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D.C. Councilmember Robert White Jr. Discusses Spike in Youth Crime with Community Members

With youth crime and violence on the rise in the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. At-Large Councilmember Robert White Jr. hosted a virtual town hall meeting with community members, youth advocates and local officials to discuss solutions.

Substantial crime and violence rates among youth have been a conversation in D.C. (Photo courtesy of The D.C. Committee of Housing) 

District At-Large Councilmember Robert White Jr. streamed an hour-long virtual town hall discussion with teens and youth advocates across the District to discuss the pressing issue of increasing youth crime in the nation’s capital. 

Between 2016 and 2022, Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) officers averaged annual arrests of 2,235 juveniles under the age of 18, as reported by the D.C. Policy Center. The juvenile arrest rate in the nation’s capital is nearly double the rate of the national arrest rate for youth throughout the country, and an average of 52 arrests per 1,000 children and youth between the ages of 10 and 17.

“We see a surge of young people engaging in serious crime. We are seeing kids as young as nine and ten getting involved in carjackings,” White said during the virtual convening

According to the Metropolitan Police Department, from July to December of 2023, hundreds of juvenile arrests were made due to crimes such as armed carjackings, robberies and burglaries.

“The percentage of all crimes committed by youth is still low, but the number of crimes committed by youth has risen substantially and the severity of crimes committed by youth has become alarming,” White said in an interview with The Hilltop.

“We are seeing armed kids who are barely nine years old,” he explained. 

According to a 2022 report by the D.C. Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (CJCC), 4 percent of public school youth between the ages of 10 and 18 years old became involved in the District’s juvenile justice system during the 2018-19 and 2019-20 academic school years. The report found that on average, justice-involved youth were 15.5 years old and more likely to be Black males who experienced homelessness and were eligible for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

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These rates of youth crime and violence have led to Mayor Muriel Bowser establishing various anti-crime legislative acts last year, such as the Safer Stronger Amendment Act in May 2023, the Prioritizing Public Safety Emergency Amendment Act of 2023 in July and the Juvenile Curfew Enforcement Pilot program in August 2023. 

Aside from the legislation that has been put into place, White asked community members important questions during the town hall about who should be held responsible for what is happening in the city, and what needs to be done as a community to reduce the trend of increasing youth crime. 

“We as a community need to step up. With all these kids dying we always go to a funeral and say ‘rest in peace’ but then somebody dies after that,” Reverend Missy Jackson said during White’s virtual meeting. 

Because children are impacted by youth crime in the nation’s capital, the question of whether parents should be held responsible for the actions of their children arose. However, youth advocate and author, Tony Lewis, explained that the situation is more complex. 

“It is hard to keep your eyes on a child at all times. Even when there’s two parents,” Lewis said during the virtual meeting.

Lewis’ perspective may have deviated from the original belief of parents being held accountable for youth crime, but this view is something that seems to be agreed upon by a youth educator in the city who works with children daily.

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“If your parents are working long hours it’s difficult to be there for that transition time right after school and so that free time I think just needs to be taken up more with sufficient activities,” Lee Vason, the dean of students at Howard Middle School, said. 

Vason also mentioned how students need to be guided in the right direction when it comes to the responsibilities they have to take on when their parents are not home.

“I feel like many students have a lot of autonomy because of their parent’s work schedules. Meaning they have to get themselves to and from school,” Vason said.

While officials and residents of the District consider whether or not parents should be held accountable for the crimes committed by their children, providing youth with viable options to stay engaged in positive activities appears to be a commonly agreed-upon solution that aims to keep D.C. youth out of trouble.

According to the National Recreation and Park Association, recreational centers for young people have shown some success in keeping young people out of harm’s way. Kennedi Molden, a freshman elementary education major at Howard University, agrees with this notion. 

“I definitely think we need more recreational centers to get kids both off the streets and out of the house because sometimes home life is not good,” Molden, an Illinois native, said.

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As the city’s stakeholders focus on resolving the important issues of public safety and reducing crimes committed by youth in the D.C. community,  White is focused on meeting the interests of the District’s young people.

“A lot of people talk about young people in our cities, but they don’t talk to them,” White said during the virtual town hall.

Copy edited by Alana Matthew 


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