Two years ago this month, an innocent gathering of teenagers who had attended the funeral of a friend came under gunfire. In what became known as the South Capitol Street Massacre, a minivan spitting bullets glided by. Four young people died, another six were injured.
Now the trial of five men accused in the shootings is unfolding in Superior Court. Prosecutors are two weeks into presenting evidence in a case that might last months. For those of us who have seen and reported on too many murders of young people by young people, two factors in the violence stand out as repetitive and perhaps correctable.
First, those charged as the shooters had been showing signs of being uncivilized and capable of extreme violence from their early days. Sanquan Carter, for example, had been in the custody of D.C.'s Department of Youth and Rehabilitation Services many times for crimes he had committed as a juvenile. DYRS released Carter days before he allegedly shot and killed Jordan Howe, which started the retaliations that involved an attempt on his brother, Orlando, and culminated in the massacre after Howe's funeral.
Second, police might have been able to nab the Carter boys and their three co-defendants, because kids in the neighborhood had witnessed the violence leading up to the mass shooting. But no one would talk because they wanted retribution, or they were scared of "snitching" to police.
Besides hoping for justice, what can be done to prevent future bloodshed?
David Catania has "the carrot." The at-large council member's "South Capitol Street Tragedy Memorial Act" is scheduled to have its first reading before the D.C. Council on Tuesday. Catania has proposed a bill that would gather data on troubled kids, place mental health services in all schools, use truancy as a trigger to intervene in families with troubled kids, train teachers and juvenile offender personnel to detect mental health problems.
All good, but Catania admits his bill falls short on consequences, such as laws in some states that fine parents or withhold benefits if their kids don't attend school. "I cannot get majority support for consequences and punishment," he says. "I would get an avalanche of crybabies about why I cannot hold parents directly accountable."
Which leaves "the stick" of accountability to the feds, namely U.S. Attorney Ron Machen. Federal prosecutors have gotten convictions and heavy sentences in five cases over the past year in which they charged defendants with intimidating -- or in some cases, killing -- witnesses. Mark Pray and his associates are on trial now in federal court for running a violent drug ring in Barry Farms and killing Crystal Washington in 2009, a day before she was scheduled to testify against him.
"We have sent a message today this will not be tolerated," Machen said when Pray was indicted.
The message didn't get out to the Carter brothers and their three co-defendants, but it's worth sending, again and again.
Harry Jaffe's column appears on Tuesday and Friday. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.