The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Politics

March 15, 2013

Violence-Plagued Urban Neighborhood Feels Ignored in Gun Debate

(Continued)

The president is pressuring Congress to enact tougher gun laws, including requiring criminal background checks for all gun sales, allocating funds to hire more police officers and instituting a federal gun-trafficking statute. The background check bill could be the most vital to cities, said Robert Contee, commander of the police district that encompasses Capitol View.

"Will it stop every crime of violence? No. But we do know . . . if we don't do anything, we will keep getting the same results," he said.

Studies of gun violence in cities with endemic gun crime show that most of it is at least superficially related to gangs and drugs, according to research by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF).

That has been the story of Capitol View, which became caught up in the surge of crime and gun violence that accompanied the height of the crack epidemic in the District during the late 1980s and early 1990s.

"I can't count on my hands the number of kids who used to be on that corner that are now dead," Richard Hamilton, 74, a longtime resident, said one afternoon as he pulled his car away from 53rd Street NE and East Capitol Street.

He and other residents walked these streets in the early 1990s, holding three-hour-long evening marches intended to get drug dealers off them. For that brief time, the violence was quelled.

"Afterward, they came right back out," said Hamilton, a retired D.C. homicide detective who operates a security firm in the area.

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Most gun crimes in and around Capitol View have received little media attention, but one shooting made national headlines. In June 1999, Helen Foster-El, a 55-year-old grandmother and a resident of the East Capitol Dwellings housing complex, was slain while trying to shield children from a gun battle. The District government's lawyers later brought a lawsuit against gun manufacturers and distributors on behalf of Foster-El and other victims of gun violence. The suit, which sought millions of dollars in damages, lost.

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