D.C. council member calls for national guard in response to most violent week in 2023. Baltimore rap producer Whiteboy killed in shooting. Youth summit to prevent violence held in D.C. 

justice from the frontlines: Aug. 14, 2023

Popular Baltimore rap producer Whiteboy was killed in a shooting at the beginning of August. He was a cornerstone producer for most of Baltimore’s top rappers, including YG Teck, OTR Chaz, Roddy Rackzz and 448 RIQ. Police are still investigating the incident, but they believe that Whiteboy was targeted. The Baltimore Banner (Aug. 4, 2023)

The Baltimore Police Department (BPD) has been under a consent decree since 2017 after the U.S. Department of Justice found that the department engaged in a pattern and practice of unconstitutional policing. As part of the consent decree, BPD is required to collect and release data on its stops and searches, but a new report from the monitoring team overseeing the consent decree found that BPD’s data collection and reporting on stops and searches is still not adequate. The Baltimore Banner (Aug. 14, 2023)

Juvenile crime in Washington, D.C. has been on the rise. In response, a summit was held in Southeast D.C. to engage young people in finding solutions. The summit called on young people to help remedy juvenile crime by speaking out against violence and participating in community programs. WTOP (Aug. 13, 2023)

DC has seen a surge in gun violence this summer, with August being the deadliest month so far. The city has recorded 17 homicides in August, bringing the total number of killings in 2023 to 97. Police and community leaders are working to address the issue, but they say more needs to be done to prevent gun violence. DCist (Aug. 8, 2023)

DC Councilmember Trayon White is calling for more action to address gun violence in the city, after a recent spike in homicides. White met with DC Police Chief Robert Contee to discuss the issue, and is calling for more resources to be dedicated to preventing gun violence. White also wants to see more investment in programs that help children stay safe, such as after-school programs and mentorship programs. WJLA (Aug. 8, 2023)

The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) is facing a staffing crisis. In order to address this crisis, MPD is implementing a number of new recruitment initiatives. These initiatives include increasing pay and benefits, offering signing bonuses, and waiving some hiring requirements. The MPD is currently about 1,000 officers short of its authorized strength of 4,000 officers. DC Crime Facts (Aug. 11, 2023)

Pamela A. Smith, the new acting chief of the Metropolitan Police Department, says it will take a “whole-of-community” approach to fight crime in Washington, D.C. Smith has pledged to focus on increasing police presence in high-crime areas, building trust with the community, and addressing the root causes of crime. She faces a daunting task, as D.C. has seen a significant increase in violent crime in recent years. Washington Post (Aug. 8, 2023)

Treating addiction inside

California has the highest rate of drug addiction among incarcerated people in the country. An estimated 70% of people in state prisons have a substance use disorder. In response to this crisis, the state is expanding access to addiction treatment in prisons. This includes providing medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid addiction, as well as counseling and other services. Expanding access to addiction treatment is an important step in addressing the opioid crisis and reducing recidivism. MAT has been shown to be effective in reducing opioid use and overdose deaths. Additionally, treatment can help people address the underlying causes of their addiction, which can make it less likely that they will re-offend after they are released from prison. New York Times (Aug. 10, 2023)

community board

17 people shot and killed in D.C. in one week, the community responds, police ask for information on suspects, Council Member suggests calling Natl. Guard

justice from the frontlines: Aug. 8, 2023

Note from the editor: We are experiencing a real and overwhelming spike in violence in D.C. We at The Des implore readers and community members to read, educate yourself and act from compassion and facts not fear. Many of the people most impacted by the violence aren’t the loudest voices. Do not let this violence become a political pawn or let yourself be played by leadership and politicians. We need solutions. And to get to solutions, we need an engaged community. We hope the recent spike in violence will make the entire city engage in real solutions and tough conversations. These solutions must be all encompassing – police and prisons will not stop this violence. At The Des, we will continue to cover both the violence and solutions.

Police block off the scene of a triple homicide in NW D.C. on Saturday Aug. 5, 2023.

Gun violence sweeps NW and SE D.C.

Starting Friday night, multiple mass shootings hit D.C. along with other single victim homicides. The first was in the Adams Morgan (there were other shootings on U Street that night). Saturday night, three people were killed and two injured critically in Southeast D.C.

17 people were killed in total last week. The police chief didn’t have much to add past a plea for people who saw any of the shootings to come forward with evidence. D.C.’s police union went after a council member following her statement on the Adams Morgan shooting who supported defunding the police.

