- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 28, 2003

You shouldn’t have to die trying to get a little peace and quiet.A tearful and remorseful Baltimore man was sentenced to life in prison without parole this week for killing a family of seven who had repeatedly tried to prod police into ridding their neighborhood of drug trafficking.

I don’t advocate the death penalty, especially for someone who is ineligible due to his mental capacity — such as Darrell Brooks, the 22-year-old who pleaded guilty to starting the fire that killed Angela and Carnell Dawson and their five children in October. But this crime was so heinous that even Brooks initially advocated the ultimate penalty for himself.

Brooks’ plea for forgiveness and newfound feeling of guilt — after attempting twice to firebomb the row house of the “snitches” — makes you wonder why these thugs, druggies and gangstas place so little premium on human life, save their own. Do they ever stop to think how their behavior affects real lives and causes real deaths?

You want to place some of the blame on record producers, video-game designers and movie moguls. You want to blame the police who ought to do a better job of protecting the public. You want to blame out-of-touch politicians and police chiefs who offer little more than platitudes and made-for-television “crime emergency” ploys.

Let us not forget joblessness.

What of relatives and community residents who turn a blind eye to those they know are committing these crimes, or of those who live in such fear they are hostages in their own homes?

But I won’t go there today. Despite all its causes, the resurgence of violence boils down to individual choice.

What’s a family such as the Dawsons, who lived in a crime-riddled neighborhood, to do to get a little peace without putting their lives on the line? What’s anyone to do when they suspect something’s amiss next door? Police said 35 calls were made from the Dawsons’ address to emergency dispatchers between June 26 and Oct. 16 last year, and Mr. Dawson chased drug dealers off his front stoop.

In the wake of the Dawson family’s deaths, U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Baltimore Democrat, plans to introduce a bill called the Dawson Family Community Protection Act that would provide more money to help the Baltimore-Washington region hire more police officers.

This much-needed legislation would set up additional anonymous hot lines, fund witness-protection efforts and improve lighting in drug-infested communities.

But we would all do well to remember that heinous crimes happen anytime, anywhere. No one is 100 percent immune.

Closer to home, the District’s crime rate appears to be spiraling out of control.

Earlier this week, Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey declared a “crime emergency” that allows him to deploy more officers more often. Maybe he’s after that retirement package the D.C. Council put in abeyance.

Maybe not. At least, the chief finally appears to have heard the hue and cry from communities beset with murders, car thefts, robberies and rapes. Or maybe he can no longer ignore the bloodied bodies dotting the D.C. landscape.

In a particularly egregious crime last week, a Columbia Heights woman was kidnapped by six men who drove her to Rock Creek Park, where they gang-raped her for several hours.

On Tuesday evening at a Baptist church on 14th Street NW, Lt. Charlene Robinson of the 3rd Police District met with community leaders and residents to enlist their help in combating crime in their community. According to one neighbor in attendance at the meeting, Lt. Robinson did more than talk about escalating gang activity as she implored residents to cooperate and collaborate with police. In other words, be snitches.

She distributed written information about “self-help nuisance abatement.” The two-page flyer tells residents not only what constitutes a “nuisance” property, but also what the law allows them to do to sue homeowners or tenants, and what neighbors can do to remedy the nuisance.

Lt. Robinson asked those at the well-attended meeting to participate in an upcoming “Take Back the Streets” program and to get others to join the effort. She added that it would take the community working together to make the neighborhood safe.

These types of meetings are a small start toward a crime solution, but they must be replicated across the District regardless of socioeconomic status of a neighborhood’s residents. Special efforts must be made, for instance, to access and accommodate those who do not speak English as a first language.

Terry Lynch, executive director of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations, for example, is working with grass-roots Hispanic leaders to conduct a crime forum at Sacred Heart Catholic Church this fall, because he realized at a similar meeting in Ward 4 this month that organizers had overlooked Hispanics.

Curtailing deep-rooted crime will take real, deep-seated community policing in which residents develop rapport and trust with patrolmen and officers, who in turn, will feel invested enough in their wards to protect them when they take a scary step forward with critical information.

No one should have to die just trying to get a little peace and quiet.

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