- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 20, 2015


‘The devil is on the loose, and we need to lock it back up.”

Those words fittingly summed up the cultural earthquake that is rocking the nation’s capital, where Official D.C. can’t seem to acknowledge the city’s problem — let alone get a handle on it.

Those remarks by a worried mother, who is old enough to remember when the District was the country’s “murder capital,” sufficed as a punctuation mark Wednesday night inside First Rock Baptist Church in Southeast, where personal responsibility and political accountability merged in a public forum on the problems facing the city.

For more than three hours, teens and parents spoke frankly about being sick and tired of being sick and tired about the lack of efforts from Official D.C. to connect the dots.

Sure, murder, robberies and assorted violent offenses were the crux of their discontent, and the scores of folks in the pews wanted to be informed about what city officials were offering to stem the bloodletting. But the devil was in the details of city officials’ reactions.

Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier bragged about increasing the dollar amounts of gun rewards, but then she abruptly “left” the forum, a couple of attendees told me.

The chief couldn’t take “the heat,” another said.

Residents, mostly teens and young adults, complained about the lack of jobs, programs and facilities for young people. As Official D.C. tried to respond, a Baptist minister from another D.C. church said, “The young people need permanent jobs, and the older residents need permanent jobs. Jobs help create wholeness.”

The forum was called by D.C. Council member Yvette Alexander of Ward 7, a senior lawmaker who told forum attendees that she has a “$1 billion budget” to dole out in Ward 7. But what Ms. Alexander did not say was what the money is being spent on.

“I suspect Medicaid and schools,” Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said to me in the vestibule as he was leaving.

His comments spoke volumes because forum attendees made it clear that they want more money spent on cultural facilities and affairs. More important, they spoke of the poor schooling, drugs, joblessness and violence that has been ripping apart their lives, their families, their communities and their city.

“We used to care for one another,” said Beverly Smith, founder of the nonprofit Momma’s Safe Haven. “We need to teach our kids coping skills, survivor skills.”

“The churches need to do more,” she said.

Here again, Official D.C. missed the point.

That so much voter dissatisfaction was front and center is hardly surprising.

Many members of the audience still remember the “Simple City” neighborhood gang feuds and accompanying gangland violence of the 1990s. A truce eventually was mediated with the help of Robert Woodson and the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, and violence has surely dissipated. But the current generations do not want a return to those bloody days.

They are keenly aware that D.C. is on pace to hit its 100th homicide mark this weekend. Also, blatant daytime robberies and assaults are becoming the norm, and not just in violent neighborhoods on that side of the river. Even public transit bloodletting has become frighteningly familiar as it is caught on tape.

Chief Lanier placed a lot of the blame for today’s violence on guns getting into the wrong hands, which is not new. The wrong hands, not the wrong guns, have always been the issue.

For her part, Mayor Muriel Bowser, a D.C. native, showed up a few minutes before the forum’s scheduled 8:30 p.m. end. She said “there’s not a single reason” for the violence and that her administration is trying “to get in front of the violence.”

The mayor spoke a few minutes about a proactive program that works with “48 families” who have a relative in the criminal justice system because of violent offenses. The goal is to pour services and resources into those families to cut the likelihood that those relatives would get caught in a revolving door of lawbreaking.

That might work, and several folks sitting in those church pews applauded Ms. Bowser for the program.

But even Ms. Bowser, whose 2014 mayoral campaign had a considerable showing in those pews, couldn’t sway the mad-as-hell distemper.

“Take over your children,” one mother compelled other parents.

“I’m sick of the excuses,” another woman said directly to the Official D.C. panel, which earlier had included Chief Lanier.

Other lawmakers within earshot were Anita Bonds, an at-large council member, and Kenyan McDuffie, who represents Ward 5 and has school-age kids. Both knew that what was being said inside First Rock will eventually be repeated come fall, when the council returns from summer break and begins its legislative strategy sessions.

That Official D.C. failed to acknowledge and fill the cracks of the cultural earthquake is scary.

Official D.C. didn’t tell the scores of people in that church, “We mourn, too.”

Official D.C. didn’t say, “We will help rebuild the village that you long for.”

Official D.C. didn’t say, “Here’s Plan A. Will you work with us?”

And Official D.C. didn’t even ask, “What is your plan?”

All Official D.C. did was point crooked fingers.

Official D.C. didn’t even have the good sense to turn to First Rock’s pastor and say, “Will you help us find a way to lock down the devil?”

One of the most effective cultural resources was sitting right there, right there behind them in the pulpit, but Official D.C. never turned his way.

That’s the devil for ya.

Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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