On the 1st of April, Black Lives Matter marched on Anacostia’s 7th District police headquarters backed by members of numerous other groups. SURG DC(Standing Up for Racial Justice, DC chapter) and #ResistingThis(which grew out of Inauguration protests were among the allies present. The main demand of the march was that DC fully fund the NEAR act instead of hiring even more police.
The NEAR or Neighborhood Engagment Achieves Results Act passed the DC Council unanimously in 2016 but has never been fully funded. The act if funded would establish an Office of Neighborhood Safety based on a similar programs in California and elsewhere. A major component of this is the encouragement of respected community members and neighborhood elders to act as mediators to resolve local disputes before they erupt into shootings, to “squash beefs.” New York City, Baltimore, and Richmond, CA enacted similar programs in the recent past, and had reductions in shootings of between 40% and 70% in the first year or so. Also under the NEAR act would be the creation of an Office of Violence Prevention and Health Equity, addressing issues such as gender-based street harassment and the violence that can result from it.
None of this relies on police, who generally come from outside the community and act as an occupying force, often with the intention of paving the way for gentrification. At the protest, police were called out for shooting African-American residents of the city, licensing “special police” to shoot and kill even more DC residents, and also for the infamous and totally illegal kettle and mass arrest of over 230 Inauguration protesters. None of these acts make the city any safer, they just create the atmosphere of the police department as just another gang, one that has beefs with seemingly everyone who cannot afford a luxury condo or high-end apartment.
City officials have claimed there is no money to fund the NEAR act, but the city is projected to run a surplus and always it seems Mayor Bowser wants to hire even more police. In many communities more police are simply seen as more of the most dangerous and violent gang on the streets. Thus, marchers are demanding that Mayor Bowser and the council “divest from policing” and fully fund the NEAR act instead. Both crimes committed by police and those committed by others (including other gangs) would be reduced if this demand were met.