WASHINGTON — In the first week of the new year a 17-year-old was shot dead and several children were injured by gunfire in the District, including an 8-year-old. It has many asking what can be done to stop the brutal gun violence in our region.
In D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser led a public safety walk to try to quell fears. She also appointed someone new to oversee the city's efforts.
"It's hard to be a child in the District of Columbia," said Lindsey Appiah, D.C.'s new deputy mayor for public safety and justice. "We're seeing some things post-pandemic where there was a lot of trauma for our young people."
Appiah said her priority is solving D.C.'s gun violence crisis and keeping children from becoming victims, and committing crimes.
"Your conduct is not acceptable just because you had bad circumstances. The path they're putting themselves on early is either incarceration or death and that is not what we want once they turn 21, if they make it that far," Appiah said.
Appiah has been in the D.C. government for more than a decade, spending most of that time helping lead the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services. She has worked closely with a lot of children who end up on the wrong path and says D.C. has one of the best systems to fairly hold children accountable.
"It's heartbreaking to me, and also encouraging, in the facility, because you see them become kids again. So that you can deal with the trauma and all of the issues that have led them there. Give them an opportunity to reset, because we want them to thrive," Appiah said.
Appiah said there is not necessarily a connection between children who are committing crimes and what they have been through.
"You wouldn't be able to necessarily tell the child committing an offense from any other kid you would see at a middle or high school in the District of Columbia," she said.
Appiah said the children who end up with firearms are trying to survive and protect themselves. She said they are often from broken homes, and neighborhoods where the gunfire just does not stop. Then, add in the stress and isolation of the pandemic.
"They don't have the emotional resources to know how to re-stabilize. So there are some behaviors that they are engaging in that is very me-first. 'I want this car, I'm taking it. I want these things, I'm taking [them],'" she said.
During a public safety walk in Anacostia Thursday, led by the mayor, the frustration was palpable. The big question: What now? How does this problem get solved? Appiah said it's about community involvement.
Appiah is encouraging even more residents, churches and businesses to get involved. She said the first order of business for her office is getting more mental health resources, and taking a hard look at the many city programs in place for children and families.
"Making sure that as a government, we work together. We're tracking and we're accountable for outcomes because we can love a program, but it may not have the outcomes that we're looking for. Maybe we need to invest differently," she said.
Appiah will serve as acting deputy mayor until she is sworn in by the DC Council. She replaces Chris Geldart, who stepped down last year.
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