Saturday, 22 January 2011

more thoughts on the murder of billy mitchell

over the past couple of days there has been a heated debate (though mostly constructive) on the eckington listserv about this heinous crime. participating in this debate has helped me see more clearly how we often choose distraction. many on the list are focusing on things that we cannot change. which stands in the way of actually making change.

i grew up being very familiar with the serenity prayer: "God grant me the serenity to accept the things i cannot change, courage to change the things that i can, and the wisdom to know the difference." i hope my community can do this!

at first, when i heard the screaming & gun shots, woke up to the police tape and the investigation taking place, read the first reports, etc., i assumed a gang-banger had been shot. most of the violence in this city, and cities around the country, is related to drug trade and gang related muck. gang related violence is often ridiculously senseless, nevertheless it is also reality that most violence stems from this (in my 'hood).

my belief of this helped me feel safe. if you don't want to be shot, don't be in a gang. easy! it made me feel like my neighbors, friends, and self were safe.

billy's murder changed this.

he did what i would have done. he did what my friends would have done; on his way home from a play at the shakespear theater with his mom, he saw a woman in distress and he tried to help her. (you can read more about it here . . . its chilling) i have done this a number of times. most of the people i know in this city have seen this stuff and reacted similarly. his "Good Samaritan" instincts got him killed.

not only have i defended others. i've defended myself. i have yelled at cab drivers who drive dangerously close to me while i'm on my bike; i have told schizophrenics yelling at people to "be nice"; etc. i feel like it is my duty not to walk away from someone who is being hurt. i believe doing so, makes me an accomplice.

i don't like to live in fear! so i refuse to stand down. but now i have to rethink . . . will i stop the next time i see someone being abused? would i open the cab door to yell at the west african cab driver who TWICE tried to run me off the road? probably not.

though, i want to still be able to. i want to still be able to defend the woman in distress. i want to be okay with people taking the metro or bus to my house. but right now i'm not.

so, how do we get out safety back?

this has been the topic of discussion in eckington this week. the community response has been interesting to me. there are some who believe we should all have guns. that arming eckington will make it safer. much of the discussion has moved away from improving community safety and into a discussion on loosening gun laws.

this is completely ironic to me. not only because even dick cheney is saying we might want to tighten gun laws in response to the attempted assasignation of gabby giffords, and all the others killed and injured in tucson two weeks ago. but also, had billy's hate filled lunatic murderer not had a gun, billy would be alive.

those who believe that guns are the way to safety, say that if the guy who killed billy was worried at all that billy had a gun, he wouldn't have pulled his. i disagree! they just might now both be dead.

it is also way off track. it isn't something we can actually do something about. the people of eckington are going to change the SCOTUS' decision on Heller. and thus, we are distracted by the things we cannot change and are being foolish in not recognizing it.

there are things we CAN do! sometimes, doing what we can is scarier than talking about what others should do. when we are empowered and have the "courage to change the things that we can", we feel better. we also have responsibility. that is intimidating to many. in this case it may mean having to go to monthly meetings, having conversations with police, etc etc.

regardless, i will choose, no matter what, to stand with gandhi and martin luther king jr.; "an eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind".

plus i hate guns. i don't want a gun in my house! i certainly don't want to have to carry a gun in my neighborhood so that i can feel safe.

the truth is just seeing a gun makes me feel unsafe. a gun killed my cousin greg (at point blank range in the face when he tried to calm down some bad guys that invaded his girlfriend's home while he was taking a friend to work. he came home and the robbers/drug dealers had a gun to her head. he tried to smooth things over, and was killed).

my dear aunt sydeny was killed with a gun. she turned the gun on herself. she had started drinking again (after about 30 years of sobriety) and she hated herself for it. she studied long and hard the best way to kill herself. though my uncle galen knew she was suicidal, he insisted that he "had a right to bear arms", (which makes me believe he should be charged as an accomplice to murder"). she used one of his "arms" to kill herself. wrapped herself up in 2 plastic shower curtains, laid down in an empty bathtub, and pulled the trigger -- because "one should never leave a mess."

i believe greg and sydney would still be alive today if it weren't for handguns.

please don't think this worldview stems from me being some pansy-ass liberal that has never handled a gun. in fact, i grew up on a hobby farm in arizona (and you know arizonans do love their guns).

