Over 100 D.C. residents, community leaders and legislators participated in a much- awaited hearing for Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Safer Stronger Amendment Act on June 27. The amendment, if passed, would strengthen penalties and create new gun offenses. (PHOTO CREDIT: AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

By Tashi McQueen,
AFRO Political Writer,

Black men are being jailed and killed at unusually high rates according to data reported by the Metropolitan police. Residents in predominantly Black areas including Ward 7 and 8 makeup more than 60 percent of victims of violent crime in the District.

“We have a crisis of violence in the District of Columbia.  To date this year, there have been 112 homicides in the District, up 12 percent from last year at this time … 95 Black men have been killed,” said Chairwoman Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2) at the D.C. Council Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety on June 27.

As of July 5, just eight days after the meeting, 13 additional homicides have occurred.

Due to the high volume of crime, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser introduced the Safer Stronger Amendment Act in May. The legislation aims to enhance penalties for illegal gun possession, penalties for violent crime and gives the court more authority to decide who should be held pre-trial. However, it was met with pushback from community leaders who fear the bill will exacerbate mass incarceration. Over 100 witnesses attended the June 27 committee hearing to testify for and against the initiative.

Several D.C. legislators in the committee acknowledged that public safety needs to be dealt with now but disagreed with what the mayor’s amendment is suggesting.

“Provisions of this bill come with significant social costs, and in some ways, I worry [it] will exacerbate crime later. So we need to be very clear about the expectations of safety from this legislation and the costs that come from it,”said Councilman At-Large Robert C. White Jr. (D).

The elderly were among those who reported that they would like to see stricter policies in alignment with Mayor Bowser’s bill. 

“We have a lot of seniors who feel like prisoners in their own homes because of this revolving door process,” said Karen Gaal, a D.C. native and chair of the District 3 Metropolitan Police Department Citizens Advisory Council (3D MPD CAC). “If you press charges against someone who assaulted you, they get arrested, detained and immediately they’re back on the street. They are [likely] to come back at you again. This is the anxiety, fear [and] trauma in the hearts of D.C. citizens.”

Returning citizens showed up to testify against the amendment. One previously incarcerated D.C. resident spoke against the bill stating that it would sweep the problem under the rug.

“At 17 years old, I went to prison for a crime that I committed. I did 25 years for it,” said Norvelle Nelson. “When you put people away for a long time. I don’t think that that helps at all.

You don’t know anybody working a nine-to-five, getting paid every day, that has something to lose, committing crimes. It’s the people that have nothing to lose. So we have to find resources for these guys. Locking them up is not the answer.”

Pinto concluded the hearing by thanking everyone for their testimonies and assured the audience that there would be more discussions ahead.

Tashi McQueen is a Report For America Corps Member.