A modest proposal on crime

I think it is agreed by all parties that there are two very real and major issues facing Washington, DC at this time. These issues cause great distress to residents, and drastically reduce our quality of life and property values.

These issues, of course, are 1) crime, and 2) the people who put their dog poop bags in my trash can. Those bags never come out! The trash collectors don’t get them so they just stay there to stink and attract rats. Whoever could find out a fair, cheap and easy method of solving these terrible and quite equally detrimental problems, would deserve so well of the public, as to have their statue set up for a preserver of the city.

I shall now therefore humbly propose my own thoughts, which I hope will not be liable to the least objection.

We can correct these two issues with one glorious solution, and bring our fair city to new heights for all. First, we must collect these leavers of poop bags. Then, taking our cues from the 1987 classic film, Robocop, we use the finest modern technology and replace some or most of the offenders organic body parts and organs with metal, wires, and perhaps gears. And definitely guns. The Robocops will need guns. Then the new recruits of this Poop Bag Robocop Patrol, presented by Mayor Muriel Bowser (She has not been informed of the program but it’s only a matter of time before she throws the full weight of The Green Team behind it) will set out to prevent crime! They won’t be allowed SUVs or cell phones so they can’t fall into the laziness trap that plagues MPD. Instead, they will wander the streets unceasingly, sniffing out and eradicating crime any time, day or night.

And lest we think these metal crime-fighting heroes might become a burden to the city themselves, imagine this: how many criminals do you suppose the PBRP must publicly murder before the rest get the picture? I, again humbly, suggest it would be very few indeed. The number could be even lower, perhaps, if we ensure that these murders are put on TikTok, set to the choruses of some of the latest songs popular among the kids. And then the Robocops will slowly run out of batteries, becoming statues to remind us of our crime-ridden past. They can then be used as bike and scooter racks, or to post No Parking signs when people need moving vans or whatever.

And how might we pay for this? Corporate sponsorship. The Robocops will have plenty of space on their shiny carapaces which can be covered in ads! CVS currently sponsors our own Washington Spirit, and they would be a perfect partner for the PBRP. Since CVS is already the symbolic embodiment of crime in the city – I mean, the CVS in Columbia Heights CLOSED. I didn’t even realize that was a thing that could happen. But soon it will be able to reopen, more glorious and profitable for the corporate landlord than ever before, as our city basks in the glow of a new light!

I profess in the sincerity of my heart, that I have not the least personal interest in endeavoring to promote this necessary work, having no other motive than the public good of my city. Removing the poop bags from my trash can might seem in my personal interest, but one must look at the broader picture, where if my trash cans are not a constant buffet for rats, then perhaps these cursed creatures might be fully driven from our city!

With no apologies whatsoever to Jonathan Swift.

Tire vandals in Columbia Heights

The only reason we still have a car is my daughter’s car seat. It’s just not worth the hassle in the city. Sometime Sunday night, someone came down our street and slashed or deflated a bunch of car tires, including one of ours. I don’t see a visible puncture, but I find it pretty hard to believe that someone actually removed the cap, let the air out, and took the time to screw the cap back on. It could have been worse – we need new tires anyway – but it’s a huge hassle. I’m going to have to call AAA because the Mazda dealer managed to lose the wheel lock key last time I was in for an oil change, back when they were still doing them for free. So I can’t change the tire myself. I was thinking about this – if I were the vandal, I would actually take the time and let the air out and replace the cap. I think that’s way funnier, and it doesn’t cause any damage, so you don’t get in as much trouble if you get caught. Mindless vandalism lacks style. Do I need to file a police report? Half the street got a tire slashed, and I know at least a couple of my neighbors reported it. Our insurance deductible is more than the cost of a tire, so we probably won’t report it to them, either. Doesn’t seem like it’s worth the trouble.

Shame on you, Columbia Heights

Over the weekend, I noticed that someone stole the Bell’s Beer sticker off the back window of our car. It may have happened over Halloween, I haven’t been paying that much attention to the car. I like to think that the person who did it felt that I was promoting drinking and driving, and stole the sticker as a protest. I wasn’t, for the record, promoting drinking and driving – one of the huge advantages about living somewhere like Columbia Heights is that there are tons of places you can go drink where you never ever ever have to drive home. Wonderland, Marx Cafe, Saint Ex, all fantastic bars that I can walk to easily, not to mention everything on U Street and Adams Morgan. Anyway, if the person felt I was making a statement like that, then I forgive you for your misguided attempt to make the world a better place. If not, however, I hope you got a paper cut from the sticker. It’s not a big deal in either case – those stickers only last a year or so, and I’ll be back in Kalamazoo next month, when I planned to get a new sticker anyway. If anyone who works for Bell’s is listening – how about some inside-window stickers so it’s safe from the elements and from would-be thieves?

