Our community is rightfully concerned and saddened by the longstanding public safety issues along the Kennedy Street corridor. We are heartbroken by the tragic incidents of gun violence as well as by the conditions that led to Cheesemonster’s decision to close. Every resident should be able to feel safe in their neighborhood. I had a community walkthrough on Kennedy Street last Friday to hear the concerns of our local businesses, and I have reached out to Alice and Kara to offer support.
Many of the issues we are seeing are the outcome of economic desperation, substance abuse, people being cut off from support services, failures in rehabilitation, and other deep-seated inequities that have been made worse by the pandemic. I grew up on Kennedy Street and have seen how displacement and inequality in the District over decades have contributed to these issues. Confronting them will require coordination across DC agencies, targeted interventions, and significant investments in crime prevention and deterrence. I also know that it is important not to rely on public safety practices that have proven ineffective at stopping crime and exacerbated conditions by criminalizing Black and Brown residents. I am committed to working in partnership with the community and our public safety leaders to turn the tide through a comprehensive approach centered on public health.
On Tuesday, April 20 at 6pm I will host a Ward 4 Community Safety Forum with MPD Chief Contee, Deputy Mayor of Public Safety Geldart, and DC’s Gun Violence Prevention Director Harllee Harper. Each is new to their position and is bringing a new vision to address gun violence and build peace in our communities. They will brief us on their work, answer community questions, and discuss how we can make progress together. One of the new initiatives they will discuss is Building Blocks DC, an intensive surge of resources and agency coordination focused on specific blocks in the city. I have requested that several Ward 4 blocks with troubling patterns of violence be included in the program, including some along the Kennedy Street corridor. I am grateful that these important initiatives were discussed at the public safety meeting hosted by ANC 4D.
I have also been advocating for significant investments in public safety, including funding for a new Cure the Streets site in Ward 4 through my budget priorities letter to the Mayor. I am also seeking a 50% budget increase for the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement (ONSE) budget and a 100% increase in the Pathways Program to expand impact and reach. Since taking office in January, I attended the performance oversight hearing for every public safety agency, including MPD, ONSE, DBH, DCRA, and OAG, to engage them on their work to advance community safety in Ward 4. In addition, I recently wrote to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) urging the federal agency to strengthen regulations against ghost guns and prioritize investigations on gun trafficking into the District. I am using every tool that I have available as a Councilmember to move the needle on these issues.
Community members can play an important role in bringing about change. Beyond participating in the forum on April 20 and future meetings, the new Building Blocks DC initiative is accepting feedback on where to focus their efforts. Residents should email firstname.lastname@example.org to highlight the need for Kennedy Street to be included in the program as well as other blocks in our community. We also all need to advocate for community safety investments in the budget. The Mayor will release her budget proposal on April 22, at which point the Council can begin to consider changes. I am asking Ward 4 residents to testify at budget oversight hearings in support of these investments. My team is available to help residents sign up and prepare to testify.
The safety and wellness of our community is paramount. I will continue to share updates on our work to address these issues and opportunities for residents to be part of that process.