Sunday, January 15, 2006

Stonewall

You’d think that when a neighborhood experiences two violent murders in less than a month, police and politicians would be scrambling to offer residents action, assurances, and additional resources.

But that’s not what the Parker-Gray neighborhood got at the Inner City Civic Association meeting last Thursday night.

Instead, the police handed the neighborhood a big platter of nada. No new initiatives, no additional manpower, no alternative approaches – and no renewed program of effective community policing. Just excuses.

The victims knew each other. Drugs were involved in some cases. There’s almost no stranger on stranger crime here in the Inner City.

The cops' unspoken message: Hey, the culprits and victims are usually black. You nice, mostly white, mostly affluent folks have nothing to worry about ... so live with it.

Again and again City officials repeated that there’s nothing police can do to prevent these violent crimes because the police can’t be everywhere.

Hearts and violins, the Growler huffs. If that’s the philosophy, why bother fighting crime at all? Commitment to an absolute is essential to achieving anything worthwhile in society, from wiping out smallpox to ensuring that all American children can read. Falling short is just another goad to keep trying.

The Growler asks this question: if there were multiple murders in Rosemont or Del Ray would the mayor and police dare confess such impotence in public?

In effect, what the pols and the cops are saying is that Inner City crime is inevitable and that City leaders are content to tolerate rather than tackle it. Take this statement to its logical conclusion, and the City is saying that black on black crime is less worthy of attention than white or Hispanic crime since most (but not all) of the victims of crime in Parker-Gray are African-American.

In a city with a black mayor and two black council members, the Growler’s jaw drops at what this implies.

There was no sign of Alexandria Police Chief Charles Samarra at this meeting. Apparently it takes a mass murder to get him off his butt and out to the ICCA, because two victims spaced three weeks apart don’t do it for him.

In his place we got his Deputy Chief of Operations Blaine Corle, who clearly orchestrated the night's stonewall maneuvers. But is it his tight-fisted denial and quasi-military control over street cops that is killing their initiative and contributing to the demise of effective community policing in the neighborhood? Real communication and information gathering within the neighborhood is essential, but is that too touchy-feely for the macho Deputy Chief?

When Mayor William D. Euille spoke, he echoed the police – the Growler assumes he was carefully coached by Deputy Chief Corle – and offered the audience the usual bromides. The neighborhood was told that it had nothing to fear but fear itself, that Alexandria was a great city to live in, that things were much better than they used to be, that some crimes just couldn’t be prevented, and that most of the recent murders were between people who knew each other.

Mayor Euille was in fact putting on a repeat performance of his April 2005 ICCA appearance following the Fayette Street murders. Apparently the mayor is booked at ICCA after every second murder. With this homicide rate, we’ll see him again in November … or maybe sooner.

A neighbor cracked the Mayor's veneer when she pointed out that these murders were not behind-closed-doors family tragedies but open air homicides like the brazen rush hour murder on N. Patrick Street. More pointed comments followed, demonstrating that residents realize grudge-based street shootings can go awry and cause the death of an innocent pedestrian, a motorist, or even a child sleeping safely inside a residence.

And it's a short slippery slope from accidental innocent victims to targeted innocent victims, particularly if drug habits are driving the assaults, robberies and burglaries. It doesn't matter if the men who killed pizza delivery driver Musharaf Shah got lost coming over the Wilson Bridge and happened to end up in Parker-Gray. The murderers quickly recognized this neighborhood as one where they could attempt and possibly get away with a violent crime.

Other neighbors chipped in with concerns about everything from large groups of roaming teenagers to the ever-present drug problem at Queen and Fayette to trash and rats. The pretty picture painted by the Mayor just wasn't resonating with the audience.

To his credit, Mayor Euille began to warm to the topic and talked eloquently about working to prevent youth crime and undertaking a comprehensive review of the future of the public housing adjacent to Parker-Gray.

Mayor Euille also suggested a community walk and meeting at Charles Houston Recreation Center, but we’ve been there before. Similar suggestions have been floated in the past – some less than a year ago – but were deep-sixed by top-level police brass. That caused some locals to predict there would be more murders – and sadly they were proven correct last month.

And the Growler's gonna say it again: public housing is not the site nor the source for all of the crime in the neighborhood. Criminals move fluidly around the Inner City, passing up and down alleys and streets and stopping at corners and private homes notorious for harboring drug activity. Andrew Adkins is just another stop on the circuit.

Mayor Euille should push aside his filters and shrug off the handlers. He needs to order a new effort to break down law enforcement’s passive-aggressive resistance to solving the crime problem in Parker-Gray.

Grrrrr …… !!!