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Commentary: The Reign of Terror on Capitol Hill

by HillNow.com October 15, 2015 at 1:35 pm 1,882 25 Comments

Crime tape (Photo via Flickr/nullvalue)

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by Richard Lukas

Since this past spring, there has been much talk about what can now be considered a skyrocketing surge of crime in the District, especially on Capitol Hill.

The majority of D.C. residents are good, hard-working, law-abiding citizens. However, we are being terrorized by a small percentage of “irrational actors.” (Perhaps faced with such economic and social challenges, in their minds, these unlawful actions are quite rational.)

What can we do or expect to stem the tide of violence and criminal activity in the near term?


I say this because I have no faith whatsoever that an adequate response can come from our elected officials or the police. I believe that those at the top are thoughtful and well-intentioned. However, our D.C. leaders lack the forthrightness needed to select the immediate policies that are required to combat this reign of terror.

Mainly, our elected officials are loathe to address publicly, what we all know privately:

  1. There is a very active segment of marauding at-risk youths who find satisfaction from terrorizing people on a daily basis. (I can’t believe that all these crimes are connected to synthetic marijuana.)
  2. “Hot spots” of criminal locations do indeed exist, whether part of our public housing complexes or notorious transit connections. (No, we do not get rid of providing housing and public transportation to D.C. residents. But sentinel stations could be a solution.)
  3. In light of legitimate national concerns around police brutality, D.C. could be criticized for being heavy-handed if there were stronger police measures enacted. (There must be more aggressive approaches that are humane and within the law that could be considered.)

Consequently, my longtime friends and neighbors have given up on leaving their homes at night — and some even walking alone or with their children during the day. The now exorbitant rents and home prices that we pay — and their respectively high property taxes — only afford safety behind our closed front doors.

Where are the daily, weekly or routine updates from our officials on what is being done to recognize and address this new normal? At the very least, there should be one-stop web pages on DC.gov and our councilmember sites providing updates and proactive approaches being taken. But to recognize the problem in such a transparent and systematic fashion might only be perceived as a sign of defeat by our leadership.

Having lived on the Hill for more than 15 years, I have never seen such comprehensive fear from the neighborhood, and it is very sad.

So what can we really expect in the months to come?

Things will get worse.

I say this because as the days get shorter, the window for the criminal activity that is occurring under darkness grows wider. And, yes, I recognize that statistically crime goes down in colder months. However, this reign of terror changes everything.

Hopefully, our elected officials will eventually act. But I am not holding my breath.

Instead, I will follow the practice of my neighbors and just try not to be a walking target. Our streets are not safe. In the long term, I do think that things will get better due to the slow churn of progressive policy reforms being made in our education system and social services, but also due to the increased density through city development. (Even though people like me could never afford that $500,000 one-bedroom condo!)

Some will disagree with my assessment; some will agree. But I fully believe that we should be candid about what is happening by our irrational and rational actors alike.

Lukas lives in Hill East and has worked in community development for more than ten years.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Hill Now.

Photo via Flickr/nullvalue

  • Guest

    Here are possible solutions:
    1) Arm the citizenry;
    2) Armed neighborhood watch;
    3) When one of this thugs is caught, take a page from sharia law and chop off a hand or foot (then toss them in the river).
    Crime will abate, guaranteed.

  • Concerned Citizen

    Good commentary. The violence and theft needs to stop. The police need to step up. The elected leadership needs to provide the police with adequate resources. Arrests need to be made. Jurists need to actually convict if warranted (which is probably 99% of cases). Self-arming isn’t the answer; that’s chaos.

    • AR

      And our police need to be allowed to do their job without undue criticism.

      • AR

        That is when they actually do their job..

  • Hillrez

    I have moved from the Hill recently and I have to say that the recent crime was absolutely a factor that led to my exit. I have seen too many robberies and and assaults occur closer to my former home than I could normally find parking. It seems that these criminals are all armed with guns, when I am subject to felony charges just for having an empty shotgun shell. The police are clearly not able to stop this crime and when they try we have a bunch of fools in the street protesting. The city has become a perfect herd of weak and unarmed prey for the wolves in the world to prey on. Sorry folks but there will be one less sheep dog because I’m not going to face felony charges for protecting my own life.

