Update on Two Capitol Hill Homicides
by Larry Janezich
Last night, Captain Tatjana Savoy of the MPD 1st District, gave an update on two recent Capitol Hill homicides to ANC6B commissioners at their October virtual meeting. A few new details emerged but the meeting generally followed the script from other community safety meetings.
On Wednesday night of last week, there was a homicide at Watkins School Playing Field. The suspect and victim were playing football, an argument developed over the game; the suspect brandished a handgun and shot the victim – Aaron Wiggins, of Upper Marlboro, Maryland. Savoy said police were making progress in moving toward making an arrest.
Last Friday, near 17th and Independence, SE, four victims were shot one of whom died near the scene. He was later identified as Giovanni Lovelace. Savoy did not indicate whether the police had suspects or the current state of the investigation.
The incidents were not related but had common elements. In both instances, MPD Shot Spotters detected gunfire, MPD units were nearby and responded quickly, and handguns were recovered at both scenes.
Savoy expressed particular frustration at the second shooting, saying police work hard to get guns off the street “and then something comes and smacks you in the face.”
She said the 17th and Independence site has been made a “hot spot area” accorded extra surveillance. Savoy said she would keep police there as long as she could but acknowledged this was a short term approach.
Commissioner Jennifer Samolyk, 6B01, who said her single member district is “in the shadow of the Capitol,” lamented that residents no longer feel safe there and that hearing gunfire is a normal occurrence. She said, “I don’t want to move, but I don’t feel safe anymore.” She cited the 300 police officers who retired in the past year saying, “we need more boots on the ground” and asked Savoy what the ANC can do to help MPD.
The standard MPD response to this question in community safety meetings is to turn it back on the community: Savoy urged the community to be more mindful of what’s going on … more mindful of their surroundings, and urged residents to call 911, saying police will respond to any call for service.
Residents near 17th and Independence took issue with this assertion; citing calls to MPD regarding illegal drug activity at that location which they say elicited no response from police. Residents also complained about the nightly congregation of men smoking weed into the late hours on the 17th and 18th blocks of Independence and on-going illegal drug sales. They asked Savoy what could be done to address those concerns.
Savoy repeated what is so often heard at these meetings: loitering is not a crime. Smoking weed crosses the line, she said, but “we don’t arrest people for smoking weed.” The narcotics unit, the gun recovery unit and the Community Focus Patrol Unit (mountain bikes) are working the area.
During crime spikes, residents pressure police to do something. Community meetings are held. The police don’t have answers except to increase police presence temporarily in the affected area before moving to the next hot spot. Things go back to the way they were before until the next incident. The stretch of Independence Avenue between 16th and 18th Street has been a trouble spot for years.
Community activist and Serve Your City founder Maurice Cook pressed for a solution that addresses systemic crime problems. He said he had grown up in Hill East and had never felt safe walking around … some privileged communities have an illusion of safety which he said he has never experienced. He criticized over-policing and over-surveillance and urged turning the conversation to MPD outreach, the Violence Interrupters Program, and addressing mental health issues, work force opportunities, and substance abuse issues. He noted that some residents feel less safe with more policing. He has, he said, lived through surges in crime in the community and the city and decried that the offered solutions always come back to the same thing: the use of what has not worked before instead of addressing structural changes and issues of inequities. He advised not being so quick to put some people in jeopardy by increasing police presence.
The problem is, of course, that such an approach takes time, and the perceived danger to those who had their homes struck by bullets at 17th and Independence last Friday is now.
Savoy told Cook, “I totally hear you,” and said she is constantly in the community doing outreach and is trying her best to engage the community. “My take,” she said, “is we are not here to just arrest, arrest, arrest – we try to educate before arrest. Multiple resources are available…..You have to ask, do they really want the resources to change their lives?” She pledged to personally engage to help at-risk members of the community move forward in a positive direction. She also said she would continue a dialogue with Cook.
ANC6B Chair Brian Ready said that he is coordinating a larger a community safety meeting featuring CM Charles Allen, MPD, and Home Land Security Director Chris Gephardt, to occur within the next two weeks.