- The Washington Times - Friday, August 4, 2000

Each year since 1984 Americans in communities everywhere come together during the first week in August to celebrate National Night Out. This year 32 million people in 9,500 communities were out and about participating in Tuesday's events, hailed by organizers and law-enforcement as an effective way to reclaim neighborhoods from criminals.

As it happens, Tyrone Johnson Jr. was out and about, too. So was Donnell Chapman. Both men were fatally shot Tuesday night. One fell victim in Northeast and the other in Southeast two of nine persons shot to death in the District since July 25. Overall, the number of homicides so far this year is up compared to 1999's tally, 153 vs. 144.

Chief Chuck Ramsey will beef up patrols in response to the shootings, and that is a good thing. Still, perhaps crime-weary residents and law-enforcement need to take a different approach to violent crime.

Burgeoning homicide rates and gun violence opened the eyes of Richmond residents in 1997, when the city witnessed a record 139 homicides. Most resulted from a combination of guns, drugs and domestic violence. But those numbers dropped significantly in 1998 (98 killings) and fell still lower in 1999 (56). Why? Many believe it was the result of Project Exile, which imposes mandatory minimum federal sentences of five years in prison, no bail and no parole on persons convicted of gun-related crimes.

In July 1999 Virginia adopted, at the urging of Gov. Jim Gilmore, a state version of the program called Virginia Exile. It mandates, among other things, five-year prison terms for felons subsequently found in possession of a weapon, persons who possess a firearm on school property with the intent to use it or display it in a threatening manner, and those who who possess both a firearm and certain illicit drugs, including heroin. Rochester, N.Y., Philadelphia, and Baton Rouge, La., are a few of the cities that have adopted similar anti-crime programs.

Interestingly enough, the success of Project Exile, just like the success of National Night Out, depends not only on lawmakers and law enforcement, but on the business community, the religious community and ordinary taxpayers. The media and public relations play important roles, too. Law enforcement depends on reporters to keep communities informed on how well Project Exile is executed, and signs and billboards are posted all over Richmond, including the sides of buses, warning gun-toting thugs they will be prosecuted and jailed.

In the District, where high homicide, gun, drug and recidivism rates are as troubling to the criminal justice community as they are to law-abiding citizens, a new outlook and tougher stance on crime such as Project Exile is something District officials should consider.

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