(Washington, DC) – Today, Councilmember Kenyan R. McDuffie (D – Ward 5), Chairperson of the Committee on the Judiciary issued the following statement at the Committee on the Judiciary public hearing “Beyond 100 Homicides: Violent Crime in the District of Columbia:
“This has been an extremely difficult summer for all of us, in every neighborhood across the city. In preparing for this hearing, I thought of the conversations I’ve had with residents over the past two months during the Council’s recess. We talked about their grief and fear, their feelings of helplessness, about how so many families have been scarred by their involvement in our criminal justice system, and frankly, about a lack of respect for the value of human life. I sought to gain perspective through my own experiences growing up in the District of Columbia – how I’ve seen this city change and about all the friends and family members that have been taken from us to soon. And I thought about my responsibility to my city as a member of this body and as a native Washingtonian.
I know that all of my colleagues have had these same conversations, and they’ve been very painful – Councilmember May has consoled her constituents as Ward 8 has experienced incredible loss; Councilmember Allen has worked so hard to improve public safety following tragic events in Ward 6; and I know that Councilmember Alexander responded to a devastating tragedy on the steps of a church, no less. And the damage has continued, with shootings, near-misses, violent and non-violent crime of all types. Our families are afraid, our communities are trying to heal, and our residents are searching for answers.
But we are all here tonight, and we still stay here until late in the evening on this first day back from recess, because we care, because we want results, and because we already have many of the answers. We can look to our past experience as a city with the criminal justice system, we can talk to our sister cities who struggle with similar challenges, we can listen to the experts among us, and we can listen to our community members who, often through their own experiences, have lessons to share. Only together will we reduce violent crime.
We’re fortunate to also know what doesn’t work as well. Locking up our offenders without helping them unpack lifetimes of trauma, only to see the same people released back out onto the street, feeling marginalized by society and without the skills to reintegrate — our agencies working in silos, missing opportunities to coordinate and to collaborate with local and federal partners — failing to collect, synthesize, and evaluate data or to consider successful models from other jurisdictions — underutilizing our strong community organizations, and our networks of credible messengers who want to help; and failing to identify and treat our highest risk individuals to change social norms.
I think we have a real opportunity today, and in the coming weeks, to establish meaningful reforms and examine what we think responding to public safety should look like. But it won’t be done by the Council alone, or by the Mayor alone, or by the Courts alone, or even by residents alone. Together, we must recognize that this spike in violence is truly a public health crisis, and we need a holistic, evidence-based approach. I want to make it clear, we are not here today to point fingers, we are here to build bridges.