Unchecked Crime at America’s Capital a Reminder of Congress’ Responsibility To Keep the Columbia District Safe

I know Washington, D.C. can become a safer, more prosperous, and desirable city, because I’ve seen it happen before.

AP/J. Scott Applewhite, file
Washington Metropolitan Police investigate near the Supreme Court and the Capitol. AP/J. Scott Applewhite, file


Many Americans are now afraid to live in or even visit Washington, D.C. I personally know three families who have moved out of the District recently because their neighborhoods have become too violent. Having someone murdered, mugged, or carjacked in the next block does not encourage people to stay at Washington.

This is a totally avoidable tragedy. I know Washington can become a safer, more prosperous, and desirable city, because I’ve seen it happen before. When I was Speaker, we passed a series of laws to reform the city government and create tax incentives for individuals and businesses to move into the city. 

These created a wave of gentrification that made the District a much better place to live. The policies helped revitalize the city and strengthen the school system. A wireless communications industry group voluntarily served old buildings that could not be wired for computers. And we created a scholarship program with active support from the Washington Post.

With Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton’s support, I held a series of neighborhood town hall meetings on the grounds that all Americans had a vested interest in their national capital. Mayor Marion Barry was the leading political figure in the city, and he actively helped us reform government, save money, eliminate corruption, and develop a safe streets policy. 

I admired New York City’s police commissioner, Bill Bratton, who had greatly reduced crime there — and would later do the same in Los Angeles. We worked to provide much greater safety with much less crime in the District.

All these achievements are historic fact. They have been done and they can be done again. 

Importantly, the American people agree that they should be able to visit their own capital in safety. Yet, today there is real risk. So far in 2023, the city has experienced a 23 percent increase in crime – including a 17 percent increase in violent crime, a 25 percent increase in robberies, and a 110 percent increase in vehicle thefts.

At America’s New Majority Project, a July 27 to 30 poll of 2,000 registered voters taught us that more than 8-in-10 agree that Americans should be able to visit the nation’s capital without fear of crime. This includes 88 percent of Republicans, 85 percent of Democrats, and 81 percent of independents.

When asked if Congress should step in when Washington’s city government cannot control crime, even if city officials object, 58 percent of all voters agree, including 59 percent of likely voters and 52 percent of less likely voters. This majority includes 67 percent of Republicans, 54 percent of Democrats, and 52 percent of Independents.

The first step is for Congress to recognize that it has a responsibility to the entire nation to make our national capital safe, beautiful, and enjoyable. It has an obligation to the residents of Washington to supervise and override politicians and bureaucrats who fail in their duty.

House Republicans have shown the first steps toward making our capital safe again when they overrode the Washington City Council’s insanely pro-criminal legislation. The council’s proposal was so pro-crime, the mayor vetoed it. 

When her veto was overridden by the hard-left City Council, the U.S. Senate went along with the House Republicans. When the repeal bill reached the White House, President Biden said that the city council bill would permit carjacking, and he signed the repeal.

The principle that Washington is the nation’s capital and home rule only exists within limits which are acceptable to the entire country has been affirmed once again. 

Months of gun violence is causing many Washingtonians to question their safety and commitment to the city with an intensity unseen since the drug wars of the 1990s.

The Washington Post ran an amazing article on September 11 by Paul Schwartzman. He did a superb job of humanizing the crime problem with person after person talking about their experiences and their fears in different neighborhoods. The number of people who describe killings and shootings in their immediate neighborhoods was staggering and heart rending.

The article noted that “violent crime “has long been a part of Washington life, the worst of it during the early 1990s when drug trafficking propelled the annual homicide toll to nearly 500 and D.C. earned an inglorious reputation as America’s ‘Murder Capital.’”

That was the city we inherited when I became Speaker. We insisted on a wide range of changes which turned Washington into a much safer place.

The city’s inability to respond decisively and aggressively to growing criminality is undermining everything we achieved in the 1990s. As Mr. Schwartzman wrote, “months of persistent gun violence are causing many Washingtonians to question their safety and commitment to the city with an intensity perhaps unseen since the drug wars.”

Mr. Schwartzman noted that in “the first six days of September alone, eight people were shot and killed, including four teenagers.” The DC city government has failed to protect America’s capital. If it is this unsafe for the residents, it is also unsafe for visitors from around America and the world.

Congress has an absolute obligation to protect the American people in their own capital. Hearings should be held. Successful crime fighters such as Mr. Bratton should be sought for advice. A strong “Safe American Capital” bill should be written and passed into law.

Every time you read about another killing, carjacking, mugging, or armed robbery in your own capital, call or write your Congress Member and your Senators. Remind them they have a duty to the American people to ensure our capital can be visited safely. It has been done before. It must be done again.

The New York Sun

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