Respect for the Dead?

Trash collection suspension draws complaint

By P.J. Orvetti
|  Thursday, Oct 14, 2010  |  Updated 7:03 AM EDT
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Search for Gunman Continues After Deadly Shooting at DPW

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Search for Gunman Continues After Deadly Shooting at DPW

One man is dead and another wounded after a gunman opened fire in the D.C. Department of Public Works parking lot.
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Fifty-one-year-old Larry Hutchins, who had spent half his life working for the D.C. Department of Public Works, was shot and killed Wednesday morning. Hutchins, a sanitation worker, was standing with other employees in the trash truck lot of a DPW facility when an assailant strolled onto the lot at about 6:15 a.m. and fired nearly two dozen shots.

The Washington Post says Hutchins, a Suitland resident, “was a $21-an-hour ‘sanitation technician,’ meaning he rode on the back of trash trucks with a second worker, while a third worker drove.” His shooting, and that of a co-worker who survived, came just as workers were preparing to depart the lot for their daily rounds.

These two men got out of bed before dawn and headed off to a day of hauling off our dinner-plate scrapings and disposable diapers and wastepaper and cat litter. Instead of going about this vital but rarely respected work, they were shot.

DPW cancelled trash collection for the day, in part out of respect and in part because the lot had become a crime scene. Grief counselors were made available to shaken workers. Clearly, everyone would agree that this was the right thing to do.

Well, not quite everyone.

Just after 11 a.m. Wednesday, Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham posted news of the tragedy on various neighborhood discussion groups in the ward. Within less than half an hour, one Adams Morgan resident responded,

“While I understand that DPW workers need to mourn their colleagues and that emergencies do happen, it is NOT ok to leave city residents with trash piling up and overflowing our cans for a whole week. It's always overflowing after a long weekend, and now having to wait until Saturday or next Tuesday for trash and recycling assures us that rats will have a great time tearing open the bags that are now on top of the cans and spreading the trash onto people's stairs and into the alley. There must be another solution to this situation.”

Fellow gentrifiers, this is why people hate us.

The writer’s Yahoo! profile says that she, like me, is from Connecticut. I suspect that she, like me, enjoys a higher standard of living than many of the people who have lived in Ward 1 for decades, or than the people who haul her trash away.

It is true that the 24-hour delay because of the brutal murder of a man on the job will mean trash piles up a bit more, just as it does on any number of federal holidays. And yes, that can be an irritation, and it can be unsanitary.

But comparing this inconvenience to the need for DPW to regroup and recover -- and for the police to do their work -- is incredible. Would Mr. Hutchins’s life have had more value if he had been a lawyer or a lobbyist?

If it's any consolation to the complainer, I'm sure he would rather have picked up her trash as usual this week, too.

Follow P.J. Orvetti on Twitter at @PJOinDC

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