Sunday, August 1, 2021


The recent shooting death of a six-year-old girl, Nyiah Courtney, has once again enraged our city and brought the issue of neighborhood violence to the forefront. There have been more than 90 murders in Washington D.C. this year alone. For the fourth straight year, homicides are rising.

For me, neighborhood homicide is a personal family matter. 

In the fall of 2018, my two nephews became the victims of gun violence in Washington DC. Taquan Smith was murdered in October of 2018 on Alabama Ave SE, two blocks from where his mother lives. Javone Smith was murdered a month later on 9th Street NW.

My sister was forced to say goodbye to her only two sons within one month. The death of my nephews had a devastating impact on our lives mentally, physically, and financially. Life as we knew it was over.  

Police brutality against unarmed Black people has rightly generated national outrage. But criminal violence takes the lives of far more Black people than police brutality does.

When a Black youth is killed by the hands of the police, it becomes front-page news. But when a Black youth is killed by the hands of a Black or brown person, it becomes just another senseless murder. 

Washington, DC, is not alone in facing a growing epidemic of criminal violence. American cities saw a 33% increase in criminal homicides in 2020. This year, homicide rates in large cities are up nearly 25% percent for the beginning of 2021.

My family was rocked after the death of Taquan and Javone. We were outraged and depressed, angry and devastated all at the same time. We were sick of the violence of the crime in our neighborhood and wanted to do something about it. 

In 2014, I started a nonprofit called Momma’s Safe Haven to create a place where mothers could support each other and help make their voices heard. We have a couple of programs that focus on healing and restoration for these families. We host Healing Retreats, we offer free grief counseling and support groups, and we even offer financial assistance. Now that we have become part of Woodson Center’s Voices of Black Mothers United initiative, we have a chance to amplify our voices nationwide.

While our main goal is healing, we also know that healing can’t fully happen if we don’t stop crime. We are tired of the violence; we want solutions. 

This is why we are speaking out against defunding the police. This movement has made things worse by pushing law-enforcement away and making them more hesitant about protecting our neighborhoods. Police presence in our neighborhoods is smaller, and it’s making our streets more unsafe.

Black people do not want the police to be pushed out and defunded. In a national poll last year, 81% of Black people said they want more, not less, police presence in their communities. We need funding to train police for conflict resolution skills and tactics to discourage excessive and irresponsible law enforcement tactics. That doesn’t happen with defunding.

In addition, we need a better approach to community relations and youth engagement. My group of moms works to strengthen partnerships between young people, community groups, and law enforcement. We invite more leaders into our neighborhoods to get to know the people. Building these relationships will deter violent crime and build trust when investigations are required. 

For the corporations that are funding anti-racist initiatives, please consider supporting local organizations investing in at-risk young people and anti-violence zones. Those investments will save Black lives. 

For the sake of all Washington, DC residents, we must address the epidemic of violence together. That means listening to the families of murdered children and keeping our police force intact in the communities that need protection. We’ve had enough, and we don’t want another mother to experience the pain of burying a murdered child. 

• Beverly Smith-Brown lives in Southeast Washington, DC, and is the Lead Coordinator for D.C., Maryland, and Virginia for the Woodson Center’s Voices of Black Mothers United initiative, and is the President of Momma’s Safe Haven.

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