  • Bridget

    I have started looking outside of DC for a new home. I’ve been doing it for the last year. I think DC is an absolute embarrassment to this country. Absolute embarrassment. These bored thugs suffer no consequences for their actions, and they know that, so they continue to rob, maim, and maybe eventually kill the residents of The Hill. Sick and tired of it. Can’t wait for the new 7-11 to open up on Penn Ave, SE. Another breeding ground for criminals. Thanks, DC.

  • 15yrResident

    I completely agree with you. It can’t all be drug related. The fact that is daily, not weekly means the surge is real. And I am extremely wary outside my house when I’m alone. I don’t expect anything to change anytime soon though.

  • Suzanne

    i feel sorry for those who have purchased their home/condo. Feeling lucky to be able to move.

  • AR

    I posted this two days ago:
    I count the months until my lease is up, I’ve lived on the Hill five years, and this year is just too much, I lived in bad parts of Brooklyn years ago and never felt this unsafe, more so about my wife walking around alone, three muggings of women with guns this past weekend alone, now gangs of teenagers mugging another during a “safe hour” right across from Lincoln Park? One of my neighbors remarked yesterday that it seems more like it’s 1995 than 2015 on the Hill right now…

    To add to it, I don’t enjoy taking my son for walks during the day as much, constantly watching my back during the middle of day..

    We are now actively trying to find a way out of the remainder of our lease.

  • courtney puidk

    Purchased in Hill East near Stadium Armory in January. Had our cars broken into inside our garage two months ago and the cop that came out said there was no crime because nothing was stolen. “Most people just count their lucky stars and don’t report these things.” Um how about trespassing and attempted robbery? Just because we keep nothing valuable in our cars (because we’re not dumb) doesn’t mean a crime didn’t happen. He seemed frustrated to be taking the report. My sister was here visiting last week and I insisted we take uber even a mile to dinner because I would be devastated if I put her in harms way! Also just before the car incident, I ran into cops standing on every corner of 15th and P NW giving tickets to jaywalkers, there were five fatalities during the middle of the day on the hill a few days before. Our police department needs an overhaul.

    • courtney puidk

      All that said, I love our neighborhood and hope that the coming renovation of RFK stadium campus will help (plus bring more businesses and restaurants)! We aren’t planning on leaving and are planning on raising kids here.

      • Hill East

        Nothing like that is happening at RFK. It will never be full of restaurants and retail, per the lease from National Park Service

        • courtney puidk

          I didn’t mean on the actual campus, but in the hill east neighborhood in general.

    • Hillrez

      I agree that the MPD is barely competent. I had my credit card info stolen when I ordered a pizza from Manny and Olga’s on H St. The guy who stole the number then used it at a hotel and stayed under his real name. i figured all this out and found he lived on the Hill a few blocks away and that he had an upcoming court date for an assault charge. I called and explained all this in detail will full evidence to MPD. I sent more than enough to secure a conviction. I also gave MPD the guys court date so that even the most incompetent officer in the world could catch the criminal while he was in court if they just followed through. What happened? Nothing. I literally did MPD’s job for them and they couldn’t bother to cuff the guy.

  • twin1988

    Started renovating a town home at 14th and Maryland ave with the intention of moving there since our kids are grown. We were both born in DC and have fond memories.
    We have also been landlords through the 80s and 90s when things were pretty tough and thought crime, drugs etc had slowed down. Talking to a contractor in the house there the other day and saw a 14-15 yr old kid with his hand in the truck of the contractor. I yelled and he ran. The contractor said he got some loose change etc. As we were driving home to Annapolis I realized the kid also got my Ipad and Ipod.
    Came back the next day to do more work on the property and the little thug walked by and waved…… No way are we moving into this war zone. Almost every day I now see gangs of kids walking by and saying shit to anyone around and always looking in the cars to see if something is worth taking. And this is all in the daytime. Like the crack 80s all over again. Just with more expensive real estate prices!

