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D.C.’s History of Policing Brutality and Abuses Didn’t Start with Bowser

Mayor Muriel Bowser took a defiant stance against President Donald Trump when she painted Black Lives Matter along 16th Street near The White House. She later posed for an iconic photo with John Lewis standing on Black Lives Matter. Although these events have propelled her national image and landed her as a speaker in the Democratic National Conventions, citizens in the district have to wonder how much of this will translate into better policing outcomes in the Mayor’s own backyard.

The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) is rife with decades of scandals of police brutality and abuses. One has only to go back to the mid-’90s where several fatal shootings took the lives of several unarmed Black lives. In 1994 motorist Sutoria Moore was fatally shot as police officers alleged that he was trying to run them over. This was later proven to be false. On May 15, 1995, an unarmed 16-year-old, Kedemah Dorsey wanted for driving recklessly and running red lights was gunned down by police. The shooting was witnessed in horror by a bystander.  In June 1996, 18-year-old Eric Anderson, unarmed, was shot to death in his car at a routine traffic roadblock in Southeast Washington.

Fast forward a quarter of a century and 6 police chiefs later, the District is still fighting policing demons. The list of death by MPD continues. Washingtonian highlights the lives and deaths of 7 shooting victims ranging from Archie “Artie” Elliott III who was shot 14 times while handcuffed and seat-belted to Alonzo Smith who died, similar to George Floyd, from a “cardiac incident while pinned under an officer’s knee.” The plight of Marqueese Alston, shot at least six times in June of 2018 is also on that list. The latest shooting of Deon Kaye drew the criticism of the Black Lives Matter movement organizer for the MPD their policing tactics.

Organizer April Goggans pointed to a technique where “They see him [Kaye], they jump out, they barely stop the car and run after him.” This tactic is well known in a lot of Black neighborhoods. In fact, they commonly refer to police using these tactics as “jump out boys”. Although this case is muddled by the fact that Kaye was running with a gun in hand, it clouds the fact that there have been years of incidents where the results have raised suspicious results in Black neighborhoods. The Stop Police Terror Project condemns these tactics along with Washington’s mayor. DC Mayor Bowser has come under sharp criticism for her response to these shootings.

“Mayor Bowser, city officials, and DC councilmembers, all have Deon Kay’s blood on their hands because of their advocacy for right-wing law-and-order policies that maintain the police occupation of DC’s Black communities,” said Stop Police Terror Project organizer Sean Blackmon. “These so-called ‘progressives’ are responsible for the same police terror that has sparked months-long protests all over the country,” Blackmon continued. “As long as they continue to desperately avoid divesting from ineffective and brutal policing and investing in the health and safety of communities, police killings will continue and the crisis facing DC’s poor and working class Black people will only intensify.”

The Washington Post also recently ran an article critical of Bowser reporting that “Bowser isn’t so progressive about policing.” The Post writes that “… Bowser emboldens police officers to commit acts of violence by opposing progressive change to policing procedure, refusing to hold police officers accountable for their violence and fighting to increase the Metropolitan Police Department’s budget, even in the face of the department’s frequent and systemic racism.” It goes on to state that “Neither the yellow paint that spells “Black Lives Matter” on the asphalt on 16th Street NW nor the renaming of Black Lives Matter Plaza will end police violence or make Black folks in D.C. safer”.

It’s easy to make Bowser a target given the recent police abuses around the country and the Mayor’s high profile. However, if the District is honest with itself, and as this post points out, this history of police abuse predates Bowser. “DISTRICT POLICE LEAD NATION IN SHOOTINGS” is the title of a 1998 Washington Post article. The Post wrote even then that “… internal police files and court records reveal a pattern of reckless and indiscriminate gunplay by officers sent into the streets with inadequate training and little oversight.” The 2017 Post article “The culture of violence infecting the D.C. police department” put it this way “Brutality and lawlessness flourish in an environment that condones violence. We must take a long, hard look at the environment that fostered a police officer’s failing to activate his body camera and killing an unarmed man by shooting him in the back and neck,” proving that the more things change….

At some point hopefully, we will get the policing the Nation’s capital deserves, until then let’s not be so fast to drop it all on the doorstep of the current mayor. She may shoulder her share of criticism but she’s in good, or bad company depending on your view of prior mayors.


Police Killed These Seven Washingtonians. Here Are Their Stories, and the Family Left Behind



Armed and Unready

Moving Targets

Black Lives Matter DC criticizes Mayor Bowser’s DNC remarks

Police Administration/ Internal Affairs

Office of Police Complaints

The culture of violence infecting the D.C. police department



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