For two decades, well-known psychiatrist Dr. Frances Cress Welsing ran monthly ads in the Black press telling people to stop trashing the community. The ads were straightforward and read,” Stop throwing down trash where Black people live, work, and play. Stop making filth the norm.”
According to Welsing, the efforts were part of a behavioral modification campaign to counter the effects of racism. “During slavery, White people thought of us as trash so in their minds they could easily dispose of us at will. Because of the impact of oppression that same mentality exists today on both sides,” said Welsing. “Many Whites still think of us as trash and treat us like it. On the otherhand, many of us believe it and will trash our communities as result of it.”
“Look at what’s happening in Ferguson. No police officer has been indicted because Whites consider the life of a Black person not worth as much as trash,” said Welsing, author of “The Cress Theory of Color Confrontation and Racism.”
Welsing said she’s been riding through communities plagued with trash for decades that are pristine now that Whites have gentrified the areas. “The District government shares this same mindset about Black people. Now that things are changing, not only is there a strategic plan to keep the streets as clean as possible, police are ticketing and arresting [Black] people to do so.”
This August, the Metropolitan Police Department launched citywide enforcement of the District of Columbia’s anti-littering laws, expanding it from a pilot program used in the Fourth and Sixth Police Districts, and allowing officers to issue $75 notices of violation to any pedestrian observed littering.
Throughout the month of August, Metropolitan police officers issued only warnings to violators in the First, Second, Third, Fifth, and Seventh Police Districts, as the department works with community partners to educate the public about littering enforcement. Officers in the Fourth and Sixth Police Districts continued to issue actual tickets.
Beginning Sept. 1, if an officer sees a person dropping waste material of any kind on public space, in waterways, or on someone else’s private property, the person may receive a $75 ticket for littering.
“We applaud the District government and police for their efforts to change behavior that harms the community and costs us money to clean up. . . money sorely needed for other important needs,” said Dan Smith, director of policy and advocacy with the Anacostia Watershed.
Anyone issued the ticket is required to provide their accurate name and address to the officer. Those who refuse or fail to provide their accurate name and address can be arrested and, upon conviction, be fined an additional $100 to $250 in D.C. Superior Court. Failure to respond to a littering ticket by either paying the fine or appealing the ticket to the Office of Administrative Hearings will result in a doubling of the fine.
“Can you imagine being surrounded by several police cars and being handcuffed because you threw trash down on the ground? In the meantime, people are watching and passing judgment that you must be a criminal. This is awful and inhumane,” said psychologist and educator, Dr. Mary A.T. Anigbo, founder of Region 6 Community Services Organization in Northeast D.C.
Metropolitan police officers will continue to issue $100 traffic tickets to the driver of any vehicle where an officer observes either the driver or any passenger toss trash of any kind onto someone else’s private property or onto any public space, such as streets, alleys, or sidewalks.
“No one wants to live in a dump. Littering has to stop. However, this isn’t all about the individual act of littering,” said Mike Ewall,founder and director of Energy Justice Network. “It’s also critical not to let this be just about individual behavior. Corporate public relations outfits like the Ad Council and Keep America Beautiful spend billions each year to make us blame ourselves instead of holding their corporate funders accountable for making the disposable stuff in the first place.”
According to Metropolitan Police Department stats, there were 76 notices of violations issued in 2013.