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“So where is the breakdown? Are the laws protecting young violent offenders too lenient?”

by Prince Of Petworth April 6, 2017 at 2:45 pm 79 Comments

Popville bullet

“Dear PoPville,

I live at 5th and O Sts NW. I’m done with the insanity every time the weather turns nice and my neighbors go on shooting sprees. They’re not even my neighbors, they’re the people that lost their right to subsidized housing because of their criminal records, who now live in MD. But they drive here to hang out where the 5th and 7th St gangs were and pretend their old “territory” is still theirs – you can see their MD plates filling the parking lots of the housing communities on these blocks. My neighbors and I pitched holy hell two summers ago when there were multiple shootings outside Kennedy Rec until we got a 24/7 police presence on that block. It took 5 shootings and daily phone calls to the mayor’s office to get it done. We have talked to the police, we have talked to the mayor’s office, we have talked to our ANC reps. The problem is tremendously clear. These are repeat offenders who get arrested, but are back on our street within a matter of days. So the issue is the court system. These felons are not being prosecuted, they are being released, and they know they’re going to be released. Our officers are present on these blocks, they engage with the community and they risk their safety, as they did last night, chasing an armed man for multiple blocks on foot until he managed to evade them on our block while his friends shot up 6th and O. I cannot imagine how frustrating it is to do your job, day in and day out, and watch the same people you arrest for blatant criminal activity back on the same block committing these same violent offenses in less than three days.

So where is the breakdown?

Are there not enough attorneys to prosecute these cases? Are the laws protecting young violent offenders too lenient? Does the city need to mandate that these massive subsided housing communities have their contracts renegotiated? Is there miscommunication or no communication between the courts and the facilities that manage ankle monitors – which led to Duane Johnson murdering Tricia on Christmas? I can see that the police in our neighborhood are doing about as best they can do with the situation. There are a few one-off stories about cops sitting in their cars on their cell-phones, but overall these men and women are remarkably present in our community. They have been dealt a crap deal by a city that isn’t seeing these arrests through. And the residents who have been on this block for anywhere from 50 years to 5 months, want some answers, but more than that we want results. I don’t need the mayor’s office reading off statistics on the phone to me about how crime is actually down in the city, when there are the same men trolling the same four blocks shooting the same guns outside the same playground year after year after year. We have been told a solution is being sought, and yet I hear nothing about new laws, regulations, or reform that will solve the problem that we are facing. Someone, many someones, are not doing their damn job.”

  • K

    So you should read the Washington Post series Second Change City. It is really well researched and written. https://www.washingtonpost.com/investigations/second-chance-law-for-young-criminals-puts-violent-offenders-back-on-dc-streets/2016/12/02/fcb56c74-8bc1-11e6-875e-2c1bfe943b66_story.html?utm_term=.7146e035fcc8

    I recommend clicking all the way back and starting with article one that features the Antwan Pitt rape case.

  • Anon

    Part of the problem may be that there is a significant portion of DC (including commenters here) who are not sure that the kids are doing anything wrong. In their mind, they are just some young knuckleheads doing what teenage kids do.

    • kittycatbob

      Agreed. I was a juror on a trial a couple years back and one of the jurors was adamant that slashing someone in the face was acceptable behavior in his community. It was a hung jury.

      • anonymous

        Wow. Civilization generally doesn’t work that way. We can create all the laws in the world, but society has to have some sort of moral compass to make it all work out. If you have jurors like this, anarchy rules. A successful society cannot exist if too many of its members embrace this sort of mindset.

        • MadMax

          Many jurors see letting kids off as the only counter to a set of systems they feel oppresses them through every other measure.

          • anonymous

            Yeah, I get that. However, it doesn’t work- as we see here and elsewhere. Being an enabler for bad/violent behavior is unproductive at the least and deadly dangerous at worst. The mindset kittycatbob describes is one that is destructive at its core (regardless of whether its adherents realize it or not) because it does nothing to push us forward, but everything to enable or excuse destruction.

          • MadMax

            Oh I completely agree that it doesn’t work, just saying that’s how they square that circle.

          • kittycatbob

            Just a note about my comment above. The defendant was an adult, so this mindset doesn’t just apply to juveniles. There is a segment of the population that does feel like violence is an acceptable solution to solving problems. The juror I referenced bragged non-stop about all the fights he had been in as both a kid and an adult. It was a mentally draining month (yes, the trial and deliberation took a month) to listen to him drone on and on about his violent past.

