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The Washington, D.C., chief of police said it was "unacceptable" that violent criminals who are arrested can be back on the streets in communities just weeks after their arrest, challenging reporters at the scene of a shooting to examine how the justice system is broken.
On Thursday evening, gunfire erupted in a popular area of the city, sending diners fleeing for their lives and resulting in two men being wounded. The shooting incident is part of a wave of violent crime experienced in the city. Last Friday, 6-year-old Nyiah Courtney was killed by gunfire that also injured five adults. On Saturday, baseball fans at the Washington Nationals game were horrified and fled after gunfire was heard outside of Nationals Park near the third base gate.
Standing at the scene of Thursday's shooting, Police Chief Robert Contee, who was born and raised in Washington, D.C., and has been a police officer for more than 30 years, told a gathered crowd of reporters that enough is enough.
"It's unacceptable in any community. The reality is, we have situations that happen like this in our city, all across our city. It's been happening all the time," said Contee, who noted that last year over 922 people were shot and 198 people were murdered in Washington, D.C.
"This should be shocking to the conscience of every person in our city. I don't care where you live. It's got the attention that it is gotten now because it's happened where it happened. Because we had an incident at the Nationals stadium. But this issue, this issue that's across our city, there are too many guns in our city," he said.
Telling the reporters he would give it to them straight, Contee continued: "The justice system we have right now, it is not functioning the way that it should. The courts are not open. That is a fact. Barely open. So cases from last year, from 2020, that happened during COVID, are violent criminals that have not been disposed of. [Where] do you think those individuals are? ... They're in community. They're in community and their cases have not been disposed of."
He asked if it was acceptable that an individual who is arrested for illegal firearm possession might be released back into the neighborhood as soon as three weeks later.
"Most of the communities that I've talked to have no clue what happens with these cases. They don't," Contee said. "But I'm going to tell you the truth. The real issue is we have a vicious cycle of bad actors who do things, no accountability, and they end up back in the community."
"You cannot coddle violent criminals, you cannot!" he emphasized.
"They might not want a job! They might not. They might not need services! What they may require is to be off of our streets because they're making it unsafe for us. And if that's what it requires, then that's what it requires and we have to own that. We have to own it because if not, we see more of this," he said, gesturing at the scene of the crime.
"When someone is shot people are outraged. I'm outraged every time. Of those 922, a lot of those 198 that died of that, I stood over many of those. Many of them. Watching families suffer when they don't have to! Because we're putting violent criminals, allowing them to be back out in community. That's unacceptable."
Courts in Washington, D.C., were closed during the COVID-19 pandemic. When prosecutors brought charges against individuals arrested by the police, many defendants were released under the supervision of the Pretrial Supervision Agency of D.C. (PSA) until their cases could be resolved.
According to Capital Community News, around 15,000 defendants were released under PSA supervision in fiscal year 2020.
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