To the Editor:
Last week the murder of Pierre Clark, in broad daylight a block from the new Belle Pre building, marked the third homicide in less than 12 months to occur within a narrow radius, just steps from Braddock Road Metro.
Residents ask why Alexandria tolerates this violence, especially since it appears the fix would be straightforward: offsite some of the area’s public housing into small clusters around town and end the projects’ magnetic appeal to drug dealers and cowboys with grudges and guns.
West Old Town Citizens Association has dealt successfully with crime issues for decades. It was WOTCA that analyzed crime data after another daylight killing in 2008 — a white Pennsylvania criminal and fugitive who was slain behind the low-income Pendleton Park apartments. The data revealed that within Census Tract 16, Part 1 crime rises the closer a block is to public housing. (Ironically, this information was disclosed at a civic association meeting attended by Lenny Harris, a future homicide victim himself.) WOTCA later demonstrated that Jefferson-Houston had more crime on its perimeters than any other elementary school in Alexandria.
Community policing was once effective here, but sadly it has been allowed to morph. Alexandria’s prosecutors and judges have weakened the enforcement of anti-loitering laws as well as ARHA’s barment list, problems the civic association and City Attorney Philip Sunderland addressed years ago. The list of cold case homicides in the neighborhood grows stale, yet other neighborhoods quickly solve theirs. ARHA buys a new headquarters building for $4 million cash, then publicly claims that it can’t afford security cameras.
Sadly, Alexandria’s leaders have made a calculated decision that it is more important to retain power than to protect citizens from violence. This despite the casualties, the criticism from ARHA’s own tenants about safety, and the pleas of grieving mothers already voiced. Not long ago they subdivided a voting precinct thinking the remaining voter bloc would favor high density and a weakening of anti-crime measures, measures which were successful and race-neutral. The city just closes it eyes as ARHA acquires additional properties here.
Council as well as the present and past mayors lack the commitment and skill involved in problem solving and consensus building. They allow an increasingly politicized planning staff to do their thinking for them. The city lacks the fortitude to stand up to ARHA, whose intransigence is well known to staff and citizens alike.
There are veteran Alexandria leaders who know how to restore the standards of the past. Before retiring, former Commonwealth’s Attorney Randy Sengel and APD Captain Bill Johnson cited research about the danger of piling on more density in a neighborhood with “pockets of poverty.” Chief Cook uncomfortably acknowledged these pockets of poverty last Friday.
The current crop of politicos bury their heads in the sand, preferring to cultivate self-interested citizens, developers and architects; to form front groups that support the city’s dubious theory that development, not offsiting, will diminish crime. One such group is newly established, an association which represents itself as pro-development and supports such expanded projects as the Bradley and Ramsey Homes despite strong opposition from the neighbors of both sites. With retailers now nervous, how long before we have another, still-ailing Braddock Place.
It looks like the summer of 2016 will be even hotter than anticipated.