior that will land them in the hands of the police and the courts. Unfortunately, the only support he gets seems to come from the court system — but as with the McDonald’s shooter, by the time these kids are in court, it’s almost too late. We need to identify and help them before going off-track turns into going off the cliff.
Teachers looking ahead to the school year are anxious about what awaits them in their classrooms, and they shouldn’t be blamed for that. The juvenile problem, mishandled at home and in the community, falls into the lap of a soon-to-be-leaderless D.C. public school system.
Meanwhile, other D.C. public leaders seem fixated on headline-grabbing items such as marijuana salons and streetcars, grabbing photo ops with the police chief and nabbing the next campaign contributions.
At least most of them don’t have to worry about steering clear of a 15-year-old with a gun.
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