Drugs and the DC way of death: Gang warfare and the use of ever more lethal guns ensure that Washington remains one of the world's most dangerous cities

LAST MONTH the death squads in the Haitian capital, Port-au- Prince, achieved a curious record by killing more people - 64 - than were murdered in Washington DC over the same month. Otherwise the record of the US capital as one of the most dangerous cities in the world looks secure. Out of a population of 650,000, no fewer than 445 people were murdered last year, a rate more than twice as high as cities with more violent reputations such as Miami and Los Angeles.

Of the 374 people murdered so far this year, 81 per cent were black men and 12 per cent black women. Only nine white men and three white women have been killed.

In 1960, when Washington had a larger population, there were just 81 murders. It is not, says Prof Willian Chambliss, a criminologist at George Washington University, that the overall level of violent crime is rising very fast but that it has become far more deadly. 'Guns are more efficient,' he says. 'The spread of semi-automatic handguns in the Eighties means that you are likely to be hit 12 or 13 times.' The increase in the number of rounds fired also means that bystanders are more likely to be hit.

Two deaths last month in the schoolyard of Weatherless Elementary School in south-east Washington are typical of the killings which are devastating the black community. As a group of adults and children were watching a game of touch football, four young black men carrying pistols came out of the woods surrounding the school and ran towards Kervin Brown, 26.

Brown was wounded as he tried to run. When he fell, one of his pursuers stood on him, firing into the body. In the spray of bullets Jaunice Smith, 4, was hit in the head and died in hospital.

The shooting was the result of a feud between two local drug gangs, or 'crews'. The alleged killers were almost immediately arrested and there were ritual calls for sending in the National Guard. The police said they had made 60,000 arrests in Washington over the last year and no less than 4.5 per cent of the capital's population are in jail.

Prof Chambliss says that mandatory sentences for drug offences have driven up the number of murders. He says: 'The increase in the penalty for drugs means that it always makes sense for a drugs dealer to kill a rival or an informant and the two are often the same. A life sentence for homicide means that you get an average of 16 to 18 years in prison. A mandatory sentence for selling drugs may put you inside for 40 years. For a professional criminal, killing makes sense.'

But drugs and mandatory sentences for dealing are present in other US cities with fewer homicides than Washington. An explanation for this may be paradoxically that the Washington police force is relatively incorrupt. In cities like Seattle and parts of New York City, the police take money from some drug dealers who are unofficially licensed to sell drugs in a certain area.

When an interloper arrives from the outside the reaction of a local drugs trader paying off the police is to ring them up and have his rival arrested. This does not really happen in Washington. Instead, local 'crews' respond to anybody else trying to compete by shooting him.

The Washington Post has started putting killings on the front page and not in the metro section, to which reports of the carnage were previously confined. But, until a senator or a congressman is caught in the crossfire, Washington's murder rate will continue to compete successfully with Port-au-Prince.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

h2 Recruit Ltd: Inside Sales Manager - Accountancy Software - £80,000 OTE

£50000 - £60000 per annum + £80,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Reading , Sou...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - BIM Software - £55,000 OTE

£40000 per annum + OTE £55,000 +Pension : h2 Recruit Ltd: An excellent opportu...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Commodities Brokers / Sales / Closers / Telesales

£10000 - £100000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Investment consultancy firm sp...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operative

£7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This high quality thread manufacturer is recr...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
10 best stocking fillers for foodies

Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

'I am a paedophile'

Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital