October 29, 2021

Gentrification Blamed for Violence in D.C.

Anthony Tilghman
Anthony Tilghman, is an 2x Award-winning photographer, Education advocate, Mentor, and Published Author with years of experience in media, photography, marketing and branding. He is the Winner of the 2020 & 2021 Dateline award for Excellence in Local Journalism.
Photo By:Anthony Tilghman

“Chocolate City” is a nickname that D.C. went by in the second half of the twentieth century. A nickname the city got as it was U.S. first majority Black city.

In the 1980s and early 1900’s the Nation’s when the capital saw a spike in the crack cocaine pandemic. And 1991, the city got a new nickname, “Murder Capital,” which recorded 479 homicide deaths.

Photo of Police Cars

In the years that followed, the crime rate in D.C. plummeted—the Federal Bureau of Investigation recorded a fall of violent crime rate by more than half in Washington D.C. between 1995 and 2010; 2,661.4 per 100,000 individuals in 1995 to 1,330.2 per 100,000 individuals in 2010.

After recovering from the financial crisis of the late 1900s and reducing crime rates, the demographic in D.C. began to change. Investment in poverty areas in the District started to rise, and more White people took up residents there—gentrification had begun.

But as much as White people settled in D.C., they settled in the wealthier side—with neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River that have remained more than 90 percent, Black.

Crime might have reduced in the years following the 1900s, but the pandemic has seen a spike in the number of homicide cases; 2020 set a new record of 198 homicides in fifteen years.  As it stands, 2021 is on the track of breaking that record, a brutal reality that has sparked conversation.

In February, D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) declared he declared gun violence a public health crisis, creating a program that addresses underlying causes of crime such as drug addiction, joblessness, and poverty.

But a series of high-profile shootings in 2021 have rocked the District, sparking waves of intense conversations—what is causing the rise in crime rates and what to do about it.

July this year, 6-year-old Nyiah Courtney was shot and killed in Southeast D.C. In the same month, gunshots at the Nationals Park baseball stadium, south of Capitol Hill, sent the thousands of fans spending their Saturday night watching the Washington Nationals play the San Diego Padres in a frenzy to take cover—leaving three people injured.

In recent times violent crimes are not a reserve of the Black neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River—homicide has crossed over to gentrified regions in 14TH Street N.W.

On July 22, 2021, a shooting broke out near Le Diplomate restaurant—a high-end French Bistro in Washington D.C. visited by President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

These violent crimes came as the capital debated whether to defund the Police after protests against police brutality. D.C. was the epicenter of last year’s nationwide protest after the murder of George Floyd, with many demanding, but the Police are defunded.

Photography By Anthony Tilghman

However, with the increase of violent crime rates in D.C., the conversation has shifted, with people demanding more police presence. It is unlikely that police presence will change the level at which violent crimes are rising: in both Nyiah’s and the shooting at the French Bistro, police presence was already high.

Is gentrification to blame for the rise in violent crime? Based on research, it remains unclear whether gentrification plays a role in crime rates. There are both reasons that it may cause an increase and reasons why it might not.

With gentrification, crime rates may reduce because: wealthier neighborhoods have lower crime rates than poorer neighborhoods, gentrification and revitalization may improve an area, more affluent neighborhoods have strategies to combat crime, and wealthier communities have political influence, having more dedication from Police.

At the same time, research has shown that gentrification may create an angry population that will target those that pushed them out of neighborhoods, the income gap may be a bone of contention resulting in criminal activity, or it could cause a breakdown of the natural order in communities that could manifest in illegal activity.

So, gentrification may or may not be responsible for the spike in criminal activity in D.C. Defunding the Police may not be the solution, and fewer Police may lead to some form of anarchy—something that could make an already bad situation worse.

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