A summer job can do a lot, but it’s no guarantee to keep guns off the streets 

A summer job can do a lot, but it’s no guarantee to keep guns off the streets 

The heralded Marion Barry Summer employment program gives jobs to young D.C. kids, but it falls short as an answer to the rising gun violence

As the rate of gun violence rises in the District, local leaders have encouraged their community to work towards protecting and educating youth. Mayor Muriel Bowser took youth employment seriously early this year. She introduced the Mayor’s Opportunity Scholarship which allows 25 summer youth employment participants ages 18 to 24 to earn a scholarship for postsecondary education. In 2019, she stood as the spokeswoman for the Mayor Marion S. Barry Summer Youth Employment Program or MBSYEP. In January of this year, Mayor Bowser announced that applications would be accessible for youth ages 14 to 24 and that hourly wages would be raised for participants.

For over 40 years, the Mayor Marion S. Barry Summer Employment Program has served D.C. youth through short-term employment and training. It honors Mayor Barry’s pursuit of career development for youth and has gained traction throughout the country. Today, there are hundreds of similar programs following in its footsteps to keep disadvantaged youth out of trouble during the summer. 

New York City’s Summer Youth Employment Program, for example, has been widely successful, offering 100,000 employment opportunities this year. MBSYEP continues to stand as the largest summer youth employment program per capita in the country and is a trailblazer for other cities. Cities are lowering the risk of exposure to, or participation in, violence, yet the scope of the program cannot tackle youth gun violence independently. 

For Capitol youth, the Mayor Marion S. Barry Summer Youth Employment Program has been praised as an opportunity to earn a salary and gain purposeful, hands-on experience in the workforce. Figures published by the mayor’s office show that in the past ten-years, over 10,000 youth have participated in MBSYEP each year. 

"I walked away with a sense of work ethic, and trained me as a young person to be courteous and listen to authority."

One past participant, Khat Patrong, said that her past summers went by faster and with more purpose. “I walked away with a sense of work ethic, and trained me as a young person to be courteous and listen to authority,” said Khat, who was a participant for three years . MBSYEP was pivotal for her career path, as it has been for hundreds of past participants. After producing a commercial for a local performing arts high school, Khat later worked in film.

For D.C., it has been seen as a pipeline for disadvantaged youth in the District to engage in their community and break cycles of crime and poverty. 56% of its participants are residents of Wards 7 and 8. In terms of employment outcomes, MBSYEP has been widely successful. In 2016, nearly 50 percent of participants secured employment by the end of the year. In a  2020 Independent Evaluation by the Department of Employment Services, youth participants reported to be overwhelmingly satisfied by the experience, over 40% saying that they were happy with their pay rate and with their employer. Yet, the program has not been shown to curve the rising issue of youth gun violence. 

It was estimated that the cost per participant was over $2000. In a landscape analysis of D.C. by the National Institute of Criminal Justice Reform, the District was reported to have a number of programs and strategies to combat gun violence. Yet, said programs and strategies were seen as “uncoordinated and disjointed.” Muhammed and the National Institute of Criminal Justice Reform found in a number of reports that D.C. was seen as “resource rich, coordination poor,” yet was slowly working towards serving every ward effectively. 

Over the past four years, rates of gun violence with youth victims or aggressors has doubled in America. For children ages 1 to 18, gun violence has surpassed car accidents and illnesses as the leading cause of death. This rise is tangible in D.C., with over 50 children shot in 2023 as of August, surpassing last year’s record. The growing population of juveniles shot, killed and arrested for gun violence has deeply affected communities within the Capitol. The violence has left city leaders desperate to find  a way to curve this rate; few have turned to summer employment. 

When Marion Barry founded MBSYEP in his first term as the District’s mayor in 1979, he saw the program as an opportunity to support youths transitioning from school to a career. For all youth in America, employment fosters independence and responsibility, which can later support them in their career and other long-term endeavors. The Journal of Public Health Management published that teenage work experience leads to development, adding to resume building and leading to higher-paying careers. 

In appropriate jobs, youth get the opportunity to develop confidence in their abilities. Leah Frerichs said in her research that often underprivileged youth are forgotten in employment and internship opportunities. MBSYEP gives this overlooked population a chance to gain valuable work experience. The program works with 11 D.C. high schools – Eastern, H.D. Woodson, Anacostia, Ballou, Cesar Chavez, Columbia Heights, Roosevelt, Cardozo, Ron Brown, Dunbar and McKinley Tech– to reach disadvantaged youth.

"If you’re saying that the answer to youth gun violence is summer youth employment, you are incorrect."

Though there are obvious benefits to the program for participants  learning  workforce skills, there has been no concrete proof that summer youth employment is the answer to rising gun violence as many local leaders claim. 

David Muhammed, Executive Director of the National Institute of Criminal Justice Reform, fears that summer youth employment gets a bad rep because of this. “If you’re saying that the answer to youth gun violence is summer youth employment, you are incorrect,” Muhammed said. 

