As crime surges, DC looks for both big and small solutions

muriel bowser at building blocks dc event
During an event in Northeast on Wednesday, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced that 20 groups would receive a total of $100,000 in Building Blocks DC grants. (WTOP/John Domen)

Murders and robberies are up substantially around D.C., driving an overall double-digit increase in violent crime.

For months, Mayor Muriel Bowser has promoted her plan to spend big on policing, but she’s also touting millions of dollars in spending on non-policing measures that aim to improve public safety, too.

An example of that was the latest round of Building Blocks DC grants she announced Wednesday outside a nonprofit venue in Northeast D.C.

Standing along Rhode Island Avenue, just after someone was shot a few blocks away, Bowser announced 20 groups were being awarded a total sum of $100,000.

“We know that this pandemic has upended the lives of our young people and the safety net that has kept them safe,” Bowser said.

Listing various other initiatives the District is doing to keep young people from engaging in violence, she said this latest round of Building Block DC grants will help “directly invest” in people.

“If you present an idea, it doesn’t have to be fancy, it doesn’t have to be a nonprofit,” said Bowser. She encouraged others to apply for the next round of minigrants, which can be applied for through the end of the month.

One of the recipients of the latest round of grants introduced the mayor on Wednesday.

“One thing I know for sure is that the violence that we see on the outside has already happened on the inside,” said Thandor Miller of JD Ellis and Associates.

“I’m thankful for Mayor Bowser for investing in people like me who are trying to help our young people uncover what’s awesome and special about themselves.

“Let me tell you, that money goes a long way,” he added.

In recent years, the District has doled out over a million dollars from this grant program, part of the tens of millions it spends on violent crime outside of policing.

“It’s not a whole lot,” said Dr. Warees Majeed, the founder of Yaay-Me and the group No Slide Zone, which aims to end gun violence.

“But this is the thing. These grants help individuals who are already doing this work. It’s almost saying, ‘Listen, I’m going to do it with my own dime anyway, but if you give me a little bit more I can do a little bit more.’ So that’s what’s really happening in these communities. Most of the individuals who are winning these grants, they would do it whether they win or not.”

He spoke at the event too, as someone who has been awarded grant money several times in the past and who is willing to help others access minigrants, too.

“We just wanted to show them what that meant and put their passion on paper,” said Majeed. He’s hosted numerous events around the District working to connect people who want to make a difference with opportunities to do so, he said.

“There are a lot of people out here who want to help, that want to volunteer, that want to do something for this problem, but they don’t necessarily know what to do,” said Majeed. “We give them all these different avenues,” he said — whether it’s time or money.

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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