Yup, I'm back in the city after a nice few days off. Getting away for a bit was nice, but there's always work to be done.
I didn't have a chance to comment on the murder of Oscar Fuentes, but let me just say a few things. I'll even be a bit controversial. Sort of. This is an uncomfortable topic for many people to discuss.
A 9 year-old boy was shot and killed in his family's apartment about 1,500 feet away from where I live. Just blocks away from multimillion dollar developments and areas that have seen redevelopment in the last few years. But also, just blocks away from the scenes of plenty of other violent crimes.
The obvious things: A lot has changed in Columbia Heights in the last decade. I don't think anyone, not even Petula Dvorak at the Post, is trying to say that's not the case. I'm not going to argue that the commercial development on 14th Street has been a bad thing. It hasn't. It's created jobs and drawn people from all over the city to the area. It has boosted housing prices and in just the past few years we've seen many properties around that area get rehabbed and new ones get built. For people looking for a place to live in the city, it can be very attractive. It's close to transit, has plenty of retail, so on and so forth.
However, it's also very close to a crime hotspot that hasn't changed much at all. And, it seems, for the time being will not change. Let's be clear here, in most cases, the crime in Columbia Heights does not directly impact the neighborhood's new residents. There are robberies to be sure, but generally we do not read stories of people getting shot coming home from work. As such, it's difficult to put a human face on the tragedy that plays out all too often in the neighborhood.
Here's where things get uncomfortable, so let's just say it. The affluent people moving to Columbia Heights don't suffer much from the violent crime located near public and low-income housing. Until we hear about a 9-year-old child getting killed, it's difficult to even humanize the crime statistics. Far too often I see comments like "well, at least that's one less gang-banger" after a shooting.
Anyone who tries, even for a minute, to pretend Columbia Heights isn't a perfect example of the "two cities" problem is full of crap. Completely. Are there people in the neighborhood who are concerned about crime? Of course. Are there people in the neighborhood who donate money and volunteer in the neighborhood? I'm sure. However, the longer we go without even talking about this, the deeper the divide grows.
In the Post, Dvorak contrasts an empty playground and the feeling of hopelessness among the lower income residents with frivolous complaints about a coffeeshop on a blog. I think her comparison is a great one, because it shows this divide. I'm not going to say I'm some sort of saint who is spending his days trying to find big picture solutions to cycles of poverty. However, I'm not going to pretend like these problems don't exist. Where is the mayor on this? He should take a page from Obama's book and get out there and talk about this. Say a few things that are uncomfortable. You can't find a solution to a problem if you don't even acknowledge the problem exists.
Instead of calling Petula Dvorak names, I'm glad she's at least sparked a bit of debate here. A tragedy is a tragedy, and a nine year-old boy was shot and killed in his home. Many others have been shot, and many others have died in acts of violence in this neighborhood. Some were gang members, and some were criminals. Before they joined gangs, and before they committed crimes, they were little boys just like Oscar Fuentes. They were dealt a shitty hand, and not everyone gets to escape from a life of poverty and crime. I hate so much the fact that we become so desensitized to crime that we forget this.