“Summer youth employment is violence prevention, not an alternative to public policy or legislation.” Muhammed believes that MBSYEP has given hundreds of thousands of disadvantaged youth rewarding opportunities, which deserves to be celebrated, but this by itself will not put an end to youth gun violence. 

MBSYEP aims to  develop youth through employment and shadowing of professionals. Given that it has over 10,000 participants yearly, it is difficult to track their long-term outcomes. However, according to MBSYEP, the program is keeping the youth out of trouble and financing their spending. In a 2020 MBSYEP Report, up to 13.3% past participants come back the following summer, with over 9,939 participants working at least an hour; that’s an hour where these youth are off of the streets and are supervised by D.C. professionals. 

Though MBSYEP gives a range of opportunities, in terms of hours worked and in job sectors, participants are less likely to partake in gun violence when they are earning a wage. In the country, MBSYEP is the first program to give youth a wage. With youth earning up to $17 per hour, local businesses have reported a boost in their economy. In 2019, there was a gross payroll of over $9 million, 21.9% of which was for food and transportation. Participating youth additionally reported that a percentage of their earned wages were allocated for secondary education funds and for their parents or family. 

Despite these benchmarks, there is frustration over the summer program and doubts of whether it is cost-effective for the District. Over the years, the budget for the program has doubled. This year, the Department of Employment Services allocated $21 million to the program, though there has not been any public record of how the fund is being budgeted or how participants get paid. The MBSYEP Office declined to comment on this. 

When speaking with Khat, she believed that the cost was appropriate for MBSYEP. In High School, Khat was homeless. She shared that without MBSYEP, she would not have been able to support her and her mother. One cannot put a price when it comes to the service and hands-on experience. “It keeps peers my age busy as well. When you’re idle and don’t have any activity to do, you can get in trouble” she said. 


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A new investigation reveals gun seizures under Bowser’s police department broke the law

Journalists Alex Coma and Mitch Ryals published an investigative story uncovering a criminal investigation of 19 D.C. police officers for misconduct while serving in a crime suppression unit. Originally an internal MPD inquiry, the investigation has since been upgraded to a criminal inquiry, with allegations including taking firearms without making arrests and filing false reports.

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A new investigation reveals gun seizures under Bowser’s police department broke the law

A new investigation reveals gun seizures under Bowser’s police department broke the law

 A sit down with Washington City Paper editor, Mitch Ryals, on the recent investigation that revealed 19 MPD officers are under criminal investigation for gun seizures 

The Des interviewed Mitch Ryals, the editor of Washington City Paper who co-authored a revealing new investigation Nineteen D.C. Police Officers Are Under Criminal Investigation for Questionable Gun Seizures, According to Court Records. Ryals and co-author, Alex Koma, found almost 20 MPD officers are being investigated after their gun seizures came into question. The improper and even illegal gun seizures led to prisoner releases, dropped charges and a few of those offenders going on to commit more crimes including at least one homicide. The following interview was slightly edited for clarity and conciseness.

The Des: Please introduce yourself. 

Mitch Ryals: I’m the managing editor of Washington City Paper. In that role, I edit a lot of the content, and I also do some reporting of my own that usually focuses on criminal justice and the police and the D.C. jail and incarcerated folks from D.C.

Des: How long have you been reporting in D.C.?

Ryals: I got here at the end of 2018.

Des: Will you tell us a little bit about the recent investigation?

Ryals: My colleague Alex Coma and I published a big investigative story that provided details about the 19 D.C. police officers who are currently under criminal investigation by the United States Attorney’s Office. That’s the federal government agency that prosecutes felony crimes in D.C. 


The story is about 19 D.C. police officers who are on the crime suppression team in the seventh district. The crime suppression team is a specialized unit of officers that are untethered to regular dispatch calls. They are sort of proactively seeking to combat violent crime in the seventh district. 


In October of 2022, then-Chief Robert Conte announced that five or seven officers were under investigation for confiscating firearms but not arresting people they took them from and for their written reports not matching the body camera footage for certain incidents. So our reporting basically gives an update to that announcement last fall. The investigation has expanded now to 19 officers and has been elevated to a criminal investigation, whereas before it was just sort of MPD’s internal inquiry to see if they had violated any policies.

Des: Can you explain the significance of the investigation into those officers turning into a criminal investigation?

Ryals: The first, somewhat obvious, piece of significance is that for a police officer anywhere to be charged with a crime or even investigated for violating the law is a very big deal. It has implications for that officer and their career individually, but it also has implications for the cases that that officer has worked on and continues to work on if they’re allowed to continue working. And in particular, our story explained how these officers who are under investigation, the arrests that they have made are now being called into question. The people who they arrested that were charged, mostly with gun crimes, those cases are being dismissed, because the officer’s credibility is very seriously called into question because they’re under investigation. 


We found 28 cases, gun seizure cases, that have been dismissed, but it could be more. The Washington Post actually found that 65 gun cases have been dismissed and another 25 drug cases have been dismissed. It’s unclear how much our figures and their figures overlap. The fact that these officers are being investigated is completely destroying their work. 

