Several civil rights attorneys have banned together to address a growing problem that targets young Black males in the District because of race, age and gender.
At a press conference on Dec. 19, victims of barring notices on public housing properties and their legal counsel spoke about the trend that in many cases keeps them from seeing family and friends or prevents them from operating legitimate businesses.
Johnny Barnes, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union for the National Capitol Area, acting independently, delivered a letter to the DC Attorney General’s Office. The intent of the letter was to express alarm and great concern over the manner in which “barring notices” are being used by police authorities to unlawfully arrest and prosecute Black males in southeast Washington.
“We urge you to immediately investigate what appears to be a systematic, unfair and unjust targeting of young African American males, resulting in arrests, criminal charges and records of individuals, in many cases, who have never had a problem with the judicial apparatus,” Barnes read aloud from the letter.
“Recently, these young men, in shocking numbers, have been allegedly issued such barring notices, in some cases unknowingly, and when discovered in places that are the subject of the notices, have been prosecuted for unlawful entry,” continued Barnes.
Two victims at the press conference were Ward 8 school board member, Trayon White, 27 and Gary Lover, 30, both southeast residents.
White has been running a nonprofit organization called Helping Inner City Kids Succeed at the Woodland Terrace Housing for four years. About two months ago, while standing outside the facility he noticed a group of girls gathering. White got out of his car to make sure no fight was brewing. A few minutes later, he was surrounded by DC Housing Authority and Metropolitan Police Department officers.
”They told me I was violating a stay away order. At first, I thought it was a joke until I was cuffed and taken to the Seventh District Police Station. They never asked me for identification,” White remembered.
He was charged with unlawful entry and a $300 bond. The public defender tried to convince him to accept a plea bargain. White refused. He ended up with weekly urines and a trial date. White learned at the press conference the charges were dropped. But he still has a record.
Lover had a similar experience. In 2008, he sat on the front porch of his mother’s home in the Lincoln Heights Housing when a jump out squad approached him asking for identification. When Lover questioned why he was being frisked, officers pushed him, charged him with disorderly conduct, arrested and took him to the Sixth District Police Station. He stayed overnight, went to court the following day and the case was dismissed.
“I never received any notification from the court, police or housing that I was barred from my mother’s place,” said Lover. For the next two years, Lover was arrested eight times for unlawful entry when he visited his mother. “Each time I was set free. The cases were not papered yet it still continues,” said Lover.
Wanda Lover, Gary’s mother, said she attributes her poor health to not being allowed to see her sons at her home of 25 years. “Both my sons are in the same predicament for no reason. It’s terrible. I’m angry because if I want to see either of my sons I have to meet them away from my home.”
“Sometimes police bang on my window shouting for my sons to come outside when they’re not even at my house. My sons haven’t committed any crimes. If something happens to me I can’t call my sons for help. It must be stopped,” said the ailing mother.
One DCHA spokeswoman said barring helps to protect the safety of our residents. “One of the tools we have used for more than 15 years to preserve residents’ quiet and peaceful enjoyment of their property is barring notices,” said Dena Michelson, director of public affairs for the DC Housing Authority. There have been 67 people barred from Woodland Terrace this year.
"The general response by the D.C. Housing Authority to very specific and serious concerns raised by young African American men is not satisfactory and unacceptable. Indeed, the response puts on a collision course the authority and those young men who have been victimized by an unconstitutional, illegal, unfair, unjust barring notice system. Not only have these young men been victimized, they have been branded for life,” Barnes said.