Holy Week is all about sin and suffering, death and redemption. We end the period of mourning with Easter morning, the hope that comes with our belief in Resurrection.
Tragically, Holy Week in southeast Washington began with multiple murders on the edge of our city. In a neighborhood that knows too much suffering and death, with too little redemption or hope, the crime is both familiar and shocking. Four people dead, five wounded, three young men in custody. The all-too-familiar rituals of candlelight vigils, somber words from the mayor, sobs from the grandmothers and strong vows to end the violence fill the airwaves.
Violence begat violence: an argument over a missing bracelet turned into the homicide of one young man, whose funeral set the stage for the next appalling act of revenge, a carful of young men spraying a crowd with an AK-47. The driver was a 14 year-old boy with a rap sheet longer than his years. With no hope for any kind of a productive future, too many young men in our most impoverished neighborhoods live only for the moment, dropping out of school, living outside of conventional social structures of work or education that might provide some meaning and guidance, perpetrating the most heinous acts of violence that foreshadow their own ultimate demise into prison or violent death.
The crime is appalling. But equally sickening are the “comments” attached to the story in the Washington Post. The racism and sheer malevolence of many of the comments tears open the shameful dirty little secret of this society once more: violence and hatred course through the veins of our society, spewing poisonous venom prolifically. Condemning an entire neighborhood to hell saves not a single soul in the city from the next violent eruption.
Many, many good people are pouring countless hours and millions of dollars into efforts to improve the neighborhoods “east of the river” in the most forgotten and blighted parts of the District of Columbia. Trinity is deeply committed to this part of the city, having planted our flag along with other educational and service institutions at THEARC on Mississippi Avenue, a project developed by the William C. Smith Companies through Building Bridges Across the River. We joined forces there with the Corcoran School of Art, Washington Ballet, Levine School of Music, Washington Middle School for Girls, Children’s Hospital, the Boys & Girls Clubs, Covenant House and Parklands Community to provide a magnet for learning, recreation and healthy living in southeast. We are also partners with the D.C. College Success Foundation, funded by the Gates Foundation, providing hundreds of college scholarships for young women and men from Wards 7 and 8.
But even with so many organizations working in partnership to improve opportunities for education and improved employment for residents in these troubled neighborhoods, the plague of violence lurks on the corners every day, waiting to strike at the slightest sense of disrespect. Lacking jobs or diplomas or other conventional measures of self-worth, for too many young people in poverty, “respect” comes down to the most ephemeral totems: a look, a word, a bracelet, a gun.
Our city will not be redeemed unless and until we find a way to relieve the suffering of the neighborhoods most afflicted by poverty and its inseparable twin, violence. Many factors collude to prevent effective solutions, not the least of which is the continuing disenfranchisement of this city that also has huge social anomalies: the highest number of advanced degrees and a 35% adult illiteracy rate; the highest urban per-capita income and highest poverty rate; most powerful people in the world and worst public schools. We can build all of the condos and office buildings and stadiums money can buy, we can burnish the tourist sector and open new $500-per-night hotels all over town, but if the edges of the city remain places of despair and hopelessness, the nation’s capital will continue to be a national shame.