At Mayor Muriel Bowser’s anti-crime meeting in Ward 8 last week, the mayor did two things.
She either lost control of her public meeting to rowdy protesters, or she endured disruptions to show that she’s not backing down in the face of public protests over her crime-fighting efforts.
Maybe it was a little of both.
When protesters began shouting the slogan “Black Lives Matter” and other chants, Bowser at first tried to ignore the distraction, then sought to reason with the protesters, and then tried to talk over them.
“Who’s with me?” the mayor herself chanted at one point. “Who’s with me? Who’s with me?”
Hundreds of residents — including a good portion of Bowser’s staff and appointees — stood up and applauded to drown out the protests.
“I will not be shouted down, because I’m telling the truth,” Bowser said defiantly.
Part of the problem is that an angry and frustrated public is looking for short-term answers to long-term problems. That’s not possible, but the city has to respond to the outbreak in violence.
If you like the mayor, you like that she waded into a public auditorium and gave a 25-minute speech. She detailed the things she’s done and will do to address the homicide spike, one that has doubled the homicides east of the Anacostia River compared to last year. (Elsewhere in the city, violent crime is up about 8 percent, according to some counts.)
Wherever the killings occur, the city has exceeded the 104 in all of last year with four months still on the calendar for 2015.
As Monday arrived, the disgruntled police union announced the results of its “no confidence” vote in Police Chief Cathy Lanier. It said of 1,150 officers who responded, 95 percent voted no confidence.
But there are about 3,600 officers eligible to vote, so less than one-third bothered. What does that say?
D.C. police specifically have a legitimate complaint about wages and the last contract — in which they got no retroactive pay after seven years! But the “no confidence” may well bolster Lanier.
If the chief — who again was strongly backed by the mayor on Monday — is unpopular, it doesn’t show in her acceptance around town.
As for Bowser, the general public in the city could have seen the mayor last week and seen that she’s in control even if there’s no clear reason why homicides have shot up. But looked at another way, the mayor appeared politically desperate to show that she’s in control even when the violent crime situation appears to be out of control.
She recalled the onslaught of crime that roiled the city in the 1980s and 1990s. “We are nowhere near the bad old days of the ’90s, and we’re not going back there either,” she declared.
One labor leader in the audience, who supports Bowser, declined to be interviewed by NBC4. But he angrily told us off-camera that the news media has created a city in fear with its sensational crime reporting.
But, if we could take a different view, it’s not “sensational” reporting by the media when people are shot dead on city streets, or stabbed to death on a Metro train. The events themselves are sensational.
Some activists complain of a racial bias, that the homicide spike really wasn’t recognized by the media and others until whites were among the victims. On the WAMU Politics Hour last Friday, Chief Lanier acknowledged the racial element, but with a different twist. She said her officers investigate each murder thoroughly but the news media doesn’t cover each murder with the same intensity — leaving many African-Americans and others to believe their lives in fact don’t matter.
■ Now back to the mayor. In a lengthy list, she touted any number of community and police actions she has taken in this summer of violence. She cited the summer jobs program that included people as old as 24 rather than the earlier cutoff of 21. She said nearly 200 more police are patrolling streets on overtime, with a total of 235 officers now working 12-hour shifts and focusing on narcotics, gangs and illegal guns. There’s also an effort to use civilians rather than officers to perform administrative duties.
One Bowser plan got particular attention from the protesters. It’s her proposed idea to allow parole officials or police to potentially search the homes of parolees to check for illegal guns whenever the probation officers make visits to supervise those on release for violent offenses. It’s unclear that plan will pass the D.C. Council, but it certainly riled the protesters.
Bowser specifically addressed some reports that most anyone’s home might be entered. “To basically search anyone, anytime, anywhere; that is blatantly false,” she said.
The auditorium clearly favored the mayor, but her administration clearly invited sympathetic people inside. The protesters came in, too. The coming weeks and months will tell more about the city’s response than the shouting and clapping we heard last week.
■ What to do? Washington Post columnists Colbert I. King and Courtland Milloy both addressed the homicides this past week. Both acknowledged long-term problems and racial disparities have contributed to the violence, but both said citizens and communities must step up to stem the violence no matter its long-term causes.
“When it comes to the causes of homicide among black people,” Milloy wrote, “there’s something a lot of black people are saying among themselves: It’s not all due to institutional racism. Few dare say it publicly, lest some animus-filled, right-wing conservatives hail you as their kind of black.
“But the subject must be broached, especially now that homicides are spiking like mad in urban areas throughout the nation. If racist cops are part of an institutional threat to black people, there are also black men and women dying at the hands of people who look like them. It is the enemy within.
Call out one, you have to call out the other.”
Tom Sherwood, a Southwest resident, is a political reporter for News 4.