Des: How did your investigation come about?

Ryals: Our interest was piqued from the moment that it was announced that cops had been essentially falsifying police reports and doing some questionable things with gun seizures. And it wasn’t until Alex Coma noticed a court of appeals decision that reversed a conviction for a man by the name of Terry Ward.


And in the narrative of the case the judge talks about how Mr.Ward was arrested by crime suppression team officers. And that set some alarm bells off for Alex, and he was like, ‘Hey this could be related to the announcement that Conte made a few months ago about these officers in 7D.’ 


That sent him down a rabbit hole of MPD gun seizure posts every week. They post the past week, and we just sort of started combing through those arrests in the D.C. Superior Court database and started noticing a pattern that if there was a gun arrest by officers in the current suppression team in the seventh district, sure enough, soon after October of 2022 when Conte made that announcement, that case would fall apart.


In some cases, the case had been resolved. In other words, the defendant had either pleaded guilty or been sentenced. Then Conte made that fall announcement, and that verdict of guilty got reversed because of the questions about the officer’s credibility.

Des: What you just said brings up this interesting thing in the story and in our city right now, which is this undercurrent of frustration between judges and police officers, the council and the mayor and everyone. Officers need to get the guns off the street, but they’re also not doing it the right way, as we can see due to this criminal investigation.

Ryals: That’s one of the main tensions that we tried to pull out in the piece. Giving the officers the benefit of the doubt is to say that they’re trying to get these guns off the street and out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them or have them illegally or could potentially hurt themselves or other people with them. 


From an officer’s perspective, I’m sure that they’re seeing these decisions from the court of appeal — we list two or three of them in the article — they’re seeing legislation passed by the D.C. Council, which now requires officers to give sort of a Miranda warning if they want to search someone without a warrant, which is, I guess, sort of unusual in that not a lot of cities have that sort of requirement. And you’re seeing all these things that make it harder for them to do the job of getting guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them, which extensively is something we all want, right?


And on the other hand, there are rules and people have rights and you must follow them and the consequences of not doing so is exactly what we’re seeing now, which is that dozens of cases are being dismissed and people who have actually been found to have illegal guns are being released.

Des: What really stuck out was that some of the people who had their cases dismissed were arrested again. A lot of these people may be getting unconstitutionally searched so their cases are falling apart, but months later some of them are getting put back into the system on new charges.

Ryals: It’s incredibly frustrating, I’m sure, for the people in these communities, for the police, for anyone who’s working to make D.C. safer to see this kind of situation play out. Not to mention the family of the gentleman who was shot and killed in a McDonald’s drive-through of all places.

Excerpt from the July 2023 investigation by Washington City Paper.

Des: Can you explain the importance of the Police Reform Commission that D.C. started in 2020 after George Floyd’s murder and the protests in relation to this story?

Ryals: The D.C. Council set up the Police Reform Commission, and they released a report with a lot of recommendations, some of which MPD has picked up. But most of which MPD and D.C. Council have sort of forgotten about. One of the findings was that these specialized units, essentially the crime suppression team and the gun recovery unit, were ineffective.


There’s been reporting for years and years about the sort of aggressive, unconstitutional, violent tactics that officers on those teams have used and subject D.C. residents to, resulting in lawsuits. They cost the District a ton of money, and they’re just apparently like a bunch of thugs.


The commission recommended that MPD disband these units, because the commission found they’re doing more harm than good and that MPD should just disband them until the department can show that they are more effective at getting guns off the street, reducing crime, reducing violence than just a traditional patrol or some alternative policing strategy. Chief Conte, who was in charge at the time and who has since retired, ignored or rejected that recommendation and said he’d take care of it internally.

Des: But the crime suppression teams continued to have negative interactions within the community after this, including a few of the members being convicted in the death of Karon Hylton-Brown, right?

Ryals: Yes.

Des: Did MPD give you any answers to any questions or any feedback on the article?

Ryals: I haven’t received any feedback on the article. I mean if we got something wrong, they would have told us. The official response I got was that the MPD, as is always their response to these situations, will not comment on an ongoing investigation. MPD would not comment on the investigation specifically because the investigation is ongoing, but they did give us some details about the statuses of these officers.


We were only able to find the identities of 16 of the 19 officers so MPD was able to provide us with the status of those 16 officers. One group of officers are on non-contact status, which means their police powers have been revoked but they’re still working for the department in some capacity. Two officers are on administrative leave. And another handful of officers are on desk duty, which means they’re still working, but they’re not out patrolling and arresting people.

Des: So in different variations, all 19 of these officers are still getting paid in the department but have been demoted or removed from their previous positions?

Ryals: I believe that’s true. I don’t know if I would say demoted. I would say either reassigned or suspended, and then there’s the one that resigned.

Des: The city council just passed an emergency resolution, a crime bill this past month in response to rising crime. How do you think the findings of the article are significant in our current context?