This has been the community response so far.

Other events this week:

  • The 40 Days of Increased Peace events continue this week offering movies, dance classes and more across the city. See all the events here.
  • We’ve updated The Des’s community calendar for the next two weeks.

The week before the record homicides, D.C. government focused on addressing crime in Chinatown despite it being one of the least impacted by gun violence this year. Other areas like NW and SE that would see mass shootings a few days later did not get visits. Chinatown has been a rapidly gentrified area full of luxury apartment buildings that are still near the Capitol.

Areas more impacted by crime did not get visits from the Chief of police or coverage by The Washington Post until multiple homicides occurred. The Post dedicated most of its D.C. coverage to which areas Trump had recently mentioned, yet again demonstrating the lack of national media to fully comprehend local issues or care. The New Yorker ran a long piece on how D.C.’s crime code reform became a national political soccer ball for Congress, highlighting the lack of statehood which prevents the city’s efforts to govern itself and respond quickly to community needs.

Baltimore State’s Attorney Ivan Bates, shown at a news conference earlier this year.

free Adnan Syed 

After a pleading, public defenders asked Maryland Supreme Court to keep Adnan Syed free. Syed was reinstated in the killing of Hae Min Lee, his ex-girlfriend and High School classmate. His public defender argued that the issue was moot, given that Baltimore prosecutors dismissed the case. Syed asked the state’s highest court to take the case, after claims that prior hearings and in-person attendance was violated. The Lee family has urged the Justice to hear the matter. The court has scheduled an oral argument for October 5, where they will deeply consider questions raised in Syed’s appeal.  The Baltimore Banner (August 2, 2023)

fixing healthcare in Baltimore jails

Reports by court-appointed monitors cast doubt that Baltimore City jails can comply with medical care requirements set for June 2024. Monitors have documented inmates with severe mental illness suffering in solitary confinement, error-prone records, missed medications, and inmates with disabilities that are misidentified or unaccommodated. Caught in a lawsuit, the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services have claimed that it is “fully committed to resolving the various challenges related to the Duvall case.” Officials are targeting the end of 2025 to be fully compliant, despite the fact that the judge has given a six-month extension two years ago.   The Baltimore Banner (August 2, 2023)

25% decline in Baltimore homicides

A view of the D.C. Superior Court building in downtown Washington.

In July, Baltimore recorded 19 homicides, the lowest count since 2015 in what is historically the city’s deadliest month of the year. The city reported 159 homicides in 2023, a 25% decline from July of last year. Mayor Brandon Scott has touted public safety efforts and the Baltimore Police Department for curving the rates of homicides. Despite the current pace of homicides, analysis has shown that the reduction in violence is not proportionally shared across the city. One analysis found that high-school-age youth have been shot at a record number this year. Baltimore Banner (August 2, 2023)

Maryland juvenile justice laws

Local leaders pledge to seek changes to Maryland juvenile justice laws. Baltimore City State’s Attorney Ivan Bates remarked, “Young people are supposed to have wraparound services. So, the law fails the public because there is no public safety. It fails the young people because they are not getting services.” Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott agreed, saying he wants significant changes made.  In the next session of the General Assembly, the mayor and state’s attorney plan to lobby state lawmakers to enact change. Although there is no plan for a special session, the chairman plans to hold a briefing to address the issue of youth gun violence. WBALT TV (August 2, 2023)

operation bold blue line

The D.C. Jail.

Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin updates law enforcement drug safety initiative, called “Operation Bold Blue Line.” The state-wide initiative works to remove illegal drugs off the streets and keep the commonwealth safer. Since the initiative’s early stages, there has been a removal of 2,060 pounds of illegal narcotics across the state. The operation comes at a time when law enforcement vacancy rates are nearly 40%, leaving state-funded agencies stretched thin. In response to its early success, the initiative will work with the Virginia General Assembly to fund a victim/witness assistance program, which would provide funds for lodging, relocation expenses, transportation and other necessary services.  ABC 8 News (August 1, 2023)

transgender inmates at higher risk

In an investigation by News 3, transgender inmates were reported to be at a high risk of physical assault. A 2015 survey of over 27,000 transgender inmates showed that nearly a quarter of respondents were physically assaulted by staff or other inmates, and one in five were sexually assaulted while in prison. Director of U.S Transgender Survey Josie Caballero responded, “It proves more about how in danger the trans population is when you are incarcerated. A lot of this has to do with inmates being out in the wrong jails and prisons.” 3 WTKR (July 31, 2023)

