Police Connect with Citizens at National Night Out

Police Connect with Citizens at National Night Out

A murder, a non-fatal shooting, and mysterious “shots fired” calls around the Braddock Metro Area dampen National Night Out celebrations.

Mark Souder (left); Thomas “Jay” Johnson, president of the Volunteer Fire Department (center); and Willie Squires (right) cook hotdogs and hamburgers outside the Mount Vernon Recreation Center in Alexandria for National Night Out.

Mark Souder (left); Thomas “Jay” Johnson, president of the Volunteer Fire Department (center); and Willie Squires (right) cook hotdogs and hamburgers outside the Mount Vernon Recreation Center in Alexandria for National Night Out. Photo by Vernon Miles.

— It's been a mixed week for law enforcement in the Braddock neighborhood. On the one hand, the Braddock Road Metro Neighborhood had another shots fired incident late on Aug. 1 that resulted in a man hospitalized with non-lethal gunshot wounds. On the other hand, on Aug. 4 many local residents braved light rain for face painting and snow cones. Alexandria Police came together with the Sheriff’s Office and the Fire Department to celebrate National Night Out across the city, but in many ways the neighborhood is still reeling from the unsolved murder of Shakkan Elliot-Tibbs over one month ago and the recent shooting.

While the first community meeting on July 8 had to be moved from a smaller room in the Charles Houston Recreation Center into the main gymnasium, the July 29 meeting, held in the gymnasium, could have been held in the smaller room. While the first meeting was attended by hundreds of local residents filling the bleachers, the 70 or so residents at the July 29 meeting barely took up one section. Many of the faces were repeats of the first night.

One new face was Chief Earl Cook, who was unable to attend the first meeting. Cook told the community that there wasn’t anything more they could share on the murder investigation. Cook appealed to the community, saying that there was likely someone in the area who knew something about this crime who hadn’t come forward yet.

With regard to the frequent shots fired calls coming out of the Braddock neighborhood, Cook repeated comments made before the murder that many of the calls were likely backfiring cars or fireworks, even while police at the July 8 meeting indicated that the gunshots fired in the murder and the weeks leading up to it were likely connected to a conflict between two groups of individuals. Cook also said the department has made special efforts to remove weapons from the streets, though did not specify how many the department has collected. Cook mentioned that these efforts are being coordinated with Fairfax County Police as Cook says the police believe the groups responsible for the shots often travel back and forth between the Fairfax and Alexandria.

As a result of the murder and the shots fired calls, Cook says the police will maintain an increased presence in the neighborhood until the end of the summer, but warned that the department would not be able to keep up the increased presence indefinitely. According to Cook, if they maintain a heightened presence in Braddock much longer than that, there’s a chance it could negatively affect police work in other parts of the city. Cook said this is especially true with fall coming around, which often brings an uptick in crimes.

The July 8 meeting, which had started as a community meeting centered around the murder, had largely spiraled into a discussion of economic and racial tensions between the neighborhoods near the Braddock Metro station. In response to the local strife noted at that meeting, Cook said that residents need to come together and go to civic association meetings and engage each other as a community.

“We’re not the answer to this problem,” said Cook, “but we want to be a part of the solution.”

Some in the audience had suggested instituting a crime-stoppers program, some suggested a neighborhood watch program, but this drew sharp criticisms from other members of the local community.

“What you don’t want is crazies,” said Benjamin Lomax, noting that he felt an armed neighborhood watch was an overreaction. “Trayvon Martin was killed by a community watch person.”

On Aug. 1, just a few days after the community meeting, a 31-year old non-city resident was found on the 1000 block of First Street. The victim was taken to a hospital, where the injuries were identified as non-life-threatening. According to a police report, the victim was subsequently arrested for prior assault offenses. Crystal Nosal, chief public information officer for the Alexandria Police, said the charges were originally filed by the Drug Enforcement Administration. According to Nosal, there is no indication at this time that the shooting on Aug. 1 was related to the murder of Elliot-Tibbs or to the other instances of shots fired.