A Long, Hot, Deadly Summer


These hot summer days are disquieting days in the District of Columbia.

The sound of gunfire is beginning to become noticeable throughout the city. Crime, it’s being said in some quarters, is up, especially violent crime, especially homicide.

There is disagreement about the causes of this uptick in shootings and killings. Mayor Muriel Bowser and Chief Cathy Lanier posited that the growing availability and use of synthetic marijuana and other synthetic drugs are behind it. D.C. police union members — as well as Ward 2 Council member Jack Evans — have pointed to a manpower shortage.

One thing is for sure: the violence, often characteristic of hot summers in big cities, is on the rise. Just this past weekend, three more people were killed in separate incidents in different parts of the city, raising the homicide count in the District to 87, a number that puts us on track to reach numbers not seen since 2008. It may not be the bad old days of the 1990s and earlier, but the violence appears steady and widespread. D.C. is not alone in this — Baltimore experienced a major upsurge in violent deaths and shootings, and Chicago’s troubles have not abated.

But what’s been happening in the District, where both the chief of police and the mayor are popular, is troubling. It isn’t just the numbers themselves, but the persistent, unabated reports of incidents — some major and fatal, some less so —that get under people’s skin.

If you read the D.C. Police Union’s regular crime reports, the notations are startling: the waste of life, the continuous pain and the stretching of resources. The shootings took place in Congress Heights, Benning Ridge and Carver Langston, with an 18-year-old youth starting his senior year at Ballou High School dying of several gunshot wounds on Saturday morning, a 22-year-old man fatally shot, also on Saturday morning, and a man robbed and shot to death while preparing to celebrate his birthday on Sunday morning.

The prosaic crime alerts don’t begin to hint at the disruptions and fear engendered in people’s lives. The Aug. 1 crime alert listed an armed robbery, a robbery, a robbery, an armed robbery, a robbery, a shooting, a shooting. In all, according to the Washington Post, there were ten shootings as well as ten stabbings in the District over the weekend.

It may be the synthetic marijuana, the drugs, the manpower shortage, the heat.

Crime overall may be on the decline.

But it sure doesn’t feel like it.

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