Ryals: I hope that it adds to the conversation that we’re having. Certainly the message that we hear, at least that I hear from Mayor Bowser quite often, is that we need to do something about crime, it’s rising. And Bowser blames the rise on the U.S. Attorney’s Office not prosecuting MPD’s arrest or the judges not holding people accused of gun crimes in jail for long enough who may commit new crimes while they’re released and waiting for trial. These are a few of a number of explanations that the mayor has provided that basically deflect blame from her administration or the officers under her control. 


This article adds context to that discussion. There may be issues with judges letting people out when they shouldn’t be. There may be issues with prosecutors not prosecuting arrests when they should be, but that’s not really what this article is about. I’m not saying that isn’t true, but that’s not what this article addresses. This article talks about one specific group of police officers contributing to this problem or, potentially, at least, contributing to this issue of allowing people to reoffend.

Des: If the officers are providing essentially broken cases to a judge and prosecutor, there is not much they can do?

Ryals: Basically yes. It all starts with the officers’ arrest and their initial interactions with their suspect. A number of the officers who we identify as a part of this investigation are repeat offenders themselves. They’ve either been accused in government records or lawsuits of harassing or roughing up or harming or using coercion against people, and then they were sued.


But another layer is that it’s hard to say whether these officers are put in situations where they feel they must use force more often than other officers or they are individually more prone to using force. But the fact is that they are being accused of some pretty serious things and some of them at least have a history of being accused. 


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Wake Up: The Sentencing Project launches new campaign to end mass incarceration

A new project launched by The Sentencing Project is a campaign to end mass incarceration in the United States. The project, called “Wake Up,” aims to raise awareness about the negative impacts of mass incarceration on individuals, families, and communities and to push for reforms that will reduce the number of people behind bars.

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D.C.’s Youth Summer Program Has Set An Example For Decades

D.C.’s Youth Summer Program Has Set An Example For Decades

How a Locally Funded Initiative Strives to Empower District Youth

Zoe Kim
Zoe Kim

Research & reporting intern at the Des

The Mayor Marion S. Barry Summer Youth Employment Program, or MBSYEP, offers enriching work experience in private and government sectors to District youth ages 14 to 24. For 44 years, the program has partnered with hundreds of employers in the capital to deliver training and counsel. Last year, MBSYEP worked with over 13,000 youth, 56% of whom were Ward 7 and 8 residents. City leaders in D.C. have encouraged youth to enroll in the programs in response to a rise in youth crime.

The program is sponsored by the Department of Employment Services, so while giving the youth hands-on work experience, the locally-funded program pays them up to $17/hour in line with the minimum wage. This year the department allocated 21 million dollars to raise participants’s hourly wages, serving the local economy as well.

For six weeks, participating D.C. youth are paired with employers based upon their interests, equipping them with the tools for leadership and professional development. MBSYEP partners with District high schools to further engage with the youth. In 2020, the program had over 19,000 applicants, yet only 9,000 were certified as eligible. Interest in MBSYEP is only rising as the program receives a greater number of applicants each year.

The program has been deemed an alternative to expanding the police force and local jails. Though it runs June through August, it introduces the youth to unique opportunities that keep them out of trouble. In a 2020 independent evaluation, 79.6% of participants reported that they were satisfied overall with their experience that summer. 

Today, MBSYEP is the country’s biggest summer youth employment program per capita. Many other cities have turned to MBSYEP as an example for tackling the rising number of youth who engage in gun violence. To learn more, please visit https://summerjobs.dc.gov/.


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DMV Tackles Gun Violence and Drug Trafficking in the Summer: Cities Announce Youth Curfew, Over 3,000 Gun Related Arrested and Seizures, Police Officers Make a Comeback to High Schools

Justice From The Frontlines: June 25, 2023

MD Police Chief Gets Life In Prison

David Crawford, a former police chief in Laurel, Maryland, was sentenced to eight life sentences plus 75 years for a series of twelve arson attacks. Crawford set fires at homes, cars, and garages of his victims. In some cases, Crawford set homes alight while families slept inside. Prosecutors reported that he sought revenge against a number of victims who he believed wronged him over petty grievances. In 2011, Crawford had developed a target list and began igniting fires with gasoline across six counties in Maryland. Crawford was arrested two years ago after authorities linked him to the fires. The Washington Post (June 27, 2023)

Cities Set Curfew For Youth

Baltimore Mayor Brandon M. Scott announced that the city will enforce a youth curfew, after the shooting of two teenagers this spring. At a press conference, he said that this strategy is “about saving lives in every single way.” Since the beginning of the year, dozens of other cities and counties announced similar curfews for youth safety despite research that shows that the strategy is ineffective. Criminal justice reform advocates push back, arguing that these policies do not prevent violence and are potentially harmful for young people. They raised concerns about curfews leading to more interactions with police for Black and Latino teenagers. The Baltimore Banner (June 29, 2023)

