In February of 2019, police in the District of Columbia embarked upon a program designed to reduce the spiking number of shootings and murders in the capital. The focus of the program was to track down known felons who were illegally in possession of firearms and lock them up while getting those weapons (predominately handguns) off the streets. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Any felons on the prowl with illegal guns are certainly prime suspects in reducing gun crimes, and the fact that they are in possession of a weapon is sufficient cause to take them out of the game for a while.
Of course, when this news was recently revealed, along with the fact that Mayor Muriel Bowser actually endorsed the program, the usual suspects were up in arms. The program was described as being “unequal enforcement” that targeted communities of color rather than being equally applied across the district. The cries of racism by the police were quick to follow. (Washington Post)
An initiative cracking down on gun crimes in the District targeted three predominantly Black wards and was not enforced citywide as announced, U.S. prosecutors acknowledged in court records, drawing attacks that the policy disproportionately subjected African American defendants to lengthier prison terms.
The geographic targeting of the program launched in February 2019 — under which felons caught illegally possessing guns are charged under federal statutes — was recently disclosed after a defendant challenged the program backed by D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D).
Though U.S. prosecutors said in court records that the program focused on the highest crime areas of the District as it struggled to stem spiking homicides, critics of the “felon-in-possession” program say the revelation confirms earlier fears that the anti-crime initiative would exacerbate problems of mass incarceration and overpolicing in Black communities.
Let’s stop and think about that last sentence for a moment. These “critics” of the program are saying that it’s unfair for the police to focus their efforts on the three predominantly minority wards where the largest number of gun crimes take place. Such efforts supposedly result in “mass incarceration” and the “overpolicing of Black communities.” Seriously?
These are the same complaints we’ve heard time and time again in New York City. Similar “critics” complain that the cops deploy too many resources in places like East New York and the rougher side of Brooklyn while ignoring much of Manhattan for the most part. But why do you suppose that is? Perhaps because that’s where the crimes are taking place?
The parts of the district where this task force focused their efforts, most on Washington’s east side, are probably familiar to regular readers. One of those wards was the scene of the largest mass shooting in the United States of 2020, not that you’d know about it if you only relied on CNN, MSNBC and the major newspapers for your news. The gun crime in that region was already getting out of control before the pandemic hit and the George Floyd riots started. It’s only gotten worse since then.
What do these critics want a special task force focused on gun possession by felons to do? Should they be deploying an equal number of officers and other resources to the National Mall? Or perhaps the street in front of the White House? How many gang bangers do you really think they’re going to find wandering around or carjacking people in a neighborhood already swarming with the Secret Service and other federal law enforcement officers?
If you want to solve crimes, you go where the crime is taking place. And if that results in a disproportionate number of suspects of color being arrested, perhaps it’s time for a broader conversation about why crime is concentrated in those neighborhoods to begin with. More economic opportunity, better education and safer streets are the path to cutting back on gang crime. But for the time being, getting more of the illegal guns off the streets is at least a good start.