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The Student Newspaper of Jackson-Reed High School

The Beacon

The Student Newspaper of Jackson-Reed High School

The Beacon

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New DC crime law prompts questions about disparities

In March, a DC public safety bill was signed into law on a permanent and emergency basis, meaning the bill would be effective immediately. The original law was proposed by Public Safety Committee Chair Councilmember Brooke Pinto in response to pressure from the public about increasing the safety of the city, and was passed after many notable amendments. 

However, many DC residents have voiced concerns about the policies, worrying it infringes on people’s constitutional rights. Some of these claims have been proven false. 

“[The bill] started really as a plan with a number of different bills, but then turned into an omnibus bill which made over 100 different interventions to focus on three main categories,” said Councilmember Pinto. 

According to Pinto, the goals of the bill are “first, how to prevent crime before it happens and end cycles of violence. Second, on how to ensure accountability when crime does occur. And third, how to improve government coordination both between our local government and our unique relationship with the federal government.”

“We’re already seeing improvements in our efforts to drive down crime and violence as a result,” Pinto said. 

The law includes initiatives to ensure accountability for officers, enhance protection for senior citizens, protect victims of sexual assault and abuse, and improve protection for children. In addition, it proposes to create stricter gun policies, make retail theft a punishable crime, and allow police to pursue an imminent danger to the public. 

When asked about the origin of the bill, Pinto replied,“ I really set out to drive down the gun violence and drive down the domestic violence that was plaguing our city.” She explained she did listening sessions with residents across the city in all eight wards. 

“The most resounding message that I heard from really everyone I talked to is that people wanted action, and they wanted to improve public safety,” she said. 

Many residents have raised the concern that this legislation could unfairly target people of color in DC. Several amendments were made to address these concerns, for example, removing the vague language in the proposal to ban face coverings that would criminalize face coverings if they caused someone fear for their safety, and not lowering the threshold for felony theft which Pinto had proposed to be lowered from $1000 to $500.   

Nonetheless, there continue to be concerns about how the law could disproportionately impact the community. 

One piece of the omnibus that has caused unease in the community is allowing the police to take DNA samples upon arrest. This proposal was voted against in the first council vote but made it back into the final version of the law.  Pinto explains that the final version of this proposal means “[DNA] is collected after a charging decision has been made, and a judge has determined there’s probable cause, and any of it is expunged [erased or deleted] if the person is acquitted or found not guilty.” 

Another allows police officers to review their body cam footage before writing police reports, unless they killed someone or used force against them. 

Senior Wesley Hoy is concerned about this. He worries that this “Lets [police officers] cover up their version of the story using what’s visible with the cameras.” 

However, there are a few misconceptions about what is included in the omnibus. One that has caught the public eye is about the bill criminalizing gatherings of two or more people. Thousands of people reposted a claim on Instagram made by a civil rights activist group, Campaign Zero, that stated the proposed crime plan would criminalize gatherings of two more. However, according to WUSA9, a local news outlet, “this claim misses context.”  The plan does not criminalize these gatherings, but it does allow police to arrest people who refuse to disperse under specific circumstances. The part of the plan that addresses two or more people is the drug-free zone portion of the bill, which states that police officers can ask groups of two or more people within a drug free zone to leave if the officer believes they are committing a crime. If these people do not leave, they can be penalized in the form of jail time or fines.  

“I do not think that this bill will solve crime in DC,” Senior Wesley Hoy said. Hoy doesn’t agree with several amendments in the bill, one of them being the Drug Free Zones mentioned above. “All this will do is displace homeless encampments temporarily, which will return right after the drug free zone is gone. It further criminalizes drug use, which history has shown is not the right approach to reducing drug use,” he said. 

Similarly, social studies teacher Michele Bollinger opposes the Secure DC Bill. Although she doesn’t oppose every single aspect of it. 

She believes that the elements of the Bill that allow for more incarceration doesn’t help the public safety situation and instead causes more minorities to be put in jail. 

“I think we need effective solutions, but Secure DC isn’t it,” she said. 

However, with the dangerous crime levels in DC on the rise, the bill passed on a permanent basis and also on an emergency basis, which means that most of its provisions can take effect immediately. As the law becomes part of DC life citizens are waiting to see what changes will be made to crime levels, and if the consequences will outweigh the benefits.

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