          • Alan

            You can’t use your solitary experience as a juror once to draw a conclusion about every jury pool in the city.

          • kittycatbob

            @Alan – I wasn’t using my experience to say anything about the entire jury pool. My point was that there is a mindset out there that violence is acceptable behavior for some people. I just experienced that mindset in action when I served on a jury.

        • Ally

          Agree on the issue with some jurors. I was on a grand jury at the same time that one of the other grand juries (I’m told, for the first time in DC history) decided to boycott ALL cases put before them … even the violent ones … all as a misguided protest against drug laws (f you talk to the ADAs, they don’t even prosecute drug offenses unless they raise to the amount that could be considered for dealing; or, if they lop it in with a violent offense). Anyway, for weeks on end, that grand jury refused to return any indictments whatsoever. I felt so sorry for the ADAs who were busting their tails and doing their best to remain respectful.

          • not telling

            Well, I was on a grand jury and we pretty much only heard possession cases, so I would disagree with that.

            I’m surprised the judge didn’t haul the entire grand jury up for questioning. It sounds like a serious violation of the oath the jurors took (of course, the charge against them would need to be heard by another grand jury, which would probably be loath to indict…)

      • A

        Agree 100%. People freak out over pop-ups, pop-backs and affordable housing; yet seem to accept violent crime as “ok”. It’s not. I’m not saying locking up young, first time offenders is the answer, but for repeat offenders who take advantage of the leniency; more needs to be done. And for those than condone this behavior and the politicians who enable them, shame on you.

      • Tom

        Someone’s moral compass needs calibration.

      • Dude

        Whoa! That is unbelievable! Crap.

    • Hill Denizen

      I don’t think anyone would argue that kids firing guns is just kids being kids.

  • RV

    And yet people spend $800,000 on 2BR condos right there. It boggles my mind.

    • Sydney

      I know, right? Eight hundred is way below value for 2,000 sf in Shaw. Crazy!

    • Ross

      THIS is why nothing will change. Until the new arrivals to these neighborhoods stop paying a million dollars for the privilege of living next to an open air shooting gallery, and the District starts seeing a drop in tax revenue, not a damn thing is gonna change. The social problems at the root of all this crime is being overlooked by the authorities. They don’t care, as long as the money keeps rolling in.

      • stacksp

        DCs use of development as a means to solve or push out crime is flawed. Every major open air drug market pre development/ gentrification still exists today

        • Shawkid

          Not every one. And even those that’s still exist, in many cases are more subdued and more out of sight. Not perfect by far, but headed in the right direction.

          • anon

            similar to other street level crime like prostitution, technology has enabled less overt means of using public space to commit criminal act. This was not the case 10 years ago. You may see less routine activity on the streets but it’s much harder to hide any beefs.

        • anon7

          If you think homes are pricey now, just wait until the neighborhood troublemakers get pushed out altogether. Prospective purchasers will be beggin for gunshots!

        • Anon

          stacks – I’m sure you’re just going for hyperbole, that’s simply incorrect. 1st NW north of NYA used to be a MAJOR open air drug market, not that long ago. That’s no longer the case. Does sh1t go down on the unit blocks south of Florida? Sure, but it’s not remotely comparable to the past. Similar cases elsewhere around the city. Development is most definitely pushing many such markets out, though definitely far from all (see this morning’s shooting news).

          • stacksp

            Perhaps a bit of an exaggeration but the area that I think you are referring to is not far from Sursum Cordas which is alive and well. Instead of hanging out on NY and 1st they are on Mst and in between the housing complex in addition to hanging on the corner of North Cap and NY

        • Alan

          You must be new here. The difference between Clifton Terrace in the 90s and today is night and day.

      • aptseeker

        If someone can get a nice place close to work, close to amenities, you think they will forego that and commute from Crystal City in order to punish the District govt for not doing enough about crime? I don’t think it works that way. You will need to find another solution.

        • MadMax

          Yeah, I’m willing to gamble on the 0.01% of being shot if it means I can walk to work in 10 minutes.

