Weekly Editor’s Note

As D.C. Witness increases its content, a new section will display a note from the editor on the week’s homicides. This note will not only serve as an analytical point for the editor, but also put some of the site’s news content into perspective. The first editor’s note is below. Thank you. 

D.C. Witness Editorial team

News Site Steps Up to Battle Homicides in the District 

Despite the District’s legalization of marijuana, an illegal weed is growing in Washington, DC. And instead of leaving users in a daze, it leaves fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, husbands and wives sitting on wooden seats in courtrooms waiting for a verdict they never — before now — dreamed they’d have to endure. 

However, not all of these cases will live past the mass circulated blurb released in the daily newspaper and most won’t even make it to the nightly news. But one website, D.C. Witness, a nonprofit organization, was founded to keep that news cycle going, while also delivering data-driven statistics to help community and government officials create better solutions to solve the city’s homicide problem, not just affixing a temporary band-aid to the persistent social ill. 

Without D.C. Witness, public officials can tout inaccurate statistics or misleading closure rates for homicides. Without D.C. Witness, parents who do not understand the legal system or know how to find out about a family member’s court case would not have a way to have their questions answered. Without D.C. Witness, the perception of our city’s homicides would remain defined by innuendo and alternative facts. 

D.C. Witness tracks the causes of homicides and follows each case by spending hours and days inside courtrooms at the H. Carl Moultrie Courthouse. Reporters, who are student interns studying journalism, sociology or legal studies, track judicial proceedings for homicide cases involving defendants such as 16-year-old Titus Iracks or 35-year-old Elliott Starks. We track each defendant, follow-up with families on both sides and consult with judicial staff to keep the conversation going and provide crucial information to residents so they can foster a safe place for all to live. 

D.C. Witness also tracks information from various city agencies. In tracking homicides in the city, D.C. Witness is not interested in capturing the “gotcha” stories of the evening. Rather it is a non-partisan, non-activist organization that only wishes to use statistics to improve the city by working with residents, the police and local government officials. 

And the data is sobering.

According to D.C. Witness data, homicides in July increased by 46 percent from the year before. Although the percentage has decreased in August, homicide numbers for 2018  have already reached triple digits.  As of Aug. 27, there have been 104 homicides in the District with 30 homicides occurring since the summer began on June 21. 

The data shows that homicides affect minority residents since a majority of the crimes occur in Southeast DC, where more minority, low income residents live. According to homicide studies conducted more than 30 years ago, not much, other than motive has changed. Today, according to D.C. Witness data, more murders result from disputes than from drugs, which was the main reason for homicides in the 1980s. 

The irony is that all of the data DC Witness gathers is public and the mayor even has an office that gathers similar data. It just refuses to share it with the citizens of DC. 

Even though a majority of homicides are occurring in the Southeast section of the city, the problem is still significant to every resident as homicides are occurring in more affluent, gentrifying areas of the District that attract tourists and new residents. One such example is the shooting death of 22 year-old Phillip Dumbuya on the 1900 block of 9th Street, NW, which is in the U Street corridor.

As D.C. Witness moves forward, it plans to incorporate new aspects of reporting on and tracking homicide data, such as monthly recaps, homicide synopses by ward, videos, infographics, feature stories and our daily news coverage from inside courtrooms. D.C. Witness will also publish cross-collaboration pieces with The DC Line, a nonprofit media organization dedicated to covering local news in the District of Columbia.