‘Hard to celebrate’ drop in homicides, says DC anti-violence leader

According to figures from D.C. police, there have been 60 homicides, which is down 21% when compared to the same time last year.

However, this is no time to celebrate, according to a local anti-violence leader.

“We have a lot more work to do,” said Marcus Ellis, executive director of Peace For DC. “Numbers being down is a really good thing, but I’ve been in this work for a really long time, and I know some of the repercussions that can come from taking a victory lap too soon.”

Peace For DC is a nonprofit that, according to its website, is “dedicated to amplifying and accelerating evidence-based, community-led efforts to stop shootings and homicide.”

It trains violence interrupters, which Ellis said have been an important part of getting homicide numbers down. These violence interrupters work to step in and aim to stop disputes before they get out of control.

“Mediations are huge in community violence prevention and intervention,” Ellis said. “That is something that’s been a key factor, and what’s encouraging is that violence interrupters are still being given the time and the opportunity to use their expertise in a way that’s beneficial to those that they serve.”

During the 12 weeks of classes taught by experts from around the region, the interrupters take part in a “hands-on practical training” on how to resolve conflicts and focus on restorative justice, according to the organization’s website.

The District is coming off a devastating year for violent crime. There were more than 270 homicides in D.C. in 2023, an increase of 35% when compared to the previous year and more homicides than any year since 1997.

Not satisfied with the recent decrease, Ellis highlighted the case of Ty’ah Settles, a 3-year-old girl who was shot and killed Friday in Southeast.

The child was not the intended target and appeared to have been killed during an exchange of gunfire, according to police.

“Communities that we aim to serve even with those numbers being where they are do not feel safe,” Ellis said. “We should dig in deeper and continue to ensure that we are using a public health approach to seeing sustain decreases over not just months, but over years and years.”

In 2022, an audit of a violence interruption program overseen by D.C.’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement (ONSE) found that it’s not clear whether ONSE’s program was working. The report found that there was no way to prove that the violence interrupter’s efforts are the reason incidents of violence did not occur.

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Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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