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The Feds Should Revoke D.C. Home Rule

The city is managing to kick against national trends as its violent crime rate continues to rise.

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Credit: mark reinstein

Washington, D.C. has a crime problem. 

On Monday, a man as yet unnamed by the police went on an auto theft rampage for the record books. He started the spree by shooting a lawyer getting out of his car in the luxe Mt. Vernon neighborhood of K Street, a brisk 10-minute walk from The American Conservative’s offices. The assailant apparently thought better of that vehicle—a standard transmission, perhaps?—and fled the scene on foot. He attempted and failed to seize another car in Northwest, and then in NoMa shot another driver, who later died of his wounds at the hospital. The killer took the victim’s car and fled over the line into Maryland. He then abandoned the car, stole another car, abandoned that car, ordered a rideshare, and carjacked it. After this energetic showing, the criminal decided to wind down—it was by now 3am Tuesday—by cruising around D.C. and its Maryland suburbs while taking potshots at police cars. Eventually, our enterprising felon was chased down and shot dead by New Carrollton municipal police around 4:30am.

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This lurid episode attracted the attention of the conservative press because the K Street shooting victim (who remains in critical condition), Mike Gill, is a Republican D.C. election board member and had served as a minor appointee in the Trump administration. Lest it be thought that the District’s crime is partisan or in some way a respecter of persons, we must note that Gill is not the highest-ranking politico to face the realities of our imperial capital’s streets: Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Texas Democrat, was carjacked last October.

Because Washington is a federal district, law enforcement falls under the Department of Justice. Merrick Garland has decided he’s seen enough, and announced that DoJ will be routing additional resources to cracking down on carjackings and homicides.

The nation’s capital is moving in the wrong direction for sure; it is also moving in the opposite direction from most of the rest of the country. National crime levels declined sharply in 2023, although still not returning to their pre-2020 levels; murder in particular was down 15.6 percent. D.C.’s dysfunction doesn’t seem to arise from particular local conditions. Forty miles north, Baltimore—a much less high-rent city than Washington, which has a median household income of about $101,000 per year—has seen a 21 percent decrease in homicides year over year for 2023, even despite an ongoing consent decree over alleged police malfeasance. (Of course, this still makes Baltimore one of the most dangerous cities in the Western hemisphere, but we’ll take what we can get.) What gives? 

Well, Baltimore hired as deputy mayor a man who thinks that behaviors like dealing drugs around burn barrels on public sidewalks should be stopped, and understands that this program may involve putting police officers in places where they’ll arrest criminals. These bare concessions to common sense have prevailed, often in embarrassed quietness, in the biggest cities in America. Washington, unfortunately, is the city of dreams; its political class is stocked with crooks and, worse, ideological bobos with master’s degrees. It is still firmly in the throes of the post-Floyd mania for keeping the cops from doing anything. 

In D.C., a fabulous merry-go-round of buck-passing prevents anything in particular from being done to stop the carnage and chaos. City council passes bills systematically down-scheduling misdemeanors and felonies; Muriel Bowser, the mayor, vetoes them; the council overrides the veto. Herroner proposes bills to increase enforcement; the city council declines to move them, saying Herroner already has the power to deploy the Metropolitan Police Department’s personnel as she wishes or pointing to the U.S. attorney’s refusal to prosecute. Herroner proposes reinstating the drug-free zones she voted to remove as a council member; the council refuses to sign off. It is a municipal Rube Goldberg machine preventing anyone being on the hook for sending constituents and constituents’ relatives to jail. The result? Carjackings in the district almost doubled between 2022 and 2023. 

Herroner, who went to private school and is a Catholic, seems to be more or less genuinely in favor of law and order—she has repeatedly blocked the release of D.C.’s stop-and-frisk data—but she lacks the clout, the will, or both to make it happen. The city government’s apathy for actually stopping crime may play into the fact that, per the police chief, the force is short 500 or so officers—which hardly helps the cause. Meanwhile, the council prefers giving out vast sums to the types of NGO and private contractors that have been so very effective in other blue cities.

We have written before about the anarcho-tyranny in Washington; things have clearly not improved since our last dispatch. The sad truth is that the only recourse at the moment is the crude and primitive instrument of correction in every democracy, voting the bums out. Some Washingtonians are trying that; a recall effort is afoot against the Ward 6 council member, Charles Allen, whose proposed revision of the city’s criminal code provoked federal intervention. Yet the catch is evident in the solution; the bums are in office for a reason. People voted for them. (Allen himself pointed out that he won his last election with a North Korea–level margin, north of 90 percent.) 

In any other city, you’d say “let ‘em rot,” but Washington is the entire American people’s district, and where the nation carries out its shared public life. You can’t have congressmen getting carjacked or worse. It may be time for the federal government to consider more radical remedies—for example, revoking Washington’s home rule.

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