More than 70 Washington, D.C. youths gathered downtown yesterday morning to protest emergency laws that they say unfairly penalize them for the city’s recent rise in crime.
Last month, Mayor Anthony Williams authorized an emergency crime bill that imposed a summer-long 10 p.m. curfew for children 16 and younger, granted police broader access to youths’ records and gave judges greater leeway to deny bail to juveniles charged with robbery.
The same bill also allocated money for increased police presence in high-risk areas and the installation of surveillance cameras on residential streets around the city.
The local youth advocacy group members who massed in Freedom Plaza near the White House on Wednesday to give speeches and rally support for their position say they are ready to do whatever it takes to fight the new security measures.
“We wanted to send a message to the City Council that it’s not okay to scapegoat young people for these problems,” Jonathan Stitch, an organizer for Youth Education Alliance, one of the groups participating in the rally, said.
Stitch said he and other youth leaders are prepared to start talks with City Council members as soon as regular sessions resume on Sept. 7 to come up with an alternative plan for battling crime. They would like to see a solution that emphasizes improving education and employment opportunities for D.C.’s youths instead of the get-tough-on-crime mentality typical of election years.
“We have some initial stats that suggest that each year that there was a decrease in youth crime, there was a corresponding spike in youth employment,” Stitch said.
“The way to fix the problem is to talk to young people and work together to come up with solutions that everyone can benefit from.”
Yesterday’s protest against the emergency bill comes as the city is reeling from a particularly severe spate of violent crimes.
Fifteen people were killed in Washington this year during the first two weeks of July alone.
The most notorious of these deaths was that of a Jewish activist and aspiring politician, Alan Senitt, whose throat was slit near the intersection of Q St. and Wisconsin Ave. on July 9. One of those charged in his murder was a 15-year-old boy from Southeast D.C.
“We’re excited that the city is taking such proactive measures against crime,” Kathy O’Hearn, president of the community safety organization Georgetown Crime Stoppers, said.
According to Mayor Williams’ office, the number of underage delinquents arrested on weapon-related charges has risen significantly since last summer, and the figure for those arrested on suspicion of robbery has almost doubled.
Additional reporting by Kent Elliott