The Wash

Ward 6 commissioners pen letter to mayor over H Street crime

The spike in crime on the H Street corridor raises safety concerns amongst residents in the more residential NoMa neighborhood.

Juvenile gang violence, marijuana gifting, and firearms. Those are a few reasons that residents say are responsible for the uptick in crime in their neighborhood, according to the letter sent by Advisory Neighborhood Committee 6C to Mayor Muriel Bowser.

The letter was born out of heated complaints from residents at an October online meeting of ANC 6C over crime spilling over into the neighborhood from H Street NE. The jurisdiction of the neighborhood committee in Ward 6 stretches from East Capitol Street NE on Capitol Hill to the intersection of Florida and New York avenues NE in NoMa.

“It’s great to have parks and other things that we’re talking about like transportation,” said one of the residents on the call. “But if we don’t get the crime fixed, none of that really matters, in my opinion.”

All incidents of crime in NoMa went up by 75 since last year, according to data from the Metropolitan Police Department. Some of the biggest increases were due to higher motor vehicle and auto theft in the neighborhood.

MPD crime statistics for NoMa (source: MPD Crime Maps)

NoMa, a residential neighborhood, borders the H Street corridor, a one-and-a-half-mile road peppered with stores and restaurants. Most residents on the call questioned whether the increase in crime near their houses has been due to a spillover effect from the more commercial street.

Joel Kelty, a commissioner with ANC 6C, has also been a resident of the H Street quarter for about 22 years. He recalled the evolution of the street from a not-so-vibrant place known for drugs to a lively, racially integrated neighborhood.

“We used to joke back in the old days that H was for heroin,” he said.

But according to Kelty, the District hasn’t done enough to maintain its investment into H Street.

Shops and restaurants pepper the pavement on H Street

“A lot of the cobblestones are loose or missing. A lot of the trees are dead. The tree boxes are just dirt,” he said.

While the District might have had a “great vision” for H Street, Kelty said that it’s become increasingly unclear and “there’s no follow through on maintaining it.”

“I think the lack of vision allows things like high crime to flourish,” he said.

Crime on the commercial corridor made headlines in August when Washington Commanders rookie running back Brian Robinson Jr. was shot on 1000 block of H Street NE during an attempted robbery. The suspects arrested by the MPD were juveniles aged 16 and 14.

But while this renewed attention to crime on the street might be new for some, for shop owners and workers on the corridor, it’s become normal.

“I’ve just grown so used to it,” said Nicolle Lettau, the general manager at Atlas Doghouse. “When the sirens go by I’m like, ‘Oh, look, something else is happening.’ So, I’ve definitely noticed more frequency in the sirens and things going on out there.”

Lettau said that she doesn’t see an easy fix for the safety on the street but recommended investing in more resources for the community who live there.

“Everything that pops up these days is like luxury condos and super fancy restaurants. And I feel like it’s at odds with the rest of the people around here,” she said.

Archie Twyman, who works at a store that “gifts” marijuana, agreed that more should be done by the District for youth in the area. While some might blame the crime on the ‘marijuana gifting’ in the area, Twyman disagreed.

“I don’t think the gifting or the marijuana is making crime go up. Crime has been going up in this city year after year since I was born,” he said.

Twyman argued that the ‘marijuana gifting’ in fact ought to be lowering the crime rate in the area.

“As a Black man that has been charged with misdemeanors for possession and felonies just for marijuana, and to see that as legalized, I felt like why I think we’re moving in a good direction as a nation,” he said.

Blaming the entirety of the neighborhood’s problems with crime on marijuana is “low hanging fruit” and “easy to blame” said Ralph McLean, commander of the Metropolitan Police Department’s fifth district.

McLean said that the District’s problems with crime go far beyond just one or two factors. As a 40-year-veteran of the MPD, he said he has been a first-line observer to the crime in the District and all the initiatives taken against it.

But as the police evolve, so do the criminals.

An MPD police car whizzes through the traffic on H Street.

“We jokingly referred to this kind of crimefighting as ‘Whack-a-Mole,” he said. “Because you can press it down in one place, it can generally pop up in another place. They adjust to us as much as we adjust to them.”

The newest crime trend in NoMa is automobile theft, said McLean. It’s an observation that Kelty made too.

“You have to a little bit admire the entrepreneurial creativity of some of these people. The latest thing is stealing wheels off of Hondas,” he said.

As solutions to the problem, residents and ANC 6C commissioners in the letter to the Mayor specifically outline the need for upgraded MPD-monitored security cameras and as well as new installations of more cameras in high-crime areas on the street.

Since, Kelty said that they have received a response from the Mayor’s office but described it as unsatisfying.

“I’m not sure that the mayor and the council fully understand the scope of the problem,” Kelty stressed.

Shwetha Surendran

I'm Shwetha Surendran, a journalism graduate student at American University. I cover all things NoMa as a beat for The Wash.

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