WASHINGTON, D.C. – Attorney General Karl A. Racine today issued the following statement about violent crime in the District:
“Gun violence and violent crime are impacting the entire District, and residents deserve a thoughtful and long-term response. A six-year-old girl, Nyiah Courtney, was shot and killed last Friday. Tens of thousands of fans at Nationals Park dove for cover thinking they were in the middle of an active shooter situation last Saturday. These are appalling and gut-wrenching events. My heart goes out to the victims and loved ones of those directly impacted by all of these incidents and the community members shaken by the trauma of this violence in their city.
“Gun violence is hurting our whole community, ripping apart families, and creating fear and trauma. No one wants to fear for their child’s life as they go to school or walk down the street. But in parts of the District – that is a daily reality. We must be clear-eyed that violence has long plagued parts of our city that too often get overlooked – particularly low-income communities of color. It is our job as elected leaders to do everything we can to stop it, prevent more senseless deaths, and make every part of the District safer. I may not have all the answers, but my office is doing everything we can to stop the gun violence and violent crime in our community now and in the future.
“Our city needs a comprehensive plan. It needs a clear, consistent, and all-hands-on-deck approach. Some of these steps include action my office is already taking, and some are bigger than my office alone. But we must work together to make meaningful progress.
“First, we need aggressive gun safety reform. There are too many guns flooding our city and there are too many loopholes that enable the floodgates to remain open. We need federal legislation that closes these loopholes, mandates background checks, and helps stop the flow of guns across our country and city. My office is fighting the prevalence of illegal ghost guns in the District, which lack serial numbers and can’t be traced. We are suing Polymer80 – a leading manufacturer of ghost guns in the United States and the company that manufactured the majority of deadly ghost guns recovered in DC – for illegally advertising and selling them to DC consumers.
“Second, we must fully invest in community-driven, evidence-based violence interruption programs. We know based on research and data that empowering communities to interrupt violence, intervening with those most likely to commit or be victims of violence, and changing norms around violence can have a long-lasting impact. That’s why we launched Cure the Streets in several neighborhoods that have historically experienced some of the highest rates of gun violence. This public health approach to treating violence is working in these neighborhoods. We’re asking the DC Council to fund an expansion of Cure the Streets so it can operate in more neighborhoods. There are also other important violent interruption programs operating around the city that deserve support and investment as well.
“Third, we need to hold individuals accountable when they commit crimes and change their behavior so they are less likely to reoffend in the future. As the prosecutor for crime perpetrated by young people in the District, when a case is referred to my office for prosecution, we assess the needs of the victim and the impact of the conduct on public safety, and then we work to achieve a resolution that supports victims while doing what needs to be done to change the behavior of the youth. This approach helps reduce recidivism and makes our communities safer. When appropriate, we prosecute. Many times, we know that traditional prosecution is not going to put a troubled youth on the right path. We know that our best bet for public safety is getting that youth mental health or substance abuse services, providing them with mentorship, or helping them understand the impact of their behavior and build empathy – while holding them accountable for their actions. We do this so they do not become future violent offenders and instead become contributing members of our communities.
“Finally, we need to address the root causes of crime in our communities, including poverty, hopelessness, and trauma – to break the cycle of violence. This is a public health crisis as much as it is a public safety crisis. We know there are two Washington, DCs – and our communities east of the river, where most of the gun violence is happening, need investment and support. But too often they are not even part of the conversation. Only when we address the challenges these communities face every day can we make real progress now and in the future. This approach must include enabling every District resident to access housing, a quality education, and affordable health care; investing in workforce development programs; creating more trauma reduction services; expanding programs like those my office already operates to help get kids in school; funding more activities and programs for kids after school and on the weekends; and supporting vulnerable families so they can help their kids grow into mature, independent adults. Residents of the District deserve to feel safe in their homes and their neighborhoods, and when they are walking down the street with their families.
“These are needed steps, but they are not the only solutions. Everyone should propose ideas to improve safety in the District, just as Chief Contee has called for. We must be thoughtful about our efforts and careful to avoid reactionary tough-on-crime approaches that we know don’t actually improve public safety.
“Violent crime is on the rise across the country. The District is not immune from it. But that doesn’t excuse us from tackling our problem locally. The response to gun violence – especially when it happens in Black and brown communities – follows a familiar script. Thoughts and prayers, vigils, and calls for reform, only to be met by a return to the status quo. All of us have a role to play to stop this violence and I will continue to work with the mayor, law enforcement partners, Council, advocates, and others to marshal resources, ingenuity, and bold ideas to bring about change.”