      • asdf

        Why would a drop in tax revenue encourage local government and authorities to shape up? If anything, taxpayers in the city need to hold local government and authorities accountable. Vote for candidates and policies that combat the problem. I honestly think the wealthy white liberal denizens of the city (’cause really, that’s who’s buying $800K real estate) don’t have the will to tackle the dysfunction because of the unspoken perception that it’s “a black problem” and it’s not their place to have a real opinion about it or demand solutions. There’s an insidious moral and cultural relativism at play here where there’s an expectation that the problem just “is what it is”, that it’s beyond fixing (so why try?), that it’s really “their” problem, and that gentrification (everybody says they hate it, but they actually love it) will just squeeze the problem out eventually.

        • Anon

          But it will, eventually.

      • Dude

        I think what would change matters would be if the taxpayers demanded greater law enforcement and criminal consequences that would actually deter crime.

  • anon

    you failed to mention the part of the equation that involves the nra, their firearm manufacturing backers and their friends in the Va. legislature. these guns are not being (legally) sold in the district.

    • Billy

      That can be discussed in a separate conversation (and certainly should be discussed).

      However, the OP wants to bring up the fact that DC has a problem with repeat offenders being on the streets within days of one of their numerous arrests. POPville just posted about this issue yesterday https://www.popville.com/2017/04/good-grief-2/

      It’s clearly a conversation that needs to happen in the city – why are we allowing repeat offenders back on the street so frequently?

    • anon

      Yeah. One thing people can do is help elect democrats in Virginia’s 2017 legislative elections. Now only four months away.

  • HIll Easter

    Many, many years of failed schools, policies, justice system, etc.

    • Anonymous

      For teens and young adults today, the institutions you list didn’t kick in until a child was 5. Five years of family dysfunction is a really bad head start. In my time here, that seems to be the 3rd rail of social policy: don’t mention the families’ contributions to the problems the city faces. Ever.

      • Anon

        It doesn’t get mentioned because there are no simple/easy answers. How do you solve deep-rooted poverty? I haven’t a clue…

    • stacksp


      That can’t be solved overnight. The mentality has to change. Hope in something other than streetlife has to somehow resonate and be seen as achievable. Jail doesn’t rehabilitate, it only really adds to the street cred in a lot of cases.

      • asdf

        Communities where multiple consecutive generations go through the same cycles of cultural and economic dysfunction are hard to fix. At some point, young people in these communities don’t even consider that there’s another more functional and productive way to live. If nobody you know, including your own parents or even grandparents, have ever lived a stable, gainful, lawful, and productive life, what models do you follow? Ubiquitous media and pop-cultural fantasies becomes the default models – entertainment, sports, crime etc.

        • stacksp

          I agree. Its cyclical. These “teens” shooting guns are often fathers themselves and unfortunately the cycle continues. 15 to 24 are really crucial years because by then you have already determined your fate and attitude toward education and if there is no future beyond jr high or high school some spend there time unwisely and making bad choices to fit in.

      • Shawkid

        It’s the high-prestige summer camp of the up-and-coming criminal.

  • Linc Park SE

    The Youth Act – juvenile inmates rely on it to get a low sentence for their first felony

    • PettyShabazz

      I don;t think the law is the problem, I think the problem is that agencies within DC and the federal government have not adhered to its requirements and that means that offenders slip through the cracks.

      • Aglets

        agree with this 1000%
        While DC can be pretty lenient on youth offenders, our biggest danger is the fact the federal courts are the ones that decide what becomes of violent (and non violent) offenders and they have ZERO accountability to the city.
        You can’t even get a hold of federal recidivism rates for the city without having to hold a bake sale to pay for the asinine FOIA fees.

    • Anonymous

      An MPD officer told me that the OG, old school criminals recruit the younger kid to rob people as well as houses and cars because they won’t go to jail. Nice, huh? Many times it’s a relative doing it.

  • stacksp

    A multi-decade rivalry between 7st/ KDP (Kennedy Playground) and 5th/6th and O St will not be solved overnight. For everyone that is arrested from either of these two factions there are young men rising up to take their place. The beef/tension needs to be resolved somehow and I don’t have the answer.

    • Anon

      What if we have a zero tolerance policy and lack all of them up for 20 years on first violent offense? How many million people can possibly live in these two blocks?

      • Alan

        That sounds like an unbelievable waste of public resources to respond to a problem that barely affects 1% of the city’s population. Would be far cheaper to hire third party mediators to hash out whatever the dispute and teach everyone involved some problem solving skills.

        • Anon

          Bc it’s not a real dispute. It’s not like the disagree on a real estate contract. They disagree about who is baddest thug around.

  • DC Rez

    OP, very well written!

