Lauren Bellamy strapped a blue bicycle helmet over her sandy brown pigtails yesterday, then pedaled off to highlight a cause she can only begin to understand — stopping violence in the District.
“A lot of people in my neighborhood have guns,” said Lauren, 7, a second-grader at Georgetown Day School. “My friend said somebody had a gun in front of her mom. It’s sad.”
She joined several other District residents in a 5-mile bike parade that is part of the Metropolitan Police Department’s “40 Days of Increased Peace” program.
Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey started the program five years ago to provide youth- and family-focused alternatives to crime. The program ends this year on Aug. 1.
The cyclists pedaled from the Boys’ and Girls’ Club of Greater Washington’s Robert V. Murray Clubhouse, on Milwaukee Place in Southeast, to the club’s Richard England Clubhouse on Benning Road in Northeast, where the police department had set up a “Safety Awareness Day” to address general issues of safety and health.
The Rev. Laverne Harley, of the East of the River Clergy Police-Community Partnership and the “40 Days” coordinator, said the program is “an effort to get people to understand that we have to stop killing each other, no matter the reason.”
The program is a collaboration among the police-community partnership, the Boys’ and Girls’ Club, Reaching Out to Others Together Inc., WPGC 95.5 FM and the office of Mayor Anthony A. Williams.
Donmiguel Wilson, a 6-year-old Southeast boy found dead last week in an apartment bathtub, was remembered in the ceremony yesterday.
Serious crime in the District is down this year by more than 14 percent, according to the police department. Ms. Harley said the trend is reflected by the decrease in calls, compared to last summer, from families of homicide victims asking the clergy-response team for support services.
“Whenever there’s a homicide in the community, witnesses aren’t speaking up,” she said. “We’re trying to make a statement that you have to speak up.”
Police officers yesterday stepped out of their usual law-enforcement roles to play games with the children, cook on the grill, spin records, distribute helmets and encourage people to take free condoms and receive testing for AIDS, diabetes and other diseases.
“Our main objective was to get the community involved,” said Sgt. Darrell Best of the police department’s 7th District.
Organizers said they were not discouraged by the “moderate” turnout, attributing it to the heat, the 9 a.m. start or apathy. They instead focused on the message they planned to send to the residents who attended.
“We’re tired of the homicides,” Sgt. Best said “We’re tired of the gun violence. We’re tired of the car jackings, robberies, domestic violence. Today, we plant a seed in the children. Hopefully, that will prevent teenage violence, which leads to adult violence. Hopefully, they will find a way out.”