Felony Disenfranchisement Laws

The American Civil Liberties Union sued Virginia and its Governor Glenn Youngkin to restore voting rights to felons. Virginia is one of the few states that automatically revoke voting rights for convicted felons unless the governor restores them individually. The lawsuit accuses Virginia of violating Reconstruction-era federal laws put in place after the Civil War. One plaintiff in the lawsuit was forced to apply to have his voting rights restored after spending 11 months in prison on a single 2018 felony drug possession charge. The plaintiff said, “I feel like I don’t have anybody to speak for me. I have no say on who represents me.” NBC Washington (June 26, 2023)

Incarceration And Homelessness

Formerly incarcerated Virginians are reported to be ten times more likely to face homelessness than their counterparts. Over 64,000 currently incarcerated Virginians will be vulnerable to housing insecurity once released. Shiri Yadine, the senior program manager for the Corporation for Supportive Housing, reported that race plays a significant role in this disparity. She said, “The system that has the most disparity is justice-involved youths. Black children in the commonwealth are eight times more likely to have justice involvement than anyone else.” She is advocating for more funding for supportive housing. Virginia Mercury (June 29, 2023)

D.C. Council Debates Controversial Crime Legislation

The D.C. Council held a hearing to discuss a proposed package of laws by Mayor Muriel Bowser aimed at addressing rising crime rates in the city. The legislation includes measures such as stricter penalties for gun related crimes, favoring pretrial detention and limiting early release for longer prison sentences. Over 160 people testified at the hearing. There was a divide between those advocating for tougher policies and longer sentences and those concerned about a return to failed “tough on crime” approaches. There was a consensus that the city’s violence levels had become unacceptable. The council will continue to debate and propose amendments to the bill in the coming weeks. DCist (June 27, 2023).

12 Arrested in Bust of Kennedy Street Crew

Twelve members of the alleged Kennedy Street Crew (KDY), an accused violent drug trafficking organization, have been arrested by federal law enforcement agencies and the D.C. police. The group said accused of being responsible for 19 shootings and seven murders along Kennedy Street NW in Washington, D.C. since 2021. Those indicted face federal charges related to drug and gun trafficking. There were significant amounts of fentanyl, cocaine, marijuana and firearms seized during the investigation. Additionally, the group is accused of using shell companies to launder money. The operation was conducted by the Violent Crime Impact Team. NBC Washington (June 27, 2023).

D.C Encouraging Public To Share Gun Tips

The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) in Washington, D.C., confiscated over 3,100 illegal guns in 2022, sourced mainly from states along the southern 95 corridor. Ghost guns, which lack traceable serial numbers are becoming increasingly prevalent. In order to curb this increase D.C. has raised the cash reward for tips leading to gun seizures and arrests, with a minimum of $1,000 and a maximum of $2,500. Tips related to ghost guns will receive a $5,000 bonus. WUSA9 (June 23, 2023)

The Acting Baltimore Police Commissioner’s 25 Year Track Record

Richard Worley, is the acting Baltimore Police commissioner and a nominee for the permanent position. Supporters highlight his deep understanding of the department, while activists emphasize the need for close examination considering the police force’s documented history of unconstitutional policing. Disciplinary summaries obtained through a public records request reveal several complaints against Worley, including traffic accidents and a complaint by a woman whose home was raided by police. However, the summaries only offer a limited view, and a complete Internal Affairs file would provide more information. Worley’s disciplinary history shows incidents such as preventable collisions and closed cases involving workplace conduct and alleged discrimination. The Baltimore Sun (June 29, 2023)

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In Other News

In response to greater concern over gun violence, Denver schools are bringing back police officers. Parents voiced the need for police officers for the sake of their student’s safety. Critics, however, are worried that this will disproportionately hurt students of color. There has been overwhelming data showing that Black students are far more likely to be arrested than their white counterparts. The New York Times (June 27, 2023)

Florida’s Governor Ron Desantis has spent over 13.5 million dollars to recruit officers in other states who are frustrated by Covid-19 vaccine mandates. His incentive scheme has resulted in a slew of recruited officers with a history of excessive violence or officers who have been arrested since being hired. The Guardian (May 22, 2023)

Three San Antonio police officers were charged with the murder of Melissa Perez after responding to a call outside her house. She was accused of having a “mental health crisis” before her death. All three officers have been released on $100,000 bonds, Bexar County jail records show. The New York Times (June 24, 2023)

The Supreme Court overturned the conviction of an online stalker from Colorado, stating that threats on social media must show subjective intent to be punishable. Supporters claim the decision bolsters free speech protections, while critics worry about the implications for protecting people from online threats. ABCNews (June 27, 2023)

A  report by the Department of Justice blamed the Federal Bureau of Prisons for the conditions that allowed sex offender Jeffrey Epstein to hang himself in his Manhattan jail cell in 2019. The report found that 13 employees within the Bureau of Prisons engaged in misconduct and negligence in their treatment of Epstein. The report also highlighted a pattern of troubling deaths in custody and systemic problems within the Bureau of Prisons. NBC News(June 27, 2023)

