WASHINGTON, D.C.—Mayor Muriel Bowser presented, ACT Now (Addressing Crime Trends Now Act) anti-crime legislation that targets drug dealing (drug-free zones), retail theft and the wearing of masks to commit a crime. This is the city’s latest effort to hold criminals accountable, keep neighborhoods safe and address rising rates of crime.
“This legislation reflects what our community is telling us: they want appropriate accountability for those who choose to commit crimes and inflict fear in our neighborhoods,” said Mayor Bowser at a news conference. “At a time when we’re dealing with historically low staffing levels at MPD (Metropolitan Police Department), we’re making common-sense changes that recognize the day-to-day operational challenges our officers experience and that will better support safe and effective policing.”
D.C. has seen a rise this year in both violent and property crime compared with 2022. Violent crime is up 41 percent so far in 2023, with homicide up 34 percent from 169 in 2022 to 261 as of October 26. Property crime is up 25 percent, including motor theft up 101 percent from 2,885 in 2022 to 5,805 as of October 26. Communities are alarmed and want to see something done to keep their families secure.
The mayor is sending the legislation to the D.C. City Council. The mayor wants the bill to support MPD’s ability to address recent crime trends by:
• Limiting loitering by reinstating the ability of the MPD Chief to declare drug-free zones for 120 hours to prohibit people from congregating on public space for the purchase, sale, or use of illegal drugs.
• Creating criminal penalties for organized retail theft, including establishing a new crime for “directing organized retail theft.”
• Reinstating the law that makes it unlawful to wear a mask for the purpose of committing criminal acts, intimidating and threatening other people, or causing fear.
Karen Gaal, chairwoman of the Metropolitan Police Department’s 3rd District Citizens Advisory Council, told The Final Call, “We need to recalibrate and get things back in order because it’s been quite chaotic throughout the city. I think this new legislative proposal that the mayor has brought forward allows the city to be much more accountable in the gaps that we have within this criminal justice system. I believe that her proposed legislation gets closer to working on the areas that the community has consistently expressed that they want the city to fix.”
She explained the new legislation targets the masked flash mob robberies that target stores with multiple people running in and grabbing whatever they can carry.
“Adults are using a lot of our young people to do these things. I guess telling them that they won’t have to face any consequences. We have incidents where youth say they know for a fact they didn’t have to face any consequences because of the revolving system (judicial). Even if they are arrested, they’re immediately back out on the street. They just do whatever they want without any recourse.”
The new legislation targets organized retail theft by making it illegal for any person to act as the organizer of a theft-for-profit scheme by recruiting or directing individuals to commit organized retail theft. Coupled with that is the new legislation that makes it unlawful to wear a mask to commit criminal acts, intimidating and threatening other people, or causing fear. While some are behind the new legislation others disagree.
“I think it’s a political farce,” CEO of Crisis Management Dyrell Muhammad told The Final Call. “Parents are telling me they don’t feel like this legislation will keep their children safe. My work is in the streets. When the mayor talks about the drug-free zones, and the illegality of wearing a mask for committing crimes, which now you can get up to 10 years because it’s a felony, we have to understand that the mask situation is coming out of the COVID era. The mayor should have corrected that in the beginning. It doesn’t mean she is tough on crime,” he said.
“D.C. has the highest number of homicides in a single year since the early 1990s, while she (the mayor) sat back and did nothing,” he continued. “D.C. has had drug-free zones around playgrounds and public housing projects. The new law gives the police chief the ability to declare any area a drug-free zone for five days for people they think are committing crimes in those neighborhoods.”
Mr. Muhammad crisscrosses the city in his work as a violence interrupter. He believes if law enforcement was doing their jobs, drug-free zones wouldn’t be necessary. His answer to the rising crime is, “More resources. People have been asking for more resources, jobs, and homes to address the housing crisis. There’s also a mental health crisis amongst our people and the resources are not there to help them.”