But on Monday night, the community meeting of civic associations and residents strayed from patterns of the past, excluding D.C. police officials and focusing on possible solutions outside law enforcement to confront violence that has plagued the area of decades.
“There is a self-reckoning,” Monica Ray, president of the Congress Heights Community Association, said in an interview. “We can’t just rely on police or the government to fix these ills.”
The group that met on Zoom aimed to develop a list of recommendations for city and police officials to make Ward 8 safer while also seeking community change in the face of a recent spike in violence.
D.C. police are investigating nine homicides and 24 assaults with a deadly weapon in Ward 8 in the past month, according to police statistics. During the same period last year, Ward 8 sustained four homicides and 26 assaults with a deadly weapon, statistics show.
Across the city and the nation, homicides are on the rise. D.C. police report 52 homicides so far this year, a 30 percent increase from the 40 killings reported during the first quarter of 2020.
Old frustrations and anger simmered among some speakers during the 90-minute session attended by about two dozen people.
ANC Commissioner Olivia Henderson pushed for more accountability, not just from police but city agencies, developers and neighbors to help bring Ward 8 the level of equal service that other neighborhoods receive.
“Many people are tired of going to these meetings,” Henderson said. “Let’s stop coming to these meetings saying the same old things.
“Enough is enough; I’m tired of hearing the same thing.”
However, Ray captured a list of ideas that will start the framework for a report to be issued to the city, she said.
Suggestions included expanding the city’s violence interrupter programs to more neighborhoods, decentralizing poverty and wealth centers across the city, building community-led programs for youth and pushing developers to funnel investments toward high crime areas.
Those recommendations followed a robust discussion centered on the root problems that lead to violence. Although many attendees focused on young people as the drivers of the danger, Congress Heights resident Stephanie Foo told the group that people of all ages are victims and perpetrators of anger modeled across generations in neighborhoods that result in violent and deadly outbursts.
“It is not a young people issue, it’s an us issue. It’s become a part of our culture, I’m afraid,” Foo said. “This is generational. This is what we’ve taught.”
In an interview, Foo said grew up in Ward 7 but arrived in Congress Heights three years ago. Several months after moving to Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, as her wife was pregnant, three people were killed in a block party shooting. Her first instinct was to leave Ward 8 until she shifted her thinking.
“My mind-set changed,” said Foo, 34. “We can stay here, but this can’t happen again.”
She joined Monday’s meeting in hopes to help change the area, rather than flee.
Longtime activist Philip Pannell, who chairs the Anacostia Coordinating Council, told the group that too many people have become numb to violence and that new voices need to be pulled into the conversation to help find solutions. Pannell wants to hear from the people who survive shootings and those serving prison time for pulling triggers to ask what the community could have done differently to change their outcomes.
He suggested the city officials and the media start seeking answers from those most closely connected to the violence.
“We see the walking and rolling wounded, [but] we don’t normally hear these people talk about the violence,” Pannell said. “We never hear from the ones who are convicted.
“I would like to hear from them.”