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D.C. Council member LaRuby May

In D.C. Council member LaRuby May’s first public meeting with Ward 8 residents since her election, she discussed a number of areas of improvement for the District’s poorest community. Public safety was among her top priorities.

Chosen in a special election in April following the death of longtime Councilman and former Mayor Marion Barry, May introduced anew plan for increased neighborhood policing. She also had a local police official address scores of concerned citizens on public safety on June 13 at the Allen Chapel AME Church in Southeast.

Metro Police Department Seventh District Commander Willie Dandridge told the audience about ShotSpotter, a gunshot detection system used by the police to identify the general location of most gunfire.

May urged residents to help by notifying police if shots are heard in their neighborhood. Dandridge and May said they hoped to foster better relations between police and residents.

May introduced her Purple Hats Community Walk, a neighborhood patrol that would meet once a week and walk through trouble spots in the community to help with public safety. May added that it is up to them as well as her office to become involved in improving their community.

“This is about doing the work, not just about having the talk,” she said.  Her statement was met with applause and excited murmur of agreement from the attendees.

Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Paul Trantham offered an additional public safety and environmental concern. Trantham said he’d “love to see the councilmember tackle the motorcycles terrorizing the community.”

Despite the initial discussion of policing concerns, Rhonda Edward-Hines, also an Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) member, said too many people have a misperception of safety in her neighborhood. “There’s a myth about Ward 8 how dangerous it is, that it’s not community friendly,” Edward-Hines said, “and that’s not true.”

More than 100 residents and community leaders attended the session, including other ANC commissioners, representatives from the Waker Foundation, Congress Heights Civic Association, and the Washington School for Girls.

May and her staff asked each attendee to sign up for one of several committees to work on community concerns, such as public safety, education, the environment, and one called “Push for 7: Ward Growth and Prosperity.”

The groups met later during the teamwork section of the meeting to outline issues and strategies to tackle problems.

Concerns with education included infrastructure renovation, fund allocation as well as truancy among students. According to a March 2015 report released by the Children’s Law Center and the D.C. Lawyers for Youth, 56 percent of high school students in District public schools were chronically absent during the 2013 – 2014 school year.

May told the audience it was important for children to get a good early start in education. “We see the effects of a poor start in life,” she said.  “If you start behind, it’s hard to catch up.”

Environmental concerns revolved around the state of the residential and commercial properties in Ward 8 that have been abandoned or are vacant, accumulating excessive trash and debris. May suggested residents meet four times a month to clean the neighborhood.

May pointed out that Ward 8 has the lowest numbers of complaints about derelict property to the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, regulates rental housing and real estate. May told the crowd residents need to hold those who are responsible accountable for it,”

May encouraged teamwork among the community in order to, “put everyone in the best place to do their job effectively.” This is especially true for the Push for 7 initiative, she said, which will concentrate on attacking issues and encouraging change from a policy perspective. In order for it to be effective May encourages the community to reach out to the other seven council members in the District about the changes they want to see.

Myra Murray, a volunteer for the Waker Foundation, said she thought May offered a great start. “She is very confident and a morale builder,” Murray said. “She can bring the community together in order to implement her agenda.”

May said she wants to make sure Ward 8 is never left out of the conversation. “ not asking for anything extra,” May said. “We’re asking for what we deserve”