WASHINGTON, D.C.—Like many cities across the country, juvenile crime is on the rise in the nation’s capital. According to D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, during the first nine months of 2023, there were 458 arrests of juveniles for robbery, including carjacking, homicide, or assault with a dangerous weapon—10 percent more than similar arrests in all of 2022. A total of 151 juveniles were arrested for carjackings, which represents one-third of all carjacking arrests.
Between January and October 2023, 97 juveniles suffered gunshot wounds, including 15 homicides—a nine percent increase from the same period in 2022. Those numbers bothered Dyrell Muhammad, head of Crisis Management Unit. He works with returning citizens, helping them reintegrate back into the city. While some of their recidivism might be a source of rising crime, Mr. Muhammad knew the reality.
“I have a good relationship with the men and women who are returning from incarceration. I can help them with resources and support. What I found from being in the streets every day was I had little influence on the young people in the streets. For two years I’ve been in the schools talking to administrators, teachers and parents. Everyone is concerned. Kids are killing kids,” he told The Final Call.
“I thought about the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan’s program called ‘Stop the Killing.’ He crisscrossed the county with one message, ‘Stop the Killing.’ I decided to follow that lead and do a tour of D.C. public schools called ‘Stop the Killing.’”
Anacostia High School
It’s a Tuesday afternoon and the second stop of the Stop the Killing Tour has arrived for the 321 students in grades 9-12. It’s an afternoon free of classes and students are filling the auditorium. Anacostia High School is ranked No. 185 out of 212 schools, making it among the bottom 50 percent of public schools in the District of Columbia. The students are excited by the Go Go Music playing and the panel about to start.
“I don’t feel like most young people that I encounter have a strong sense that they’re protected, they’re safe,” Tia Bell, founder of The True Reasons I Grabbed the Gun Evolved from Risks (T.R.I.G.G.E.R) Project, told the audience. Her organization works to denormalize and destigmatize gun violence across the country. “There’s a proverb that says young people will burn the village down to feel warm.”
“We look at violence as a disease. If you’re trying to protect yourself from a disease, from COVID, from HIV/AIDS, you get protection. You build your immune system up,” she said. “The system taught us to think the police are the only protection. Guns are the only protection. No, police enforce laws. Laws protect property, not people. Police protect laws.”
The panel also featured Ben Ali, owner of the famous Ben’s Chili Bowl, D.C., U.S. Congressman Oye Owolewa and Anthony Taylor, a Community Supervision Officer at Court Services & Offender Supervision Agency. He told the students to consider how they can be safe. “Information is power.
If you utilize that information, you can always make sure that you put yourself in a winning situation. You know how to avoid certain little situations, certain areas, and things of that nature, so you can always make sure that you go home in a safe manner.”
“We know when the block is hot, we know what things are going on and things to avoid. If we keep those things priority, I promise you will have a safe solution by avoiding all those little community hot things that are going on in the particular neighborhood,” he said. “When I engage, especially my young folk, I have a tendency to make sure that I listen to what’s going on and not just assuming what’s going on. Information is power.”
Jalen Gant is a student at Anacostia High School and spoke on the panel. His brother Brandon was shot and killed last year. Police believe it may have been a case of mistaken identity. Jalen told his peers he was focused on self-care and doing what was right.
“It’s unfortunate that people as young as me have to look at their momma and just see them cry for 24 hours straight, just see them cry,” he said.
Anacostia was the second stop on the tour. The first stop was Paul Lawrence Dunbar High School and since school opened in the new year, the Stop the Killing Tour has visited Frank W. Ballou High School, Calvin Coolidge is on the schedule and more. “Since the first school, principals have been sharing with other principals how impactful the session was for their students.
My plan is to visit every high school in the city with the message of Stop the Killing,” Mr. Muhammad said. Each stop includes a panel presentation, student speak outs and resources designed for each neighborhood.
Stop the Killing
During the 1980s and 90s, the crack epidemic fueled gang violence was at a dangerous high. This led to the start of Minister Farrakhan’s Stop the Killing Tour. He spoke to gangs, community leaders and the public in Chicago, D.C., San Diego and other cities about the need for an empowering self-esteem and for building an economic base within Black communities.
Minister Farrakhan was invited to speak to 900 gang leaders in Los Angeles during the first stop on his historic tour.
In 1990, the tour stopped in New Orleans and included a three-day visit with a news conference and talks presented to the Black Leadership Awareness Council. “Our subject is Stop the killing. Stop the killing,” Minister Farrakhan said. “There’s so much disrespect for the single gift of life that it is sad in 1990 that someone has to come along and ask us to stop those who have delighted in killing us.”
Minister Farrakhan called on Black people to stop killing one another in street gang battles.
“Why can we take the trigger and pull it at each other?” he asked. “We are killing ourselves. In the name of life, we are worshipers of death.”
When Dyrell Muhammad returned from 23 years of incarceration, he was a man with a made-up mind. He didn’t serve time, time served him. He returned to D.C. passionate about making a difference in the lives of his community.
Curtis Watkins has a stellar history of D.C. community service and activism. He told The Final Call, “For the last 10, 11 years I’ve been going around the country looking at individuals like Dyrell who have committed their lives to a higher standard of living for their fellow humans. Dyrell embodies some qualities that I look for in individuals such as their commitment, their desire to point young people in the right direction. They are going to do this work whether they have a grant or they don’t have a grant. They’re not looking for money.”
“Obviously we know money makes things happen even more, but the basis of why they do what they do, it has nothing to do with resources. It has more to do with human beings living a full life. I provide technical assistance to people like Dyrell to help them do what they do better. He’s moving in the right direction. I just add a couple of more spokes to his wheel so he can roll better.”
Rick Bailey is also concerned about D.C.’s rising juvenile crime. He’s had coffee several times with Dyrell Muhammad and is convinced more needs to be done. He told The Final Call, “I’ve talked to Dyrell about his dreams and visions since he got back home. I was at Anacostia High School with him.
The energy of all the young people, it was a multi-generational event with historic Go-Go bands. The young people had an opportunity to speak their truth. They told the audience it’s time to love ourselves enough to stop hurting ourselves.”