    My fear is that this problem will never change until the culture of thug violence is somehow changed. Locking them up is not going to work, there are just too many gang bangers and it seems so entrenched in the culture. South Chicago, Kennedy St, Crittenden, Shaw, SE DC, Oakland, New Orleans, you name it, young thugs carry guns and seem to thrive on their persistent gun violence. Street cred. Just an awful trait of modern America.

    Having said that, no doubt youth in this city know they can get away with it, so they do shoot at each other, over and over and over again. If they knew there were serious consequences for shooting and murders, like life in prison, I wonder if things would change? As it stands now, teens seem to always get out scot free, and pleading to 2nd degree murder brings you only a 15 year sentence. Out and back on the streets by 35!

    • 9th Street Neighbor

      1,000% in agreement with your comment above, synthesized as follows: Increase mandatory fines for all gun activity. Those caught, red-handed with any sort of gun crime (hold-up, assault, posession, gun firing, etc.) should be put away — FOR THE SAFETY OF EACH AND EVERY OTHER DC RESIDENT AND VISITOR. Period. Please: Nadeau and DC Council: Do you job on this issue and stop pandering to violent (and potential violent) offenders, now.

    • Alan

      Entrenched in the culture? You mean the culture that enslaved people, slaughtered the indigenous population, invented the nuclear bomb and dropped it on two cities, etc etc? Yeah, it’ll be hard to get rid of that culture. Maybe talk to your gun happy neighbors in Virginia whose guns are coming across city lines by the truck full because they feel like they need five guns to be “safe” on their well-manicured cul-de-sac.

  • navyard

    OP, thank you for a well-written comment with honest questions that need answering. I appreciate your taking the time to lay out some of the problems, challenges, and history.
    I agree, the cops on the street are for the most part really trying hard, but there is definitely a breakdown somewhere.

  • anon

    Genuine question: What happened to the “truce” the 7th & O and the 5th & O gangs declared back in 2007?

  • MDP

    Don’t worry, Ben Carson will fix it!!
    (he won’t)

    • Will

      Just like Julian Castro and Henry Cisneros didn’t.

  • PettyShabazz

    Has anyone considered becoming a foster parent in DC so as to provide a home for kids who often end up in the school to prison pipeline? Give them a loving home environment with resources and adequate supervision?Not all but a good portion of DC youth offenders touch the foster system at some point and they are always in need of more foster parents. You could be the change that one of these young people needs in their lives.

    • LittleBluePenguin

      This! All the debate about how to fix schools / pay teachers / tax or not tax, and all the misery endured by earnest cops, neighbors, victims of crime – if we can help put a stop to this awful cycle, I firmly believe it will be because we start with what essentially breaks down to social work. Providing these kids with a safe, loving home free of judgement seems like a no-brainer to me. Not that it would be easy – it would probably be one of the most difficult things to do ever – but seriously, what kind of change might we see?

    • Anon

      By the time they are in the foster system, most are already lost. I’m sorry. But that’s how I feel. I won’t put my own children’s safety at risk.

      • HaileUnlikely

        That you personally are not in the right place in your life to be a foster parent right now does not detract from the merit of the general point. Some day your kids will be grown. Others here don’t have kids, likely including some who wish they could but cannot for physical reasons. It takes all kinds.

    • wdc

      I have friends who tried. Their experience was that only black families need apply. A cadre of old-timer social workers will see that white families who want to foster are excluded.
      (I know there have been some. I’m repeating the experience of two families I know who tried very, very hard to foster-to-adopt in DC, and were stonewalled by the social workers for years until they gave up.)

      • HaileUnlikely

        That’s sad and really blows. That said, times change, old timers retire, new people take over. Hopefully even if that was true yesterday, it won’t still be tomorrow.

  • MadMax

    The Atlantic has a good piece published today on why it’s so hard for poor people to get out of poverty in the south. They focus primarily on Charlotte, but many of the factors they go into are completely applicable to DC. I suggest reading it if you want to know more about what contributes to this type of behavior and mindset.

    • Anonymous

      And you should also read “Hillbilly Elegy” so you are not left with the impression that poverty is a black, urban issue. The same pathologies that inflict poor, inner city, predominantly minority communities are also inflicting poor, rural, predominantly white communities. The percentage of people who are high-school dropouts, chronically un(der)employed, substance abusers, single mothers, absent fathers, etc. are comparable.

      • MadMax

        Right, but we don’t live in a rural area, we live in an urban area, where the poverty line is pretty distinctly racially segregated.

