- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 20, 2006

Kenny Barnes Sr. is not surprised by the summer crime wave in the District.

A clinical psychologist and chief executive officer of Reaching Out to Others Together (ROOT), he predicted a rough-and-tumble summer back in January when he and representatives of other groups held a press conference to declare a public health emergency in the city.

“We stated unequivocally that the problems were going to get worse. We need help [from city leaders], and we were virtually ignored,” Mr. Barnes says. “In fact, we were told that crime had gone down. But we said, ‘Oh, no, wait until the summer.’”

Mr. Barnes, who knows something about violence, having lost one son to it, is not surprised by the knee-jerk reaction now that this summer’s “crime emergency” has arrived in full force like the heat wave.

“What I’ve said all along is what we need from the community and government is proactive solutions, not reactive measures,” Mr. Barnes reiterates.

Extended curfews, increased police patrols and spotty surveillance cameras are reactive measures, he says of the emergency initiatives proposed by Mayor Anthony A. Williams and approved by the D.C. Council on Wednesday.

The hasty, hackneyed window-dressing exercise passed by a 12-1 vote.

“I’m not saying they’re not good [ideas], but I defy anyone to stand before me and say they will solve the root of the [crime] problem,” says Mr. Barnes, whose organization works with young people and frequently stages anti-crime events.

We have skipped down this Yellow Brick Road before. The “culture of crime,” is allowed to prevail in the poorer areas until some high-profile killing or mugging occurs in the richer areas. Then the police chief declares an emergency. Then the city officials rush to make tourists and tony residents think it’s safe for them to stroll around in their bubbles again — until the next time crime crosses the invisible line.

“Those measures are pandering to a specific group of people. They will make a few people feel safe and in a few select areas feel good, but are they solving the [long-term] crime problem?” Mr. Barnes asks. “No.”

For example, Mr. Barnes asks, do you really think someone will be dumb enough to commit a crime in front of a camera? No, they will just move out of the camera’s view, spreading crime into larger areas.

He pointed out that the mayor’s plan calls for installation of 23 cameras. That’s three per ward, if they are distributed evenly.

As for the teen curfew, why extend a program that is hard to enforce and clearly hasn’t done much to quash juvenile crime? If a curfew is such a great solution, wouldn’t it have worked by now?

“Are we saying that there will be no more robberies by juveniles now that there is a 10 o’clock curfew?” he asks. Besides, as Mr. Barnes notes, only one juvenile was involved in the recent spate of killings. If news reports are accurate, the 15-year-old arrested in the highly charged Georgetown slaying “was involved on the periphery.” Therefore, he suggests, curfews will have no impact on those actually committing crimes.

“We are blaming children for what we failed to do for them,” he says.

For example, Mr. Barnes offers another sad statistic: In a population of more than 500,000, only 2,500 students (the majority of them girls) graduated from high school last year.

It is not enough to heighten punitive measures to attack crime. As the Northern Virginia task force on gang violence reported earlier this week — two days before they had several drive-by shootings in Loudoun County on their hands — preventive and intervention programs must compose the other half of the battle plan to combat violence.

“How are we going to lock everybody up? These are not legal issues; we have a public health crisis on our hands,” Mr. Barnes says.

In a survey he conducted that is being analyzed by the city’s health department, 90 percent of the students at one D.C. junior high school said they knew someone who was a victim of crime, while only 10 percent said they had ever received any psychological or sociological assistance from city agencies.

Mr. Barnes thinks many youngsters are suffering from the same type of post-traumatic stress as soldiers, and they engage in anti-social behavior as a result.

“Do you think if there was this kind of epidemic in the suburbs that it would be allowed to continue?” he asks. “All these kids need psycho-social services.”

What Mr. Barnes wants is a more substantial, long-term, comprehensive approach to crime in the city that includes all stakeholders. He especially wants people like himself — those who are involved daily on the streets with juveniles and offenders — to be front and center at the table when crime initiatives are developed, implemented and monitored.

He points out with audible frustration that no community activists involved in fighting crime were allowed to offer suggestions at the latest City Council hearing. With all his expertise and experience, he asks, “Have I ever gotten one phone call from this mayor or his administration? Not one.”

Maybe before this current “crime emergency” is over, some city leader, perhaps one seeking to replace Mr. Williams, will give Mr. Barnes more than a passing nod.


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