Guest Column: Mayor Vincent Gray

Hopelessness Breeds Homicide – But the District Is Heading in the Right Direction

As of mid-December, there have been 106 homicides in the District of Columbia in 2011 — 16 percent below that number at same date last year – and that statistic is on pace to be the lowest annual homicide total in the District in nearly 50 years. This represents both the continuation and acceleration of a trend we’ve seen over the last decade. It’s also taking place at the same time that the District’s population is growing, meaning the murder rate is decreasing even more rapidly than the overall number of homicides.

While any murder is one too many, this is still a dramatic departure from the situation less than 20 years ago, when the District saw some of its darkest days of violent crime. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, upwards of 400 homicides occurred annually in our city, and residents in many neighborhoods lived in constant fear that they or their loved ones would become collateral casualties in a drug- or gang-related shooting.

I commend Chief Cathy Lanier and our Metropolitan Police Department for their hard work in ensuring the safety and well-being of District residents. But homicide is not a problem that can be solved merely by beefing up the ability of our law-enforcement officials to prevent and prosecute it.

Murder – like other social ills – is a complex issue with innumerable root causes. And my administration is committed to attacking those causes holistically.

Poverty, joblessness and lower levels of educational attainment are all correlated to violent crime, and the District is suffering from all three – particularly in neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River. In some parts of our city, the unemployment rate is well above 25 percent, college graduates are few and far between and incomes are far below the poverty line.
If we look at the murder rate in isolation from our unemployment rate, our high-school graduation rate, our rates of drug abuse and other problems, then we are doing ourselves a significant disservice.

I am committed to improving outcomes in the areas of safe communities for all our residents, quality educational opportunities from birth through early adulthood, job growth and economic-development opportunities that extend the ability to find good work to all of our residents and paying for vital human services and other city services in a way that doesn’t bankrupt our city. We won’t be able to minimize our murder rate until all of our residents are committed to the same goals and we all work together to mitigate the conditions that contribute to violent behavior.

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