    • elieisfat

      Ah, yes, “like the crack 80s all over again” except with literally half the murders (and a quarter of the murders in the 90s, which were actually DC’s bad years). Hyperbole much?

  • suspicious_package

    Homicides city-wide are up this year, but from a Post article this summer. “Even with the recent violence, a study by the Urban Institute concluded that the District’s crime levels remain at historic lows, and homicides tracked over the past 15 years have shifted away from areas that are rapidly developing. The institute singled out Navy Yard, where crime fell from 59 for every 1,000 residents to six since 2000. The Chinatown, Mount Vernon and downtown areas also saw a decrease during that time.”

    Why not start by establishing, using facts, that we are actually in a “reign of terror”.

  • CapHillFan

    The silence from the MPD and the Mayor’s office speaks loudly, while the ANC’s and City Council are busy dithering about whatever it is they actually do other than pure PR.

  • Discovery

    I have live next to the Stadium Armory metro (south entrance) since 2009. I LOVE this neighborhood. I used to live in Clarendon prior to here for a few years where I did not meet or establish lasting friendships with any neighbors in my condo building. My neighbors here in HILL East have been with me through marriage, kids and have a real sense of community that I could not get in Clarendon. We borrow tools, talk renovations, neighborhood events, walk each others dogs etc..etc..

    I know crime is on the rise here, I was mugged on the Metro once, choked out, they took my wallet, keys, then stole my car. That being said, I am extremely happy we moved here. I have seen the neighborhood change, for the better. I am encouraged seeing people raising their kids here. Just yesterday when I walked past Payne and saw all the kids playing baseball and enjoying after school activities gave me sense of pride in the community involvement of people who want Hill East to succeed.

    I will not be joining the mass exodus from DC.

    • Bob

      As someone who did the urban pioneering gig in the 80’s on Capitol Hill near the Marine Corps Commandant’s house, survived muggings, house break-ins, cars stolen, all that fun stuff, I feel your pain. What finally drove me from the neighborhood I became a part of and loved, was being held up at gun point on a bright clear sunny Monday morning within sight of the 1D1 substation while walking my dog. Turns out, the guy who robbed me was “doing his day job” as the cops told me…..you know, get up for a day’s work, rob people, then go home. After 20 years, I left my beloved community for the Virginia suburbs and haven’t looked back. Good luck to you and the other urban pioneers. Sigh.

  • dlg

    This is the last gasp of DC’s criminal element. When houses are selling for over a million in Hill East, and every available empty lot is being developed, its clear that the criminals have lost – even if there is a spike because of a few juveniles repeatedly committing crimes. When those juveniles are eventually locked up, and they will be, the “reign of terror” will end.

    • AR

      If they actually keep them in jail.. The DC jail has a revolving door.. Especially with juveniles..

  • Kathleen Burke

    As a life long resident I have to inform you that you’re absolutely insane. If the city isn’t safe enough for you, and it’s the safest it’s been in my whole life, then please feel free to leave and stop driving up housing costs for the rest of us.

  • FOIA Please!

    Since the DC marijuana laws were reduced to a ticket/fine offense (non-arrest) in DC, I see far more public selling and use than ever before out in the open in front of children walking to school. The intent was to keep people from getting a record and limiting employment options for young men of color (DCPS term). Bad call by the DC City Council as it emboldens the drug dealers and all the other folks to party on the streets as “hey, worst thing to happen is I get a ticket!”. With the lack of real punishment, incarceration fear, brought increased use and if “you aint got the cash just take it by force”. In Montgomery County, the suburb kids break into houses and fence stolen property so they can get some weed. The city kids want to buy smoke and are doing whatever it takes and we all suffer the consequences of the Seattle, Denver “Dude” approach to marijuana laws. Some bored reporter should file a FOIA request and ask the DC Superior Court to release the drug test results (all arrested suspects are drug tested) for criminal defendants for the past year and calculate the uptick in defendants with marijuana in their system since the new law. Even with the release and no papering of cases (catch and release?), I would bet the positive drug tests abound.

  • Tinderbox

    You people need to arm yourselves.


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