DC man brutally arrested in MD

Video shows D.C. man being brutally arrested on Ocean City, Maryland Boardwalk. Parents of the victim claim that the officers targeted him because they were enforcing a ban against vaping on the boardwalk. Police documents reveal that Ruff had “intentionally smoked his vape,” despite being told about the ordinance, and refused to stop when police ordered. His mother said in a statement, “I felt his fear. I felt my fear. I felt how close we were to possibly losing him.” Ruff was charged with disorderly conduct, resisting/interfering with an arrest, 2nd-degree assault, and failure to provide proof of identification because of his retaliation. CBS News Baltimore (July 12, 2023)

14-year-old arrested for crime spree

Prosecutors said that within a span of two hours, a 14-year-old and three others carjacked, robbed, and fatally shot a 34-year-old man. For nearly three hours, D.C. homicide detective Jeff Clay testified that authorities identified the teen as a suspect based on evidence from security cameras from around the city that he captured the crimes. The 14-year-old’s identity has not been disclosed, but the teen and others have been charged with crimes including felony murder while armed, attempted robbery while armed, carjacking while armed, two counts of robbery while armed, and carrying a pistol without a license. The Washington Post (August 1, 2023)

in other news

After George Floyd’s murder, states are demanding the release of police disciplinary records. Lawmakers have introduced over 500 bills addressing police investigations and discipline, sixty-five of which have been put in action. Greater transparency should hold officers accountable and look for patterns of police abuse. Virginia Mercury (August 2, 2023)

In New York’s red light district, sex workers have reported that police see them as “disposable.” Officers are pushing workers to take greater risks to survive, through searches and arrests. Legislators are looking for the answer to this problem in the Stop Violence in the Sex Trades Act, which will eliminate penalties for consensual sex work and strengthen labor protection for sex workers. The Guardian  (August 3, 2023)

Solitary confinement survivors rally in support for proposed federal ban of the practice. Standing in support of these survivors, Congresswoman Bush remarked, “Solitary confinement is a deprived and sadistic practice.” Number of reports have shown that solitary confinement is comparable to psychological torture and can lead to migraines, vertigo, and claustrophobia. Truthout (August 4, 2023)

community board

  • Read: Anthropologist in Baltimore Argues Safety for Black Communities Requires an End to Policing 
  • Read: Black Drivers in Virginia are More Likely to be Stopped After Drop in Searches
  • Volunteer: The “Comeback Backpack” Prepares People for Life Post-Incarceration
  • Report: Social Intervention Can End Mass Incarceration and Improve Public Safety
  • Read: Wells Fargo Pledges $60 Million for Worker Re-Entry Program 
  • Read: Bowie State University Expands Program for Inmates Earning Degrees
  •  Report: Safety Beyond Sentencing

Stepping in front of the gun

Sunny, a 22-year-old violence interpreter on Good Hope Road in Southeast D.C, leaning on a fence during an interview with the Des in April, 2021.
Sunny is a violence interpreter on Good Hope Road in Southeast D.C. He interviewed with the Des in April 2021.

Stepping in front of the gun

On the frontlines of the rise in homicides: an interview with a D.C. violence interrupter who works to stop murders and fights on the city’s notorious Good Hope Road

By LJ Dawson

Founder of The Des and freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C.

It’s a normal day for Sunny, a 22-year-old violence interrupter on Good Hope Road in Southeast D.C. He’s snapping Instagram photos for a friend, taking phones passed to him with calls from D.C’s jail, answering questions while dapping up cousins and friends alike. He’ll spend most of his day outside on the block in the middle of a constant barrage of swirling people.

But this is his job: to stay completely checked into his neighborhood and community to make it safer and healthier. He is supposed to see things before they happen and stop them. It’s a big task in D.C.’s historic Anacostia, a predominantly Black neighborhood that thrums with life and music but that is also notorious for its violence. Southeast D.C. is an area of the city that has seen disinvestment over decades. It continues to lack resources as the rest of D.C. falls to gentrification. Both Ward 7 and 8 continually log the highest murder rates in the city.

This year, 70 people have been killed in D.C. as of May 15, over 30 percent more than the same time last year. Formerly deadliest city in America, D.C. saw a plummet in killings in the last two decades, but the districts’ murders are back on the rise.

