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Mayor Bowser on D.C.’s rising gun violence, new police hires and their accountability

Washington, D.C. Is one of five areas nationwide where the Biden administration is launching strike teams to address gun trafficking. Like many regions across the country, homicides and gun violence in the city have been on the rise, impacting communities of color disproportionately. Lisa Desjardins discusses the issue with Democratic Mayor Muriel Bowser, who was at the White House meeting Monday.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    It is an increasingly difficult problem: how to stop or at least slow the rise in gun violence across the country.

    Lisa Desjardins talks with one local leader who's joined others at the White House today to tackle this urgent question.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Washington, D.C., is one of five areas nationwide where the Biden administration is launching strike teams to address gun trafficking.

    Like many regions across the country, homicides and gun violence in the city have been on the rise. Homicides this year in D.C. have already surpassed those in 2020. That's after homicides in 2020 rose nearly 20 percent from 2019, that according to data from the D.C. Police Department.

    Communities of color are disproportionately impacted. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, in 2019, in Washington, D.C., there were about 18 firearm-related deaths per 100,000 white residents, compared to twice as many, 40, per 100,000 Black residents.

    For more, I'm joined by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, a Democrat, who was at the White House meeting today.

    Let's start with the big question, Mayor Bowser. Why is gun violence rising in your city?

  • Muriel Bowser:

    Well, I don't think any person can point to one thing, Lisa, on the rise in shootings.

    Certainly, we see a prevalence of illegal guns in our city and we see a repeat offenders using those guns.

    We are attacking the problem from all sides, including law enforcement strategy, but community policing — excuse me — community violence intervention strategies as well.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    We're going to come back to that.

    There is a debate over really who should be responsible and solve this problem. Some Republicans say that this is an issue for mayors like yourself. And it is under your watch that we have seen these numbers go up.

    What do you say to those Republicans who say this is not a federal issue, this is something for local mayors and police to be dealing with?

  • Muriel Bowser:

    Well, in my tenure — I have been mayor six years — I have seen crime numbers go up and crime numbers down.

    And, always, our strategy is to focus on opportunities, prevention and enforcement. But the federal government does have a role to play. At the White House, where the American Rescue Plan under President Biden's leadership is allowing us to fund new officers, new police cadets, but also allowing us to fund new jobs, new clean jobs where our public safety programs can place individuals, pilot programs to assist returning citizens with housing and cash assistance.

    So, it is also true that there needs to be real action around limiting the illegal trafficking of guns.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I'm so interested in those strike forces that your city will be getting one of, and to deal with the idea of guns coming in from areas with, in the Biden administration's words, weaker gun laws.

    Can you talk to us about what does that actually look like? What do these strike forces do? And what do they actually achieve, especially — how do these guns are illegal? Many of these are legally purchased in other states.

  • Muriel Bowser:

    Well, we find that they may have been illegally purchased, but — legally purchased, but if they end up in the hands of somebody who is committing crimes, then they are illegal here.

    And we have a long partnership with the ATF and FBI and the Department of Justice. And now that partnership is going to be focused on tracing illegal guns, figuring out which guns were used in all crimes, crimes here and crimes elsewhere, focusing on straw purchasers, people who are illegally purchasing for individuals who shouldn't be able to buy a gun.

    All of those efforts will keep guns off of our streets.

    One thing our law enforcement professions tell us, one trend that they see is that, in a group of people 10 years ago, there may have been one of those individuals who had a gun. Now four or five of those individuals have guns. And when you see the incidents of shooting go up with lethal weapons, like .9-millimeters that are very prevalent on our streets, sometimes, they are modified so that they can have rapid fire.

    We have to get to those guns before they harm somebody in the hands of the wrong person.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I know you spoke of the money that you are putting towards increasing the police cadet corps and to dealing with violence in your city.

    It's tens of millions of dollars, about $60 million. But the city received $3 billion from the American Rescue Plan. Why not more? And then, also, how do you hold those new police officers accountable?

  • Muriel Bowser:

    Well one strategy we have for new hires is to make sure they are out in the community and getting to know their communities.

    And we're also funding, for example, electric bikes. We know that our communities like to see their officers on the beat, out of their cars. And that is one thing that we're doing.

    And while we talked about our alternative to policing program costing about $60 million, there are other huge programs that are part of that $3 billion, including $400 million that we're putting into our Housing Production Trust Fund, which will allow us to create more affordable housing in the District, which addresses public safety.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Such an important time for all local government in this country.

    Mayor Muriel Bowser of Washington, D.C., we thank you for joining us.

  • Muriel Bowser:

    Thank you.

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