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D.C. Homicides Surge to a Decade-High. Change in D.C. Pretrial Detention Laws. Virginia Extends Youth Detention Stay. W. VA Closes Legal Gap on Stalking Crimes

justice from the frontlines: May 15, 2023

D.C homicides surge to a decade-high

Homicides in the District of Columbia have risen by 9% compared to last year, reaching the highest level in the past decade, with 76 deaths so far. The city has implemented a multi-pronged approach to tackle the issue. However, recent shifts in focus towards the role of police and the courts have ignited debates on effective solutions. The DCist (May 10, 2023)

Change in D.C. pretrial detention laws

MPD police in DC.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser plans to introduce legislation detaining more people charged with violent crimes pending trial to address concerns about repeat offenders fueling crime spikes. The proposal, announced during a Public Safety Summit, aims to revise existing laws allowing pretrial release. The DCist (May 10, 2023)

Children behind bars

Maryland has one of the highest rates in the country of prisoners sentenced as children, with a significant racial disparity, according to a report by Human Rights for Kids. Of the 1,132 prisoners in Maryland who were incarcerated as children, 90% are people of color, with 81.3% being Black. The Baltimore Banner (May 10, 2023)

‘Characteristics of an Armed Person’

Following a Baltimore Police shooting that critically injured a 17-year-old, concerns have been raised about the police phrase used to justify the initial interaction. The officer approached the teen, believing he ‘displayed characteristics of an armed person’. However, community members argue that such phrases are used to justify stops based on hunches and contribute to harassment. The Baltimore Sun (May 12, 2023) 

Lengthening lockdown

The Board of Juvenile Justice in Virginia quietly approved new guidelines that extend the length of stay for youth in the state’s juvenile correctional center. The guidelines went into effect on March 1st. Critics argue that the extended stays do not contribute to public safety and can increase recidivism. The Richmond Times-Dispatch (May 7, 2023) 

$2.4 Million for active shooter response training

Virginia’s ALERRT program, which trains first responders and civilians to respond during active shooter emergencies, has received $2.4 million in funding. The program provides evidence-based training to law enforcement agencies and civilians statewide. WUSA 9 (May 11, 2023) 

W. VA closes legal gap on stalking crimes

West Virginia has closed a stalking loophole with the signing of Senate Bill 132 into law. The bill, which went into effect on May 2, officially recognizes stalking as a crime in the state. WBOY (May 8, 2023)

Study group for developmental patients

The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) is addressing concerns regarding the placement of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) in state-run mental hospitals. Senate Bill 232 was passed to create a study group focused on recommendations for IDD patient diversion from prisons, jails, and court-ordered placements. The Parkersburg News and Sentinel (May 8, 2023)

in other news

Incarcerated individuals across the United States face higher prices for staple items such as peanut butter, soap, coffee, and toothpaste, while prison suppliers and departments of corrections profit from unregulated markups on items. The Marshall Project (May 2, 2023)

The White House has released a strategic plan to support rehabilitation and reentry of incarcerated individuals, while President Biden commuted sentences for 31 nonviolent drug offenders. ABA Journal (May 5, 2023) 

The Supreme Court’s ban on split-jury verdicts in serious crimes has resulted in divergent approaches, with Oregon reevaluating cases while Louisiana prosecutors resist, leaving prisoners affected by an unequal system and exacerbating racial disparities. NPR (May 14, 2023) 

community board

D.C. Jail Residents denied Life-Saving Care. Virginia’s Circuit Court Backlog Leaves Individuals Behind Bars. W. VA State Police Faces Disturbing Allegations

justice from the frontlines: May 1, 2023

D.C. Jail Residents Denied Life-Saving Care

The Washington Lawyers’ Committee filed a class action lawsuit against the D.C. Department of Corrections (DOC) for failing to provide adequate medical care to residents of a D.C. Jail. The lawsuit details how residents with serious medical conditions miss life-saving medication and wait months or years for medical attention. The suit seeks a court order to improve the jail’s medical care system, ongoing monitoring and enforcement, and compensation for damages. The DCist (Apr. 26, 2023)

VA’s Only Private Prison Future Uncertain

MPD police in DC.

The Virginia Department of Corrections (VADOC) is considering whether to renew its contract with GEO Group to run the Lawrenceville Correctional Center, the state’s only privately operated prison. The current contract, which has been in effect since August 2018 and ends on July 31, has cost the company $4.3 million due to persistent staffing shortages. Virginia Mercury (Apr. 26, 2023) 

From Postponements to Prolonged Incarceration

The backlog of cases in Virginia’s circuit court system has worsened during the pandemic, leading to individuals being jailed for extended periods. Factors contributing to the backlog include case continuances, multiple trials, and a lack of available court dates. The pandemic further disrupted trials, leading to postponements and a surge in plea bargains to secure release from jail. The Virginian-Pilot (Apr. 27, 2023)