    • Petey

      Mad Max and Haile, you are giving me life with your comment. I put a comment on the missing girls post that POP put up that had very few comments. Most of those girls that were missing were in and out of the foster care system and I said it then and will say it again–these issues are directly related. If you can’t foster what about mentoring. There are many great organizations that can and do reach some kids in the District but they are understaffed and underfunded. People got to start caring about more than happy hour and new restaurants. We all want nice things I know but the closeness of the disparities in this city are the real problem. It is literally million dollar condos next to housing that you would not house a dog in. It is not going to be solved by locking people up because guess what we tried that in the 80s and 90s and now you have these kids without fathers. Wouldn’t it be awesome if we all just touched one kid outside of our own. BTW, my mentee is the first to go to College so I know a little something about this- we have been paired for six years and she almost broke me a few times because I wasn’t raised with that level of dysfunction, we eventually got there.

      • RNG

        What group/organization do you mentor through?

        • Petey

          Thanks for asking. I volunteer at College Bound. http://www.collegebound.org. They have locations across the city mostly in NE and SE.

        • HaileUnlikely

          I have multiple friends who mentor kids through Big Brothers Big Sisters.

  • LCinDC

    Cheers to OP.

  • JohnH

    I had a break in at my house – was not their first arrest. They went to trial, a US Attorney handled the case, called me with updates, etc. – ended up getting probation. If you’re caught in the act breaking into someone’s house with a crowbar, you should not be only given probation. That’s more than a lack of police, enough attorneys, etc. They all handled it just as they needed to. The resulting decision was the problem…..

  • Mr. Edmunds

    People are displaced because gentrification and you’re angry that they want to comeback to the neighborhood they grew up in a feel is their real home? I love the sense of entitlement that yuppies from the Midwest have regarding D.C… You move to an area that has had crews (we don’t have gangs in D.C.) clashing for years…This their home you’re just visiting…

    • Grant Circle

      If you’re not angry about people shooting guns outside of playgrounds, wherever you’re from, you’re part of the problem.

    • Truxton Thomas

      Yes, this person shouldn’t be angry that people shoot up the neighborhoods in which they no longer live and certainly shouldn’t feel entitled to safety in his or her own home. Those who no longer live here absolutely have a greater claim than those who do. People should not have the right to move somewhere and feel they have a vested interest in their surroundings. You’re right.

    • Anon

      Yes, bc when I want to make someplace feel like home, I go around shooting people…

    • ParkViewneighbor

      dont feed el trollito

    • Anon


  • Donald Dump

    We should build a wall between D.C. and MD and make MD pay for it!

  • not telling

    Unfortunately, there’s this little thing called ‘due process’ in this country.

    The offenders are not being let off without sentences. But being arrested is not the same as being convicted much less being sentenced.

    The way due process works is that a person is arrested, wait a few days for paperwork processing, and then appear before a judge where they are arraigned, or officially charged. They then have a period of time in which both the prosecution and the defense have time to build their case.

    Believe me, most judges would probably prefer that violent offenders be held in jail until their hearing. But aside from overcrowding and the costs associated with holding every offender until trial, there is that whole ‘innocent until proven guilty’ issue. Detaining a defendant until trial typically means months of incarceration, during which the defendant will most likely lose their job and their home (including all of their possessions inside of it) and end up seriously in debt.

    Maybe you don’t mind this happening with the guilty ones, but keep in mind that not all defendants are guilty. Some people are innocent, and under our law everyone has the right to be considered innocent until proven otherwise.

    Also keep in mind that if we rushed to trial without that time lapse between arraignment and trial, it wouldn’t just be the defendants who do not have time to prepare their case. The prosecutors would also not have time to prepare–to track down surveillance videos, depose witnesses, conduct ballistics testing.

    During this time period, for most violent crimes we also have an intermediate step in which the prosecution has to present their case to the grand jury. The whole point of the grand jury is again to make sure that innocent people are not burdened with the effort and expense of defending themselves against trumped-up charges. Many countries have done away with grand juries, the US is one of the few (maybe the only?) that still does it. But we have so many situations of biased police forces and rogue patrol teams arresting people on trumped-up charges, targeting minorities unfairly, etc., I’m not so sure it’s a good idea to do away with them.

    I don’t disagree with the sentiments of OP–the violence is a vicious circle that needs to stop–but I’m not sure that blaming the courts is really the right move.


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