As a violence interrupter, Sunny is part of the effort to staunch the killing. He regularly jumps in between pointed guns and fighting people but he also puts on cookouts and regularly connects people to the resources they need. It’s a dangerous job: violence interrupters have been shot and killed. But it’s also effective.

From the neighborhood and often formerly incarcerated, violence interrupters work on the most violent blocks and street corners in cities across the country to stop violence before it escalates to fights and shootings. These men and women DO NOT work with the police. Instead, they develop close relationships with youth and their community to intervene in conflicts before they turn violent or deadly. As pressure grows to address safety without police, the use of violence interrupters is gaining new traction as a way to save lives from gun violence and incarceration.

In the nation’s Capital, violence interrupters work under the city’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement. Two separate groups work in Northwest, east and Southeast neighborhoods. The Des sat down in April with Sunny who works on the infamous Good Hope Road in Southeast. Sunny, who grew up in an area of D.C. called “Choppa City” or Historic Anacostia, started working for J&J Monitoring and the Far Southeast Collaborative in 2019 as a violence interrupter.

He completed extensive training to work in the position, but his biggest qualification comes from where he grew up. “I was born and raised around this neighborhood. So I actually know everything, and I know everybody, and they also got love for me and respect too,” he says. 

“We went through a hundred trainings in 2019 before the pandemic. I went through training and I learned skills that I never knew.” He added, “I’ve been a peacemaker before this training, I didn’t need training to do this, but I definitely needed them to do the mediation.”

In the de-escalation training, he learned skills that allow him to build bonds and trust with youth. He also learned engagement skills. “When I am one-on-one with you, I’m talking to you about your lifestyle: ‘Okay, are you living at home? Do you need any case management?’ I refer them to case management.”

“Basically, me being engaged and me just being a part of their life for them to understand that I’m here. They don’t want nobody to just walk into their life and then walk right out,” Sunny said. 

In cities like D.C. where few days this year have gone without a stabbing or shooting death, it’s hard to see the violence stopping. But to Sunny it’s simple: give the youth something to do other than be on the streets.

“I got the sauce on how to stop the violence.” He said people are always commenting on the people involved in the violence and judging them which doesn’t stop the violence. “But guess what, y’all have to provide for these people who have an impact on violence.” 

“Not giving me invoices or money for cookouts. These people need steady jobs, these people need homes that they are safe in and sometimes [they just need] love.”

“I’m talking about youth from age nine and even men that still ain’t got it together at the age of 35. You got men looking up to young’ins that’s 24, and they’ve been out here all their life”

Sunny says Choppa city needs a recreation center that’s open even during virtual school and pandemics. “A place to show your talent, a place for you to work on your talent and a place for you to feel safe after school.” 

Without a productive space to go, violence is created. “When there ain’t no recreations and nowhere in the community, there ain’t nothing else to do,” he says. 

The violence is nuanced and chaotic and complicated. To outsiders, it doesn’t make sense. It can start between neighborhoods, families or friends. But Sunny understands it, he witnesses it everyday.

“It could be little things that start the violence. People that don’t ever step foot in these communities will never know what started [or] what triggered it. It could be over a burger. So you need people that can relate like me. I’m relatable to these people. They don’t want nobody they can’t relate to changing their lifestyles because now they can make you an enemy. They gonna think you’re trying to tell me how to live instead of trying to build a bond and help them.”

Sunny’s job is to pay special attention to the youth who are watching the older teenagers and young adults. “Them the most important ones. Because once they get fifteen to sixteen, they ready to carry that pistol.”

Being a violence interrupter on the front lines is dangerous. A few weeks before Sunny talked with The Des, he jumped in front of two guns in just one week. “I hopped in front of two guns, twice. I could have lost my life, but I didn’t want to see them lose their life either.

“But they weren’t gonna shoot in front of me. They weren’t about to shoot me. Even though their emotions could have ‘bahhh’ and I still could have gotten hit. God put me in front of both of them guns,” Sunny says. 

“Me jumping in front of those guns wasn’t for my job, I swear. That was for them, I was trying to save them because one person will get killed and one of them throw their life away.”

22-year-old violence interpreter, Sunny, leaning on a fence on Good Hope Road in Southeast D.C. during an interview with the Des in 2021.
Sunny interviewed with the Des in 2021.