Commentary: A Democracy of Fear
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by Richard Lukas
Sirens pulsed. Several squad cars flanked the streets, two blocks away from the spot of an armed robbery that occurred in broad daylight just hours before – and steps from the site of a public safety meeting that gathered officials from across the District and over 300 residents the night before.
Some neighbors thought that the police presence was in response to that day’s act of violence or the related surge in crimes that Washington has experienced these past several months. But hopes quickly dissipated. In fact, the protection was for those that make Capitol Hill their occupation, not their home. Watkins Recreational Field in Southeast DC was hosting the biennial Congressional Football Game, matching Members of Congress – and a few professional players – against those sworn to protect them, the U.S. Capitol Police.
Two weeks since I made my pronouncement that DC is gripped in a reign of terror, the District recorded its 130th homicide early this morning. Despite some laudable and key arrests by the Metropolitan Police Department, daily acts of violence have continued apace often in the same hot spots that previous acts occurred.
Fear is a democratizing factor. The terrors being committed affect rich and poor alike.
And while our leadership assures us that every step is being taken to protect us, many of us remain skeptical that things will improve in the short term.
I believe that our Mayor and Councilmembers are committed to making our streets safe.
Yet, I continue to also believe that things will not improve until more aggressive policy measures are enacted or tactical changes are employed by the police.
Unfortunately it is fear that also slows such required actions.
As a society, we have determined that the legislative process be one of slow deliberation. We believe that thoughtful discussion and analysis, debated over months or years, will produce good long-term policy results. We are afraid of impulsive or speedy decisions that could have unintended results.
At its best, our democratic system works well to benefit the next generation; but at its worst, it also paralyses us in times of crisis. Admirable public safety legislation is now before the Council. However, what moves forward, what is passed and enacted, and what outcomes can be identified will take more than a year – or years – to be realized.
While some will debate whether they feel that a true reign of terror is plaguing our residents (and my admitted apologies to Mr. Robespierre for coopting the term), people continue to believe that our leadership does not have the power to end this surge in crime and change the growing perception that our streets are unsafe.
Absent of emergency legislation or a heavier MPD presence, fear will persist.
Somewhat ironically, the “Guards” beat our elected representatives, curiously dubbed “The Mean Machine,” in Wednesday night’s football match-up. The players have retired from the field. The squad cars have left. But those of us who remain behind are still looking up at the score board – and sadly it seems like we are losing.
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.