Thursday, July 13, 2006

Race and crime in Washington DC

Laura Marquez:

Following a recent wave of homicides in Washington, D.C., the capital's police chief has declared a crime emergency, at the height of the tourist season.

Since July 1, 13 people have been killed in the district, including a community activist and a British citizen whose throat was slit on the stylish streets of Georgetown.

After an outcry from residents at community meetings and candlelight vigils held for the victims, Police Chief Charles Ramsey made his decision. He beefed up patrols in high-crime areas by changing officers' schedules and canceling days off.

"You can't make sense of it because it doesn't make any sense," Ramsey said at a briefing, trying to explain the sudden surge in homicides. "Thirteen people is simply unacceptable by anyone's standards," he added. "We have to do something right now."

So far this year, the murder rate in the nation's capital stands at 94 - the same number killed at this point last year - but July has been a particularly violent month.

Early Sunday morning, 27-year-old Alan Senitt, a British citizen working in Washington on a possible presidential run by former Virginia governor Mark Warner, was walking a female companion home on a tree-lined street in a quiet Georgetown neighborhood when they were held up at gunpoint. One robber allegedly tried to rape Senitt's friend. Police say the assailants slit Senitt's throat. The three suspects - one a juvenile - have all been arrested.

That particular crime produced some racial tension. The victims were white, and the suspects were black.

At a packed community meeting in Georgetown after the murder, one white police officer, inspector Andy Solberg, told residents to watch out for any suspicious activity in the neighborhood. He said the suspects would have stood out at 2 a.m. in that area. "They were black," Solberg said. "This is not a racial thing to say that black people are unusual in Georgetown. This is a fact of life."

Solberg was reassigned and is under investigation for his "racially insensitive" remarks.

One black D.C. police officer, Junis Fletcher, who worked under Solberg, called his comments "out of character" and said, "I've never had problems with him." And one black storeowner in Georgetown told The Washington Post he believed Solberg merely stated the truth.

"How come people don't know that? These people live in a box?" Lowaunz Tascoe, a 40-year resident of Georgetown, asked. "It is highly, highly unusual to see three young black males roaming around up there in the residential neighborhoods."

Washington in 'crime emergency'

Political correctness should not trump sense

Violent Robberies Make It Hard to Ignore D.C.'s Vicious Side

Robberies On Mall A Trend, Chief Says

Slaying Suspects Linked to Holdups

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