The onslaught of fatal shootings in the District of Columbia this summer has pushed the city’s homicide tally to 102 this year — 41 percent higher than last year — leaving residents angry and on edge as they plead with D.C. officials to get the violence under control.
After a spray of gunfire took her son’s life this month, Karen Addison-Herbert said the violence makes her sick. Ryan Matthew Addison was gunned down Aug. 11 in the Bellevue neighborhood in Southwest shortly after walking a woman home from his apartment.
“They don’t know who shot him. He was walking a young lady home after a date. He said goodbye. He wasn’t but a couple of feet away from where she lived and they shot him up,” Mrs. Addison-Herbert said of what detectives told her about her son’s death.
Three types of bullets were recovered from the scene, she said, suggesting three gunmen opened fire on a 29-year-old man who had no arrest record and planned to start a job as a special police officer this month.
Mr. Addison was the 91st homicide victim in the District this year. That the killings have only continued — a woman shot Friday afternoon by a relative was confirmed as the 99th homicide victim, two men were gunned down early Saturday in separate shootings, and a man was stabbed to death Sunday afternoon — boggles the mind of his 59-year-old mother.
“I’m just so confused,” said Mrs. Addison-Herbert, who is planning to lay her son to rest Wednesday. “Why is the world coming to this?”
In 2012, the District reported a record low 88 homicides. It was the first time in four decades that slayings in the city — once known as the “murder capital” — had dipped that low and the only year during Chief Cathy L. Lanier’s eight years at the helm of the Metropolitan Police Department when she could boast that the city had fewer than 100 homicides.
Homicide totals since 2012 seem to suggest that the record low was an anomaly rather than a new normal.
In the past, police have blamed rising homicide numbers on an uptick in domestic violence fatalities or in 2013 on the mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard that left 12 people dead, but the frequency of killings this year has flummoxed law enforcement.
The Major Cities Chiefs Police Association convened in the District this month so law enforcement officials could try to develop solutions to deal with rising crime across the country. The association reported that among 35 big cities, homicides were up an average of 19 percent this year and 62 percent of cities had increases in nonfatal shootings.
Over the past two months, Chief Lanier and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser have struggled to offer explanations for the rising homicides. They suggested that synthetic drugs were to blame after an American University graduate was stabbed to death on a Metro train by an 18-year-old man who reportedly was high. The chief later pointed to an uptick in random disputes over such things as dice games or arguments that turned violent, an increase in the use of high-capacity firearms on the streets and the release from custody of repeat violent offenders.
“The motives of what’s happening in the past several weeks are varied,” Chief Lanier said last week. “But one of the common things that we are seeing: too many guns in too many homes.”
‘A sense of randomness’
Residents have become frustrated by the inconsistent explanations. At a particularly heated meeting in Ward 7 last week, residents questioned whether police were providing an adequate response.
“The only time they are coming around is when something negative is happening,” said Beverly Smith, founder of Mommas Safe Haven, a nonprofit that operates programs for children in the ward. “I have been a witness to many crimes in the community, and I know they come out fairly quickly. It’s just that the only time we see them is when they are questioning us.”
Others have grown tired of what they see as efforts to downplay concern by comparing homicide statistics to those from more than a decade ago, when homicides were far more frequent, or by noting that the city’s overall crime rate, which includes violent and property crime, is down by about 1 percent this year.
“You’re missing the whole entire point of why the issue is being raised and the deep concern about public safety when we step outside our homes,” Anthony Lorenzo Green, a Ward 8 neighborhood representative, wrote in a message to constituents on Facebook. “Of course overall crime is down because property crime is down. But when people bring crime up, they’re talking about violent crime, which has skyrocketed in our city.”
D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said he still believes the city is safe but acknowledged that an unclear message from the mayor hasn’t assuaged fears.
“Clearly, there’s been an increase and there is a sense of randomness, which is unusual,” Mr. Mendelson said. “The fact there have been evolving explanations is unsettling to many people.”
Both Ms. Bowser and Chief Lanier have responded with visibility, making near-daily appearances before the media at homicide scenes or community meetings.
At the Kennedy Recreation Center in the Shaw neighborhood Wednesday, they asked residents to step up their own involvement in crime prevention by announcing an increase in reward money available for tips that lead to seizures of illegal guns or arrests and convictions in shootings. Shaw has been the site of several recent homicides, including the death of a 23-year-old business analyst who was caught in the crossfire of a daytime shootout.
Police recently deployed a community engagement tent in the neighborhood as a way to step up officer visibility. But even as dozens of officers congregated there Friday to eat pizza provided by community members, just a few feet away a memorial shrine for a woman gunned down during a barbecue this summer provided a stark reminder of the violence.
Charlie Bengel, an Advisory Neighborhood Commission member, attended the gathering to chat with officers. He previously complained about gunfire near the recreation center and advocated for better deployment of security cameras in the area, but said he had seen positive results from recent community meetings with officials.
“Honestly, I’ve been pleased in what the mayor has done in the last few days,” said Mr. Bengel, noting the fixed police posts in the neighborhood. “The reality is, we’ve not see the violence since they’ve been here. You can walk down the street now.”
Community activists say the efforts to step up police visibility will help but the cycle of violence will continue without a long-term commitment to provide economic opportunities to residents or stem gang rivalries.
“The community is frustrated because they feel the resources are not making it to the community,” said Ron Moten, who for years ran the now-disbanded Peaceoholics organization, which worked to intervene in violent disputes. “It’s at the point where we are going to do something or we go back to the days that nobody wants to talk about in D.C.”