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Community Groups, Police Fight Gun-related 'Crime Wave' in Washington

Gun violence is on the rise in Washington. Since the first of the year, dozens of people have been murdered and wounded in a rash of shootings. With a population of over half a million people, the nation's capital has already recorded dozens of homicides this year, the rate keeping pace with last year. And police say there have been a greater number of gun-related crimes, leaving many people in the community angry and frustrated. VOA Chris Simkins reports on what some community activists and the police are doing to decrease the violence.

On any given night in many parts of Washington, the quiet of the evening can be broken by sounds of gun fire. Over the last several months shootings in the city have risen sharply.

Local television newscasts report on the rash of shootings almost daily: "Detectives in Washington's sixth police district are investigating three shootings today alone. The man who was shot died tonight."

Despite having some of the toughest gun laws in the country there were 338 gun crimes in the District of Columbia from March through the end of April.

Ronald Moten is angry about what he calls the endless cycle of violence in Washington. Moten and his group called "Peaceoholics" organized this march to denounce the street crimes and encourage young people to stay out of trouble.

"They are not taught how to survive and the only way they are taught to survive is from what they learn on the streets. If you don't have the skills or if you are not educated or motivated to do the right thing then you tend to fall through the cracks," Moten said.

Many of the shootings involve young African American teenagers and those in their 20's and 30's, which reflects national crime statistics. The shootings are often drug or gang related.

"There is a time and a need sometimes for a public rally cry, a public display of support for a murder free DC," says David Bowers, Community Activist against DC Crime.

Thirty eight-year-old Bowers is trying to raise community awareness about what some see as a crime wave. In 2000, he founded a group called "No Murders DC".

Bowers says he wants young people to become actively involved in the anti-violence movement. He says, "One of the issues is how can we get young people who tend to be unfortunately the perpetrators and the victims of violence, let's get their input. Too often we look at them as the problem as opposed to potential players in the solution."

The police are responding by deploying 1,200 officers to patrol neighborhoods over several three day periods. The Metropolitan Police Department has also placed several thousand video surveillance cameras in neighborhoods. Officers hope to capture the faces of criminals.

Bowers says he and members of an anti-crime task force want to go further, "This report is going to speak to issues ranging from mental health, housing, to job training, to law enforcement."

Meanwhile, community activists say they fear the city's crime wave will continue during the hot summer months of June, July and August when there are typically more shootings and homicides.