my dad hunted an arizona white tailed deer every year, and we ate that deer all year long. (see the photo to the left of my grandma, my dad, me, and our deer) when i got old enough, he taught me to clean and handle a gun LONG before i ever shot one. then we went out shooting. he had mostly rifles: shotguns, 22's, etc. he did have a muzzle-loaded handgun.

looking back now, i realize that the reason my dad would take me out shooting with his friends so often was because i was a pretty amazing shot.
i'm good at it. i know the rush of it. in college, one of my friends had a semi-automatic (why ???) that we took to his cabin and shot cans with. i amazed myself at how easy it was for me to hit down all the cans (and totally schooled the boys who were acting very bravado about having the gun and their ability to use it . . .who were hitting MAYBE on can at a time. i knocked down all 6 in my first try.)

but here is the deal: i think i should be able to live in a community that is safe enough that i'm not required to carry a weapon. police should have the guns and should be efficient and engaged enough to stop people with illegal guns and protect me, so that i don't have to protect myself. otherwise, what are the taxes i/we pay for?

my/our tax dollars pay the salaries and operating costs of the MPD, so that we are safe and protected. but they aren't really helping me feel safe OR protected. instead i feel ignored and frankly a bit inconsequential by those who are supposedly protecting my safety.

this is basic rule of law stuff.

i agree that police aren't the entire solution, they should be accountable to stand by their oath to "protect & to serve". paul suggested that we need to be out walking our kids and dogs more. that we need to have people out on the street at night. i say, we need the police to do their job first. then we might feel better walking our dogs, or even taking our trash out. which right now, to me, feels dangerous to me.

i've been trying to get ahold of the district commander, the investigator assigned to my burglary, the drug unit, etc since october 24th. i have left countless messages and received no response. i have noticed more cops driving through the alley, but i don't think being in a car going 25 MPH is really going to help change things. we need engaged community-oriented police. they need to be on bikes or on foot really patrolling their beat, not playing video games in their cars. they need to know us, and we need to know them. this type of community-policing is proven to be more effective. this engenders trust in the police.

i hope my community can work through this. that we can create a safer space here. that billy's life will be remembered and honored. he stood up to the bad guys and tried to protect people. we should all do that, and do it together, with the police so that dc can be safer. it is horrible that billy died. its disgusting! but i think we can honor his legacy of service by creating a city where women don't need to be defended as often and people are safe to walk home from the theater.

if you want to see dick cheney talk about strengthening gun control laws see this video:

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy


ginger said...

Two things:
1. Sorry this happened and that you're feeling unsafe. It sounds like there are some productive conversations happening in the community. I hope the DCPD listens to you too.
2. That picture is so awesome.

Alex said...

Nice blog. Two things, 1) it's good to remember that gang bangers are people too, with families and friends that miss them when they're gone. 2) I firmly believe that gun rights types are totally crazy. That's the only way you can possibly believe that more guns leads to less gun violence.

Josh said...

I wish that people's "right to bear arms" didn't include handguns with clips with a 30 bullet capacity, or semi-automatic/fully-automatic weapons. Why do people need these types of weapons? And does limiting what type of gun you can get limit your right to bear arms? Should we have the right to any type of gun? I'm sure that NRA wants it that way.

jweed said...

wow. i would feel scared, too. but i agree with your ideas for change. living in fear of doing right is not living in truth. i'm not a fan of the slack gun laws, either. not a fan of guns in any case.

Annie said...

I like the new blog layout...nice and clean.

Maybe you should move to Houston...! My neighbor called me last week saying she had just gotten off the phone with her alarm company who was notifying her that her bedroom window had been opened. I had Doug run over to check it out for her. He found her TV and x box outside her window and took off running back home. We called the police and they were here with in 2 minutes...and there were 15 of them. Plus a dog.

Your experience sounds aweful. I say error on the safe side almost all the time and find other ways to "serve" and help others in your community.

E Spencer Anderson said...

First let me say that Billy Mitchell’s death is indeed a tragedy and my heart and prayers go out to his family and loved ones. Homicides and general crimes in America’s cities, though it has gone down over the last few years, remains an important public safety concern that EVERYONE should take seriously and get involved with.

That said, as I read your comments, though quite passionate, I see little in the way of recognizing and addressing the true problem (s) of this city, which are multifaceted and quite complex. Indeed, arming ordinary citizens (in my humble opinion) is not the answer, though I have no problem with the notion that responsible citizens should have the right to bear arms—responsibly. I also agree with your posit that “sometimes doing what we can is scarier than talking about what others should be doing.” And true again, being empowered does require both courage and responsibility. I would add personal time and passionate commitment as well. Let me dwell on this last point for a minute.

