Ward 4 Council Member Calls for a Cease-Fire

WASHINGTON INFORMER: In the aftermath of two daytime shootings that left three schoolchildren critically injured, D.C. Council member Janeese Lewis George (D-Ward 4) has issued a call for an immediate cease-fire between warring neighborhood crews and gangs in uptown D.C. 

On Friday, the Ward 4 council member, flanked by clergypeople, returning citizens, violence interrupters and recreation specialists, made her passionate appeal on the corner of Georgia Avenue and Kennedy Street, one of uptown D.C.’s hotbeds of violent crime. 

“While gangs and crews are inflicting violence on each other, our children are bystanders in their conflict,” George told The Informer a day prior.  

“Some of these crews go back historically,” she added. “We are angry about displacement and gentrification but you’re fighting over blocks you don’t own. It’s time to put down the guns. You’re hurting yourselves and you’re hurting the community.” 

For years, the D.C. Office of the Attorney General’s Cure the Streets Uptown program and the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement (ONSE), along with other entities, have engaged those involved in the neighborhood quarrels in discussions about the root of their conflict. They’ve also connected them with resources to deter them from inflicting harm on others. 

With a bloody start to the new year, however, George has called on members of the community, particularly those involved in the beefs, to do their part in curbing the violence.  

During a confrontation aboard a Metro bus on Wednesday, a man fired shots that injured an adult male and two District public school students. One week prior, a drive-by shooting near the corner of Georgia Avenue and Sheridan Street claimed the life of 33-year-old Benjie Byers and left a child severely wounded. 

Lewis George said the young victim from the Georgia Avenue shooting has been left traumatized and highly sensitive to sudden noises. 

Those who joined George on Friday at the corner of Georgia Avenue and Kennedy Street included Rob Nickens, a basketball coach at Roosevelt High School, Rev. Graylan Hagler, the Rev. Christopher Crawford, the Rev. Patti Fears, and members of the Cure the Streets Uptown.   

Al-Malik Farrakhan, founder of Cease Fire, Don’t Smoke the Brothers and Sisters, also reportedly stopped by to offer his support. While he declined to comment on the recent incidents of violence, Farrakhan doubled down on his past criticism of then-D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine’s infusion of violence prevention tactics that originated in Chicago. 

Farrakhan said that such a strategy has further divided the city and displaced those who’ve had experience in violence prevention work.

In regard to violence interruption tactics, Donnell Copeland, program coordinator of Cure the Violence Uptown, relies on his past experience as a member of a neighborhood crew. Copeland, a returning citizen in his third year as a violence interrupter, stressed that a major part of stopping the violence is establishing rapport with young people and fostering a sense of community.  

“They’re the generation left behind,” Copeland said. “No one wants to deal with them so we’re committed to showing them a way out. We have [connections to] all types of programs, like plumbing, electrical work, catering, basketball and football. It’s about getting them to accept the resources.” 

Earlier this week, George hosted meetings in Brightwood and Riggs Park where community members interacted with representatives of ONSE, the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety, the Metropolitan Police Department and the Office of Gun Violence Prevention. On Friday, she announced a “Guns, Not Jobs” fair scheduled for April. 

As Lewis George embarks on this effort to broker peace between warring crews and gangs, she has a supporter in Nickens, who’s also a Roving Leader outreach worker. 

Nickens said quelling violence in the District requires an influx of recreational activities. He stressed that such resources should be coordinated by adults who can forge authentic relationships with young people.  

In the more than 20 years he has been an outreach worker, Nickens has helped young people secure housing, employment and substance abuse treatment. He said he does that while mindful of how the adults in his life, including Craig Hughes who currently works at Emery Heights Recreation Center, poured into him during his coming of age in the Sursum Corda neighborhood in the 1990s. 

“It’s about putting kids in programs and giving them opportunities to stay out of the streets,” Nickens said. 

“I’ve always thought recreation centers played a big part in young people’s lives. The recreation center, Roosevelt’s gymnasium and the community have been places I’ve wanted kids to come see me,” Nickens added. “It’s important they have somewhere to go and talk about what’s going on. A lot of them are afraid to talk but they have to trust you.”

Photo: D.C. Council member Janeese Lewis George (third from left) is calling for a cease-fire after two recent daytime shootings that critically injured three schoolchildren. (Robert R. Roberts/The Washington Informer)

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