The hard streets of Columbia Heights

I was out with the kid on a trip to DCUSA for a few pictures frames this evening. She got mad when I stopped to look at frames in Bed Bath and Beyond, so I thought I’d take the long way home and give her a chance to settle down. I was heading south down 13th NW, about to cross Harvard, when there was a bit of a commotion. It looked like someone driving north on 13th was trying to turn left onto Harvard, which is one way in the other direction. There was plenty of honking. “What an idiot,” I thought. “The signs and the honking aren’t tipping him off?” Then a man got out of the car, which was now stopped in the middle of the intersection. He was holding a shotgun. Now, at this point I was a little nervous. The kid was sleeping, which I suppose was good, but her big fuzzy winter outfit is not, in fact, bulletproof. Then I saw all the police cars. More arrived as I stood there. The man with the gun was DCPD. That was mildly comforting. More officers poured out of the cars, at least a dozen. They quickly went up the walk to the northwest corner of Harvard and 13th and banged on the door. At this point I decided I was going to take my daughter and get out of there. Before I left, the police had entered the building, and I could hear them yelling at someone to get down. I’ve never seen the police break down a door. And in truth, I didn’t actually see them open the door. But I don’t think anyone let them in. I’m going to watch the Columbia Heights forum to see if anyone knows what happened. Hopefully the police got whoever they were after and no one got hurt.

Columbia Heights associations meeting

Last night, the wife and I went to the joint meeting of three Columbia Heights community associations. Muriel Bowser (councilmember from Ward 4) and numerous high-ranking members of the police force were there.

The biggest topic of conversation was a letter that went out to many residents that, among other things, called the park at 14th and Girard NW a “hellhole”.

As you can imagine, many people who spend time in that park took offense. Much of this anger, I think, is because they feel this is an attack by the rich white people moving into the neighborhood on the poor black people who have lived there for years. And they probably have a point.

As one of the white people who has recently moved into the neighborhood, I try to be sensitive to this kind of thing. I don’t want to remake Columbia Heights in the image of Fairfax County. I don’t want to drive out the long-time residents. I LIKE Columbia Heights. Sure, there’s some crime, and I want to help get rid of it.

I think there is a communication problem. For example, I frequent the Columbia Heights Community Forum.  There are people there who want to close the park.  They think the shootings recently on the 1400 block of Girard originated at the park, and I think they are totally wrong.  But I didn’t see them at the meeting.  They communicate online.  And frankly, that’s my preferred way of communicating.  But it has to go beyond that.  The people at the meeting last night don’t read the forum.  I think many people on the forum would think differently about the park if they listened to the people who spend time there.  I was also disappointed that there was no representative from the Latino community at the meeting.  Columbia Heights has a large Spanish-speaking population, and I didn’t see it represented.  I don’t know whether this is from the meeting organizers not reaching out, or the Spanish-speakers not responding, but it needs to change either way.

I wish I knew what to do about it.  I want to stay in Columbia Heights.  I want to raise children here, and I want to be able to send them to public schools and know that they’re safe, and that they’re getting a good education.

But I don’t really know what to do.  I think we’ll keep going to the meetings.  The police attendance at this one was not the usual, and this meeting felt rushed, so maybe normal meetings are different.

NB:  I changed the name of the post from “Columbia Heights associations’ meeting” to “Columbia Heights associations meeting”, because the second version is correct.  HOWEVER – I wasn’t as dumb as you think the first time.  I really did mean to use the plural posessive.  However, I don’t think the plural posessive is appropriate here.  Arguments welcome in the comments.

Worst street in Columbia Heights?

Two more shot on Girard Street last night.  One died, one in the hospital.  I park on that street occasionally when our block is full, and it really doesn’t seem that bad.  And there are frequently police cars around.

It kind of puts parking tickets in perspective, I guess.  I get pretty worked up over the city’s campaign to make me sell my car, but at the same time, there are a lot more important things going on.

Spying on ourselves is bad

Boing Boing: Police camera spying on the rise in California

Backed by millions in Homeland Security dollars, California law enforcement authorities are quickly expanding video surveillance camera spying in public rights of way, a move the American Civil Liberties Union says is stripping away privacy rights while failing to dent the intended purpose: crime.

We were just talking about this last night, in the context of the hit-and-run accident early Sunday morning. The wife and I saw the victim lying in the middle of 16th Street, face down. The driver has not been caught.

We were talking about the trade-offs: privacy vs. safety. Would you be okay with more cameras in public spaces? When something like this happens, and we want to catch the driver, and more cameras would certainly help.

But, on the other hand, do you really want to be on camera all the time?  It’s not that I want to be able to break the law and not get caught.  It’s just that I don’t want to be watched all the time.  I don’t mind if there’s a camera at the ATM, or if I walk past a monument and I’m in some tourist’s vacation photo.  What I have a problem with is being watched all the time.  While cameras on 16th Street probably could have gotten the license plate of the speeding white SUV that hit this guy, they’d also catch all sorts of other things.  I know you don’t have any reasonable expectation of privacy in the middle of the city, but you have a reasonable expectation of not being filmed every moment you’re out of your house.

So, what’s the proper balance between safety and privacy?  Well, the current administration hasn’t found it yet, although by all indications they aren’t actually looking for balance.  Ideally, there would be a camera on everyone committing a serious crime, and no cameras anywhere else.  I don’t suppose that’s really feasible, though.

And, as you can see above, the ACLU doesn’t think that it’s helping to stop crime.  I don’t know what the ACLU knows about crime rates.  They certainly know a lot about protecting civil liberties, like the freedom to not be on camera all the time.

The perils of a transitional neighborhood

I was in Maryland today visiting some good friends, and got home around 11:30PM to find the street one block over closed by police cars and crime scene tape. I’m not feeling terribly inclined to go investigate, but I’m curious what it is. I suppose I’ll have to find out in the morning.

Update: I hear from a Columbia Heights message board that our councilmember, Jim Graham, sent an email out. There was a shooting, one dead, one wounded.