Beyond Hidden Cameras, Allegations Multiply

More allegations have emerged against the West Virginia State Police beyond hidden cameras in the women’s locker room of abuse, harassment, and sexual misconduct. Additional allegations have also surfaced including improper sexual relationships with instructors, physical assaults, and evidence of a cover-up. WOWK (Apr. 26, 2023) 

Eight Years After Freddie Gray’s Death

Freddie Gray’s death eight years ago brought attention to racial injustice and police brutality in Baltimore. While the movement has faded, grassroots initiatives have emerged to address community needs. Redevelopment is underway at Mondawmin Mall, and the Baltimore Police Department has made progress in complying with a federal consent decree. Maryland also passed the Police Accountability Act, promoting officer accountability and transparency. The Baltimore Sun (Apr. 25, 2023) 

Adnan Syed Appeals Conviction

Adnan Syed, of the “Serial” podcast fame, has requested a Maryland appeals court to reconsider his reinstated conviction and sentence. Syed’s attorneys argue that the court failed to require the presence of Hae Min Lee’s brother at a crucial hearing. The Baltimore Banner (Apr. 26, 2023) 

in other news

The Justice Department’s second-highest-ranking official, Lisa Monaco, called for the eradication of sexual abuse in federal prisons during a nationwide training for prison wardens. This comes after AP investigations uncovered flaws within the federal Bureau of Prisons, including a permissive culture that enabled abuse. AP News (Apr. 26, 2023)

Bipartisan legislation introduced aims to strengthen oversight of federal prisons, including provisions for a prisoner hotline to report misconduct, federal watchdog inspections, and response plans. ABC News (Apr. 26, 2023)

California and Texas face challenges in their juvenile justice systems, with California’s Attorney General criticizing the unsafe conditions in Los Angeles County facilities, and Texas lawmakers considering an overhaul to address abuse and mismanagement. The Marshall Project (Apr. 15, 2023) 

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice is taking action to terminate seven employees for failing to conduct proper checks on a 16-year-old boy who died by suicide in a prison cell. Despite a history of suicidal behavior, Joshua Keith Beasley Jr. had been transferred to the adult prison system. The Texas Tribune (Apr. 25, 2023)

community board

More gun violence hits DMV; W. VA trooper placed video camera in female trainee locker room; Congress blocks DC police reform bill

justice from the frontlines: April 24, 2023

More shooting victims in Baltimore

Baltimore police are investigating a quadruple shooting in the Charles North neighborhood, all four men hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries. Police are searching for witnesses and cordoned off the area. The Baltimore Banner (Apr. 17, 2023)

House attempts to block DC police reform

MPD police in DC.

The House passed a resolution blocking a police accountability package in Washington, D.C. which includes a ban on chokeholds, access to officer disciplinary records and body camera video. This comes after Congress passed a resolution a month ago that overturned a D.C. law lowering penalties for certain crimes. NBC News (Apr. 19, 2023) 

Baltimore officer charged with assault in arrest

Baltimore police Officer Kevin Hilton has been indicted on second-degree assault and misconduct charges for shoving a handcuffed man into a patrol car despite his screams of pain. The man informed police that he had undergone knee replacement surgery and couldn’t bend or lift his leg. The officer has been suspended from his duties. The Baltimore Banner (Apr. 19, 2023) 

transgender women sues Baltimore jail system for prison rights.

Lawsuit filed for the poor treatment of transgender people in MD

A transgender woman Chelsea Gilliam filed a lawsuit against the state-run Baltimore jail system. She claims the jail placed her in an all-male dorm, allowed other detainees to sexually assault her and harass her. Her allegations echo the stories of others who testified before Maryland lawmakers to change the policies surrounding how transgender people are treated in prisons and jails. The Baltimore Banner (Apr. 19, 2023) 

Grand jury refuses do indict

A Fairfax County, VA grand jury did not indict a police officer who fatally shot 37-year-old Timothy McCree Johnson. Johnson was killed after being chased by police through a mall where he allegedly stole sunglasses from a store. Johnson’s family’s lawyer called the shooting an “execution.” Johnson’s mother believes her son would not have been killed if it weren’t for racism. The DCist (Apr 18, 2023)

Good time credits in VA go to court

The Virginia Supreme Court will hear two cases filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) challenging the Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) over a reversal on earned prison sentence credits. The ACLU alleges the policy change was unlawful because it was not applied retroactively. The state Supreme Court agreed to hear both cases. The Virginian-Pilot (Apr. 20, 2023) 

W. VA state trooper placed camera in female trainees locker room

A second notice to sue the West Virginia State Police was filed by an attorney on behalf of five women who were training at the State Police Academy during the time a camera was discovered in the women’s locker room. The notice follows a state Department of Homeland Security investigation that revealed a senior state trooper placed the camera before March 2016, and that other troopers destroyed evidence in the form of a thumb drive containing video from the camera in the women’s locker room.  WV Public Broadcasting (Apr. 20, 2023) 

