The topic of this paper is the gang violence in Washington DC. Anybody that lives in or around the Washington area knows too well of the presence of gangs. They are responsible for numerous murders, drug-selling, and other violent and illegal acts that plague the Metropolitan area. These gangs or crews seem to operate with no sense of remorse and no respect for the lives of the residents they hurt or the lives they take. Residents themselves have little hope of ending the violence when even the police cannot stop it.
The District's police may not know exactly how to rid the city of gangs, but they do at least know what they're up against. The police say that as of March 1997, DC has 70 gangs but believes that there may be as many as 200 more within the city. Each has at least 10 members and some have as many as 100, the exact numbers are difficult to determine because membership is constantly changing. In 1992, police said, "at least 75% of gangs are heavily involved in drug trafficking" (Greene), this is undoubtedly higher today. Aside from drugs, DC gangs were responsible for 2,260 homicides, rapes, and robberies in 1991; in homicides alone the members committed an astounding 380 of the 489 total homicides. It is important to keep in mind that the vast majority of gang members are teenagers.
You've read how many they number and the crimes they've committed but, what actually constitutes a gang? To begin, "gang" is not what they are commonly called in DC; they are more often referred to as crews. But don't be fooled, crews and gangs are one in the same. In 1993 the Metropolitan Washington Council of Government conducted a survey of the gang related activity in DC, it was determined that there are four types of gangs operating:
One thing must be clear when talking about these gangs, they are nowhere near the caliber of gangs from areas such as California or Chicago, in terms of organization. Those gangs are recognized nationwide and have a sense of order to them. DC gangs are loosely structured with varying leadership. Our most structured gangs are those with older members. Some of the most well-known gangs of DC include the Berry Farms Crew based in Anacostia, they are known for drugs; 5 N O Crew of Fifth and O Streets NW, they are known for violence; and the Lynch Mob of Bellevue Street, they are known for violence and drugs. Police admit that the Simple City Crew is the most powerful and the most dangerous of the crews in Washington D.C. This is because Simple City is a collection of streets in and around the Benning Terrace Complex, which is in itself a large area. Being that the Benning Terrace is such a large area, the Simple City Crew is able draw an unusually large number of people into its membership.
It's sad to realize that a majority of these gangs consist of teenagers, some as young as 11. Darryl Hall, a 12-year-old boy from South East Washington was a member of a gang. Hall belonged to the Avenue faction of the Simple City Crew of Benning Heights. On Wednesday the 15th of January, 1997, Hall was confronted on his way home from school by three teenagers with semi-automatic handguns. They abducted him, took him to Fort Dupont Park, where they shot him in the leg and fatally in the head. Hall was killed because he had gone into the Circle faction's area and shot at people. Besides the fact that he was only 12, this is also frightening because the three teens had semi-automatic guns and they had the audacity to take him at 3:30 in broad daylight. The arrested members were 17, 18, and 23 years of age. Darryl Hall's is a story of a boy who followed others into gang life and thus didn't live to see his teenage years. The story of Rayful Edmond III is one of a man who was at the top of his game when he was brought down.
Rayful Edmond III was, "the mastermind of the largest organized drug ring in DC history." As a teenager he did business with Colombian drug suppliers; as he grew, so did his drug empire. Ironically while he destroyed the Northeast neighborhoods with drugs, he also helped the residents by paying rent and buying clothing and food for them. Edmond was eventually sentenced to life in prison; however, prison couldn't stop him. While in a federal prison in Pennsylvania he connected the Colombians with DC drug dealers, set up international drug shipments, settled disputes, and even used visiting hours for drug conferences. He sometimes made up to sixty calls in less than five hours. All under the watchful eye of the system. He later turned state's evidence and implicated other dealers, he said he did it because children looked up to him and he had to set a good example for them.
Perhaps one of the most disturbing acts of gang violence in the DC area involved three Suitland High School students, one named Tatya Brennen. All three belonged to the same gang. Some members of the gang were planning to do harm to another boy so Tatya warned him. Somehow news of what she had done got back to her gang and two members were ordered to kill her. They lured her to the woods behind a supermarket and stabbed her to death. Apparently, just for fun, they dropped a discarded porcelain sink on her head. Though she was part of a gang she certainly did not deserve to die in this way. The two who committed the crime and their leader were all convicted in the murder.
The cases of Edmond and Hall show what can happen if one chooses to live the gang life. But, there are many who are innocent victims. Marcia Williams was hit by a stray bullet and killed while driving with her three children. Two Dunbar students were wounded while standing outside their school. Lernell and Lenell Littles were killed while playing football in their front yard. All the victims were completely innocent of any type of gang participation. This senseless violence needs to end.
It's safe to say that the District's police haven't done an adequate job of controlling gangs in the past. They only admitted to having a gang problem six years ago, in 1991, several years after the gangs had devastated the communities with violence and drugs. Since then, many police programs targeting gangs have come and gone. The Fulwood Rapid Development Unit sent in officers with warrants to search homes for guns and also tried to catch drug dealers dealing on the street. It was disbanded in 1993, "because of shifting priorities" (Pierre). In 1994, the 7th District Delta Unit was formed but lasted less than a year due to poor management and aggressive officers. There were many more failed attempts and collectively they made little difference in the growing gang problem of the city. Though the police failed, community leaders seem to succeed. Earl Edelin runs a youth center in Southeast called Project Outreach. Here disadvantaged youths from five housing projects come for tutoring, computer training, parties, and even counseling. Residents in other communities have put together the Orange Hats. They go out at night with flashlights and bright orange hats to deter violence and drug dealing. The idea of the residents actually work. The most promising measure to stop gang violence came about because of the Alliance of Concerned Men. It is a small group that, upon hearing of Darryl Hall's murder, decided to be a mediator for the Simple City factions. The Alliance got them together by simply asking each to meet with them. The Avenue and the Circle factions agreed to a peace pact. They now work side by side to rid their community of graffiti and remove trash from the complex. They have even received funds to employ some of the teens for six months.
Washington has the highest murder rate in the nation. Perhaps the best way to rid Washington DC of the gangs is for the parent or parents to take on the responsibility of raising a child seriously. We should not think because a child is now a teenager he or she doesn't need a parents guidance, that is when they need it most. Many teens join a gang to be part of a family. If they could get that love and affection at home they might not turn to gangs. If they cannot get what they need from home it is up to the communities to give its children an alternative. Jobs and community centers are just two ways of accomplishing this.
- Greene, Marcia. (March 9, 1997). For Children Adrift, A Sense of Alliance On Violent Streets. The Washington Post, pp. B1, B6.
- Horwitz, Sari. (Sept. 28, 1991). Violent Gangs 'All Over City,' D.C. Chief Says. The Washington Post, pp. A1, A8.
-Miller, Bill. (April 20, 1997). A Bloodstained Community Reels From Crews' Violence. The Washington Post, pp. A1, A16.
- Pierre, Robert. (March 9, 1997). Diffuse Crews Develop Despite City Initiatives. The Washington Post, pp. B1, B6.
- Struck, Doug. (April 20, 1997). Brash 12-Year- Old Overstepped Bounds.
The Washington Post, pp. A1, A16.
This paper was prepared in 1997 for a colloquium facilitated by Stephen Wright, instructor for the Advocates for Children program, part of the College Park Scholars community at the University of Maryland, College Park.