The most unusual aspect about the Aug. 28 shooting and attempted armed robbery of Washington Commanders running back Brian Robinson Jr. was that he decided to fight back. Fortunately, the promising NFL rookie got away with his life and is on the road to recovery. Just about everything else about the incident followed a now-familiar script.
Police Chief Robert J. Contee III showed up at the scene to announce they were looking for two teenage suspects. Contee repeated a declaration he has made at past crime scenes that residents should feel safe in the city. He acknowledged, however, that when situations such as Robinson’s carjacking get in the news, “they make people feel less safe.” No kidding.
Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) was on hand to repeat her demand that gun users, regardless of age, should face “clear and certain consequences.” She didn’t spell out what those consequences should be, but said the criminal justice system must get people who use guns on a “different trajectory.” Toward what? Didn’t say.
It fell to council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), the Judiciary Committee chairman who oversees public safety agencies, to state the obvious: “We’ve seen a disturbing trend.”
Said Allen, “A number of armed robberies and thefts, where we’re seeing younger people be a part of that.” They were, Allen said, “carrying a gun to commit an armed robbery, somebody was shot.” Echoing Bowser, Allen declared, “There has to be accountability for that. There just has to be.”
That D.C. officialdom reaction was pretty much it.
What’s left to say?
Carjackings are a regular fixture on the D.C. crime scene. So, too, are young lawbreakers.
So far this year, according to the D.C. police department’s carjacking dashboard, there have been 330 carjacking offenses. That works out to well over one per day, and a leap of more than 25 percent over last year’s 264 recorded at the same time.
In the 1st Police District, where the Robinson shooting took place, there have been 64 carjackings, a 52 percent increase from last year.
Most of the time, carjackers brandished guns. Reports show a firearm was present in 240, or 73 percent, of total carjackings.
But here’s the most sobering statistic of all: Two-thirds of this year’s carjacking arrests involve juveniles. The Carjacking Dashboard age distribution shows:
· Age 13 — six arrests.
· Age 14 — 12 arrests.
· Age 15 — 16 arrests.
· Age 16 — 18 arrests.
· Age 17 — 10 arrests.
· Age 18 — eight arrests.
· Ages 19 to 23 — 11 arrests.
Thirteen-year-old kids violently commandeering cars? I don’t care what comes out of city hall; D.C., we are in trouble.
The last category is also pause-worthy.
The amended D.C. Youth Rehabilitation Act, spearheaded by Allen, provides that people 24 years old and younger who are convicted of and sentenced for a crime other than homicide are eligible to have their convictions sealed if they complete their sentences. At one time, 24-year-olds were considered adults who were responsible for their actions. Moreover, if a judge decides that a young person would be better served by probation instead of confinement, the judge can suspend the sentence and place the person on probation.
So, it follows that if any of Robinson’s assailants are under 25 and are arrested and charged, there’s no telling, if convicted, the extent to which they will be held accountable, notwithstanding Bowser’s plea for “consequences.”
Last year, Contee, facing soaring rates of gun violence, called for Allen and the D.C. Council to reevaluate whether gun offenders should be eligible for the Youth Rehabilitation Act’s lighter sentences and the provision that allows records to be wiped clean. Contee’s plea were not heard.
Allen, other city lawmakers and several criminal justice advocates contend that many younger offenders are not fully intellectually developed at the time of their offenses, and that their home lives and capacity for rehabilitation ought to weigh heavily in favor of leniency in sentencing.
This week, I tried to obtain current data on people sentenced under the Youth Rehabilitation Act, and whether the city’s changes have reduced recidivism and made D.C.’s streets safer.
The office of the D.C. attorney general told me: “The vast majority of Youth Rehabilitation Act cases are handled by the U.S. attorney’s office. We don’t keep track of them in any reports.”
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office stated: “I’m not aware of any USAO data or recent statements that we have made on the YRA.”
The spokesman did, however, refer me to the D.C. Sentencing Commission’s April 20 Annual Report submitted to the D.C. Council. The report analyzed felony sentences imposed last year by the D.C. Superior Court. The commission stated, however, that it had denied a request for information pertaining to sentences under the Youth Rehabilitation Act “because the Commission does not currently have reliable YRA data.”
Satisfied with that, city leaders?
Meanwhile, which will come first? Robinson’s return to the gridiron or his assailants going before the bar of justice? Does it even matter?