The people of Bloomingdale, Eckington, Shaw, Columbia Heights, Trinidad and all parts of this city need to first understand the BASE problem(s). According to the US Census Bureau, Washington, DC ranks second in the nation in the category of overall poverty per capita (19.6%). Only the State of Mississippi ranks higher. Washington, DC ranks first in the nation in child poverty (32.6%). Mississippi ranks second. And the City ranks second in senior poverty rate (15.2%). Again, Mississippi ranks first. So it is quite clear that there is a lot of poverty in our midst. But that’s only a part of the problem. As we all know, the public education system in this city is abysmal. There are a number of reasons for this, but a very large part of it is the poverty. I’m not necessarily talking about dollars spent in schools, but more about the other, often intangible elements required to ensure that a child learns. These things include proper nutrition, engaged parents, parents who are not on drugs, safe learning environments at home and at school etc. It’s hard to come by those things when there is so much poverty. Lastly, there’s the unemployment. Again, we are talking about some of the highest rates in the nation.

It is also important to note that the Census Bureau compares DC to entire states. Yet we all know that DC is not a state, and therefore does not enjoy many of the resources that true states have to combat these macroeconomic and social problems. This includes representation in Congress. It is not merely irony that a vast body of people who REALLY control policies and therefore resources in this city are not residents of the city (only temporary apartment dwellers…with power). I don’t mean to turn Billy Mitchell’s death into a cause for statehood for DC, but I do see it as a major contributor to the poverty/education/unemployment cycle, which I believe is at the root of Mitchell’s death and the hundreds of other homicides that happen in this city—gangbanger or otherwise. That brings me to my next point.

See Continued

E Spencer Anderson said...


The day before Halloween, 2010, I too was awakened by gunshots only one and a half blocks from my apartment. Like you, I am very familiar with guns, having served this country honorably and having them in my extended family households. So I knew when I heard the 10 or so shots from a high caliber weapon at 2AM that somebody had just lost their life. Yet there was no public vigil. No community meetings. No Mayor and other city officials coming to the scene. Not even a mention of it in the newspaper. Finally—three days later—there was something on the NBC Washington website about the shooting. It was in this way that I learned the victim’s name…but nothing more.

Now, I don’t know if he was a gangbanger or an innocent bystander. But it was quite clear to me that nobody cared about that young man’s life (except the website Homicide Watch DC, which ultimately led me to your blog). I wondered, how can a person be so violently taken away and NOBODY is outraged. The next day, it was as if nothing happened. This leads me back to your comment, “i assumed a gang-banger had been shot. Most of the violence in this city, and cities around the country, is related to drug trade and gang related muck. Gang related violence is often ridiculously senseless; nevertheless it is also reality that most violence stems from this (in my 'hood).”

1. I submit to you that gang violence is not senseless. It makes perfect sense when one takes into account the dynamics of chronic poverty, substandard education, and chronic unemployment. I do not champion or excuse the resultant crime, but we should not brush it off as senseless. In a nutshell, poorly educated people are extremely difficult to employ (especially in a white collar town like DC). When these people cannot take part in the legitimate economic system, they must resort to some other means of survival or perish. For far too many, it becomes a decision point: perish; or rob people, steal from people and make money through the selling of illegal drugs to get what they need and want. Is it right? No, but to your point, that is the reality in far too many DC “hoods.”

2. If in your example it was indeed a gang banger who had been shot, what would have been your response? Would you have responded with an, “oh well…there goes another one…glad I’m not a gangbanger because It might have been me” attitude, or would you have responded with the same passion as you have in this blog, and applied the “wisdom to recognize” the problem and mustered up the “courage” to take the “responsibility” to do something about it?

To conclude, I would say: YES…You need to go to meetings. Lots of them. We all need to do that. ANC meetings, other community meetings, police meetings. We should all make sure we know all of our police commanders, lieutenants, sergeants and officers on a first name basis, and that they know us by name too. Trust me, they appreciate that from us and encourage it as well. But they will be the first ones to tell you that locking people up, as with restricting guns, is not the total answer. As you pointed out, this is not easy. Its sometimes scary, requires personal responsibility and commitment and lots of time. But after all, isn’t that what it means to be a part of a community?