Random Acts of Barbarity
Like the litter the constantly piles up in front of the Howard Theater, too many Washingtonians think that human lives are disposable whenever it’s convenient. There’s no distinction made between candy wrappers, empty liquor bottles, and human life.
We were walking through Columbia Heights late Saturday night and noticed numerous police cars rushing south toward Columbia Road. Later that evening we learned the terrible news that a nine-year-old boy was murdered in his apartment by one bullet shot through his front door. Though the assailant may not have been aiming for the boy specifically, shooting anywhere in an apartment building is bound to hurt somebody and we have serious trouble understanding why someone would exhibit such reckless disregard for human life.
This murder occurred despite this increased police presence this weekend as part of the MPD’s All Hands on Deck program. The police, though, cannot be in every hallway in every apartment building.
Closer to home, we became aware of a violent attack that occurred at Second and S Streets in Bloomingdale last week. In an email to the police and several community leaders, Former ANC Commissioner Margot Hoerrner (ANC1B11) described what happened to her friend Brad, who was house-sitting for her:
On Wednesday, at 5pm, Brad was attacked by 6-7 young men, at the corner of 2nd and S Street, who wanted absolutely nothing other than to beat the utter crap out of him. Brad, aside from being a military guy, is also an urban-savvy guy, who said that his instincts never warned him that something was about to happen. On his way to the Big Bear Cafe, half the group rushed him from the front, whereas the other half rushed him from the back. They knocked him down, and then, as a group, stomped on him, jumped on him, and beat him senseless, leaving him with black eyes, thoroughly bloodied and with several cracked ribs.
What’s shocking is that there are too many Washingtonians who think nothing of brutally beating and stomping innocent people. Violence and barbarity are seen as acceptable lifestyles— forms of entertainment, even.
Ms. Hoerrner added something I’ve often felt: that Washington is more dangerous than many conflict zones and poverty-stricken countries around the world:
As an aside, my work takes me to the poorest, conflict-riddled places in the world. I have spent the last two weeks in Kenya and Tanzania, which are at the precipice of humanitarian and civil disaster because of a four-year drought. A friend of mine has commented on my lack of fear in traveling to these places by myself, and asked me if I’ve ever felt fear traveling anywhere – and I said yes… I have felt more threatened and fearful living in Washington DC than I have anywhere else in the world. I am often stunned at the level of violence and crime that we have come to accept as a given for simply living in this city.
We bring up these problems because we feel that we as a city have become too used to this savagery, which is actually abnormal. Washington’s homicide rate for last year was around 32 murders per 100,000 residents, still far off from the 1991 peak of 80.6, but far above the national average (5.8) and more than five times the rate of New York City (6.2).
Making Washington a world-class city requires addressing some of the sicker aspects of our civic culture, particularly our extraordinary rates of violence and our tolerance of violence. We should stand as examples of what a city can be: the elegant, properous, and peaceful pinnacle of human civilization and not a place bleeding from occasional bouts of unrelenting barbarism.