Washington DC’s City Council: Flawed Ideas that Begin in Nothing and Lead Nowhere

Washington DC’s City Council: Flawed Ideas that Begin in Nothing and Lead Nowhere

By Doug Wyllie

The DC City Council unveiled a new “emergency” crime bill just days after the tragic murder of an innocent 31-year-old husband and father of four from Afghanistan. Image courtesy of Flaglane.com.

In the early hours of the day on an early day in July, an innocent 31-year-old husband and father of four was gunned down in a senseless and seemingly random violent crime in our Nation’s Capital city.

Nasrat Ahmad Yar had spent much of his adult life working in service to the United States—working from a young age as an interpreter with U.S. Special Forces in Afghanistan—and was reportedly on the last flight out of the country during the US withdrawal in 2021.

According to NBC News, Nasrat and his family settled first in Philadelphia, quickly deemed the City of Brotherly Love to be too dangerous, and relocated to Northern Virginia “in pursuit of a better life.”

Nasrat was working overtime as a rideshare driver—he often drove up to 12 hours a day to provide for his family—when he encountered a group of four young people. A confrontation ensued, and Nasrat was left with a single—but fatal—gunshot wound to the abdomen.

Now his beloved wife and children—ages 15 months to 13 years old—are left not only without the family’s only breadwinner, but more importantly, without a person who was a gift of joy to anyone and everyone who knew him.

Predictably Tardy, Totally Performative

Just days after the death of Nasrat Ahmad Yar, the predictably tardy DC City Council unveiled a new “emergency” crime bill—a 90-day stopgap action easier to pass than a full legislative measure—incorporating some elements of a public safety bill introduced earlier this year that has been stymied by procedural inertia.

According to ABC News, Councilmember Brooke Pinto—who is essentially spearheading the new legislation—said to a gathering of reporters, “We are in a state of emergency right now … we have members of our community being shot and killed at rates that we haven’t seen for 20 years. That’s an emergency. Period. That was an emergency several months ago. That’s an emergency today.”

Indeed, the bill comes at a time when the homicide rate in DC has increased 17% year-to-date compared to last year, reported robberies are up 52% and motor vehicle thefts are up 117%. It’s more than merely plausible that Nasrat’s tragic case falls—in some capacity—into all three of those categories.

The emergency legislation could help prosecutors—if they were so inclined, and there’s little reason to believe that they are—more easily push for pretrial detention for adults and juveniles accused of crimes such as carjacking, felony assault, kidnapping, and weapons charges.

As she introduced her “emergency” bill, Pinto told reporters that in the first three months of 2023, D.C. saw more than 100 cases where people were out on pretrial release for alleged violent crimes and were rearrested for another alleged violent crime.

Mayor Muriel Bowser said of the proposed measure, “I think we’re going to be safer, because people who are committing violent crime won’t be on the street to commit more violent crime.”

However, even if Councilmember Pinto’s plan does come to fruition, the DC Charter requires that emergency legislation be in effect no longer than three calendar months, making the entire enterprise totally performative.

Willfully Negligent, Woefully Incompetent

This new allegedly “tough-on-crime” initiative by the City Council and the Mayor stands in stark contrast to the decidedly “soft-on-crime” approach they favored only a year ago. In fact, it took an Act of Congress—quite literally—to save the electorate from the misguided efforts of their elected officials.

Earlier this year, the United States Senate overwhelmingly approved—by a rare bipartisan margin of 81-14—a resolution blocking the District of Columbia’s Revised Criminal Code Act (RCCA) of 2022. Just weeks prior to the Senate action, the House voted 250-173 to override the bill.

According to the New York Post, the 2022 RCCA—approved by a unanimous vote of the DC City Council—would have changed DC’s criminal code and eliminated virtually all the mandatory minimum sentencing requirements for violent crimes and drastically reduced the maximum penalties allowable to the courts during the sentencing phase of criminal proceedings. For example, it would have lowered the maximum sentence for armed carjacking from 40 years to just 24 years. The maximum penalty for armed robbery would be reduced from 45 years to 20 years.

Let’s pause a moment to consider the composition of this governing body that passed this monstrosity without so much as one single dissenting vote.

Comprised of one member from each of the city’s eight wards and five others—including the Chairman—elected at-large, the DC City Council is presently “led” by Chairman Phil Mendelson. At-Large Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie holds the title of Chair Pro Tempore.

The other At-Large Councilmembers are Anita Bond, Christina Henderson, and Robert White (Jr.) and the members from the eight wards are Charles Allen, Matthew Frumin, Janeese Lewis George, Vincent Gray, Brianne Nadeau, Zachary Parker, Brooke Pinto, and Trayon White (Sr.).

Among this group, at least four lay claim to having graduated law school, and several tout advanced degrees in things like education and public administration. Their combined terms in office—varying between one and 25 years of service each—come to just under a century’s worth of experience.

So pressing this “reform” legislation in one unified voice makes them either willfully negligent, totally incompetent, or some measure of both.

Mayor Bowser—to her credit and to the surprise of her critics—vetoed the 2022 RCCA. That veto was then overridden by the City Council, thus necessitating action by the Congress, which has ultimate jurisdiction in such matters.

Interestingly, it was the first time in more than three decades that Congress blocked a DC law.

Historically Troubled, Particularly Violent

While New York is known colloquially as “The Big Apple” and New Orleans is “The Big Easy” and Las Vegas is “Sin City,” the District of Columbia has struggled to find an agreed-upon nickname. One of the early nicknames proffered was “The American Rome.”

Perhaps considered darkly foreboding—although still potentially accurate—that moniker melted quickly into the mist.

In March 1842, Charles Dickens wrote about his visit to DC, saying the then-unfinished—but already troubled—city had broad streets that “want houses … and inhabitants” and “spacious avenues that begin in nothing, and lead nowhere.”

Dickens observed further that the place “is sometimes called the ‘City of Magnificent Distance’ but it might with greater propriety be termed the ‘City of Magnificent Intentions’.”

Dickens’s optimistic sobriquet fell flat.

Shortly after the Truman Doctrine and the creation of NATO, many began to call DC—apparently absent any element of humility—the “Capital of the Free World.”

Some still call it that, but usually with a heaping helping of irony.

After the passage of the District of Columbia’s Home Rule Act in 1973, DC briefly took on the moniker “Chocolate City” when the musical group Parliament—arguably the best Funk band of all time—released a song of that name. In it, George Clinton riffed, “You don’t need the bullet when you got the ballot.”

That 1970s handle—formed at the nexus of Black Power movement and pop culture—didn’t stick either.

The years passed the bullets struck home, and by the 1980s—a time during which many believe DC reached its absolute nadir—the city became known as the “Murder Capitol of the America.”

Mere mention of neighborhood names like Anacostia or Deanwood or Shaw or Trinidad or U Street immediately brought to mind images of assaults, burglaries, robberies, rapes, and homicides.

Today there are other American cities that have a higher per-capita murder rate than DC, but the city’s reputation as dangerous and unpleasant remains.

Dickens’ physical description of DC in 1842 is manifested today in the ideology of its political elites—particularly the members of the City Council.

As Dickens then described the empty boulevards and fields of fallow marshland, we can now describe DC’s City Hall—full of flawed ideas that begin in nothing, and lead nowhere.