Max Bluestein is like many young Jewish professionals who, in recent years, have moved into Washington’s rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods to take advantage of all the nation’s capital has to offer.
The 30-year-old Columbia Heights resident recently took a trip to Colombia. Before his visit to the South American nation, his friends expressed concern for his safety because of the country’s reputation for drug cartels and kidnappings.
While he was gone, he got an email from his girlfriend saying that somebody was shot and killed a hundred feet from his house.
“I was safer in Colombia than in Columbia Heights,” he said.
With a spike in violent crime this summer, including the shooting and stabbing deaths of two American University graduates, area Jews are starting to question whether they feel safe living, working and playing in the city.
Adams Morgan resident Ami Greener, 41, was living in Jerusalem during the height of the Second Intifada when a wave of Palestinian suicide bombings rocked the city. On a recent Friday night, Greener was at Amsterdam Falafel in Washington with a friend. A few hours later a man was shot in the head in front of the establishment.
“Here, because of the randomness of it, I find the violence more disturbing,” said Greener. “In Israel when you go on a bus it can happen. Here it’s just random, and that’s what’s more scary.”
Four killings over Labor Day weekend pushed the city’s number of homicides this year to 109, four more than Washington experienced all of last year. At the same point in 2014, there had been 74 homicides in the city, an increase of 47 percent this year over last year, according to the Metropolitan Police Department.
And Washington isn’t alone. More than 30 major cities across the country are reporting an uptick in homicides, The New York Times reports. Milwaukee has experienced the biggest surge in deadly violence with a 76 percent increase in homicides so far this year — 104 homicides as opposed to 59 last year.
The violence has put many mayors and police chiefs on the hot seat. In a police union poll, 1,100 MPD officers gave Washington Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier a vote of no confidence.
D.C. Council member Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1) defended Lanier, saying she is doing a great job and that she’s been glad to partner with her. Nadeau also said she is interested in Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser’s $15 million anti-crime proposal and is eager for a “robust discussion” on the plan when the council goes back into session on Sept. 15.
“Her proposal provides additional support to MPD and also to victims of crime which is really important. We’ve seen across the country an uptick in crime, but we also know that when victims of crime don’t get the support that they need it really adds to the vicious cycle of crime,” said Nadeau, adding that the plan “will also establish lasting community partnerships, which I’m very excited about because that’s really where I come from in terms of public safety.”
Nadeau also commended the mayor for keeping weapons off the street through the Firearm Tip Reward Program, saying she is impressed by the number of firearms the MPD has recovered this year.
Nadeau said she got her start in public service by participating in a neighborhood watch association in Meridian Hill, walking the beat with police, identifying potential trouble spots such as a tree blocking visibility or a burned out street lamp.
The councilmember this spring started leading public safety walks and will be holding a neighborhood watch training for Ward 1 residents on Sept. 12.
Despite the uptick in violence, overall crime is still at historically low levels in Washington and across the country. The homicide rate is far below the 1991 peak of 479 homicides in the city, a fact not lost on Petworth resident Zach Teutsch, 32, vice chair of the advisory neighborhood commission that covers his part of town.
“D.C. is still a very safe place. I’ve lived in cities all my life and D.C. is definitely a safer place than almost any city was 10 or 20 years ago,” said Teutsch, adding that the biggest risk in his life is from a car crash, not violent crime.
Despite the violence, Teutsch is not prepared to give up on the city he calls home.
“The most important thing that we can do in the face of violence is to redouble our commitment to building something positive and proactive, and connecting with the people that we live with and the neighborhood that we live in,” he said. “I expect to be here a long time, and as a result, it’s really worth it to me to get to know my neighbors and make my community a place that feels like my community, not a place that feels scary.”