MD prisons severely understaffed

A new report by AFSCME Maryland Council 3 warns that Maryland prisons are facing a staffing crisis that threatens public safety due to “alarming levels of mandatory overtime, burnout and dangerous working conditions”. The union estimates that Maryland’s adult prisons would require the hiring of 3,417 new officers to reach safe staffing levels. The shortage has led to a higher number of violent assaults and other issues that have affected prisoner well-being and services like visitation and medical appointments. The Baltimore Banner  (Apr. 20, 2023) 

in other news

Officials involved in the 2019 shooting of Jacob Harris have been found to have made inconsistent or false statements, while Harris’s friends are facing murder charges; his father, Roland Harris, continues to fight for justice. The Appeal (Mar. 14, 2023) 

The Supreme Court ruled that Texas death row inmate Rodney Reed can seek post-conviction DNA evidence to prove his innocence in the 1998 murder of Stacey Stites. CNN (Apr. 19, 2023)

The Justice Department urges state and local judges to reduce fines and fees charged in their courts that disproportionately affect the poor, juvenile offenders, and people of color, calling the practice discriminatory and damaging. The New York Times (Apr. 20, 2023) 

community board

Gun violence at D.C. funeral; A new DMV non-profit hopes to stem shootings; VA Gov. takes away ex-felon voting rights

justice from the frontlines: April 17, 2023

Third mass shooting this year hits D.C.

In the third mass shooting in D.C. this year, four people shot, one fatally, at a funeral. Police Chief Robert Contee said several individuals were targeted, although authorities are unsure why. The shooter or shooters have not been identified. The DCist (Apr. 11, 2023)

Peace for D.C.

The non-profit organization Peace for DC aims to reduce shootings in Washington, D.C., by using “community violence intervention” methods, which seek to reduce violence without relying on police and the traditional criminal justice system. The program is also a diversion from the street teams of violence interrupters. The DCist (Apr. 11, 2023)

Held for 34 years for three murders one man could see release

Phillip Clements, who was convicted of murdering three people, is seeking to be released from prison after serving 34 years of his five consecutive life terms. While the victims’ family members are against his release, both prosecutors and the defense argue that Clements has clinically been deemed a low risk to society, has been substance-abuse-free for 20 years, and deserves a second chance. A decision is expected on May 8th. The Washington Post (Apr. 8, 2023)

AG’s team up

D.C. Attorney General Brian Schwalb aims to partner with his counterparts in Virginia and Maryland to form a regional response to the city’s gun violence issue. The proposal was in response to a letter from Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares, who demanded action after a Virginia woman was murdered in her D.C. hotel room. WUSA9 (Apr. 14, 2023)

Youngkin limits the restoration of voting rights 

Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin is facing a federal lawsuit after slowing down the process of restoring voting rights for the formerly incarcerated. While Virginia is one of a small number of states where it’s up to the governor to decide whether people who’ve convicted felony offenses regain their right to vote, the last three governors had streamlined the process, but Youngkin has not specified his criteria for restoration. Critics say this is following a legacy of disenfranchising Black voters. NPR (Apr. 14, 2023) 

Forced exposure

A woman is suing the Portsmouth sheriff and a deputy after being forced to expose her genitals, along with at least one other female detainee, to prove they were menstruating at Portsmouth City Jail in May 2022. According to the lawsuit filed by Danaesha Martin, the deputy ordered the detainees to expose themselves as a condition of obtaining sanitary products. The Virginia Mercury (Apr. 11, 2023) 

W.VA whistleblower comes forward

West Virginia State Police Cpl. Joseph Comer came forward as the author of a five-page anonymous letter alleging wrongdoing within the department. The letter, sent to Governor Jim Justice, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and state lawmakers, alleged sexual assaults, thefts, and other misconduct. WBOY 12 (Apr. 12, 2023)

An end to pot stops

Maryland lawmakers passed a bill that prohibits police from using the smell of marijuana alone as a source of reasonable suspicion or probable cause for a stop or search. The Daily Record (Apr. 12, 2023)

in other news

New York City plans to deploy security robots, GPS launchers, and Boston Dynamics’ “DigiDog,” which was previously criticized and pulled from service, in its continued efforts to enhance public safety, according to Mayor Eric Adams. The New York Times (Apr. 16, 2023) 

A new plan for police and court system reform in Jackson, Mississippi, implemented by the predominantly white state legislature, was met with opposition in the primarily Black capital city. The New York Times (Apr. 10, 2023) 
The Army allowed soldiers charged with violent crimes to leave the military rather than face trial. When the soldiers leave the Army with a negative discharge, they avoid possible federal conviction and have little record of the allegations against them. Propublica (Apr. 10, 2023)

The eight Akron, OH officers who shot and killed Jayland Walker last summer won’t be criminally charged. A jury found that the officers actions were justified. The Akron Beacon Journal (April 17, 2023)

An 84-year-old white Kansas City, Missouri man was charged with two felonies on Monday after he allegedly shot a Black teenager who walked up to the wrong house to pick up his twin brothers. Reuters (April 18, 2023)

community board

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.