News & Politics

No Answers for Why DC Didn’t Break Up a Block Party That Turned Deadly

Even before the shooting, it was a large, crowded gathering in the middle of a pandemic.

22 people were shot at a block party in Southeast DC on Saturday. 17-year-old Christopher Brown was killed; a 22-year-old off-duty DC Police officer was seriously injured. Over 100 rounds were fired at the scene at the 3300 block of Dubois Place SE. DC Police believe there were at least four shooters present all firing at the same time. DC Police Chief Peter Newsham said in a press conference today there’s no indication this was an officer-involved shooting.

DC Police had knowledge of the event beforehand, as the group was advertising the party via a flyer on social media, Newsham said. Newsham said DC Police gets notice of dozens of events like these every weekend. Oftentimes, not enough people show up to exceed the Mayor’s 50-person mass gathering limit.

But that’s exactly what happened on Saturday night. With hundreds of attendees and just six officers present, Newsham said there wasn’t enough of a police force present to safely disperse the mass gathering. Newsham is unsure why the Sixth District didn’t deploy more officers to the scene; the DC Police Department will be investigating that lack of response. DC Police are considering charging the party organizers with failing to follow the Mayor’s order regarding large gatherings.

Both Mayor Muriel Bowser and Newsham said they were committed to reducing gun violence in the District, and that they’re working with every agency to figure out how to address the problem. 570 people have been shot in DC this year, 46 of those in the last week. Neither announced any kind of concrete details about how they would combat the issue.

Government officials have spoken often over the past five months about the other notable dimension of the event: Its lack of social distancing. The mayor has called on people to stay home and wear masks. She’s ordered a ban on mass gatherings. And yet there’s little clarity on how the strictures are enforced—or even if they are.

Newsham said large, unpermitted gatherings like these frequently take place in the city. When pressed on whether she would makes changes regarding the enforcement of her Covid-related Mayor’s orders, Bowser grew frustrated with reporters—saying their coverage focused on mass gatherings when it should be focusing on the gun violence that claimed a young life and endangered so many others.

The contrast, though, was perhaps not as clear as the mayor intended: For months, people have been told that mass gatherings can cost lives even if no gunfire happens. While she acknowledged the city needed to ensure mass gatherings of this size didn’t happen again, Bowser failed to provide any concrete details about the city’s plans for future enforcement.

“Is it against the law to carry a weapon if you’re 16 years old and shoot it at three people?” Bowser asked reporters. “What we’re dealing with is people who will violate the law…You’re asking me to highlight a Mayor’s order that ‘you can’t gather’ or ‘you must wear a mask’ to a person who has a gun and will shoot it into a crowd of girls. We have to think about new ways to communicate to a person who would do that.”

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Jane Recker
Assistant Editor

Jane is a Chicago transplant who now calls Cleveland Park her home. Before joining Washingtonian, she wrote for Smithsonian Magazine and the Chicago Sun-Times. She is a graduate of Northwestern University, where she studied journalism and opera.