WASHINGTON – The boos began as soon as Washington's mayor said she was putting more police officers on the streets in neighborhoods affected by violent crime. They didn't let up for the next 18 minutes as Democrat Muriel Bowser laid out her plans to address an increase in homicides in the nation's capital.
Bowser was repeatedly heckled and interrupted by a few dozen protesters affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement during her address Thursday inside the sweltering gymnasium of a long-shuttered school in southeast Washington.
Shouting "Jobs, not jails!" and "More police is not the answer!," the protesters accused the mayor of failing to address the root causes of violence and advocating for policies that would do more harm than good.
Bowser, who is black, said she wanted "to make 'Black Lives Matter' more than just a hashtag.'" The hecklers said they didn't believe her.
"I think she doesn't really care. From the beginning, the mayor has been completely aloof from the broader conversation that the Black Lives Matter movement is driving," said Eugene Puryear, a protest organizer. "At the end of the day, tougher penalties and more cops, which have only been proven to have a negative effect, are something that she's going to continue to support."
There have been 103 slayings in the District of Columbia this year, a 43 percent increase over this point last year and just two fewer than in all of 2014. The increase in violent crime has represented the first real crisis for Bowser, who took office in January and pledged a "fresh start" for the city after her predecessor was dogged by campaign-related scandals.
Police officers are already working overtime in neighborhoods where violence has been most prevalent. Most of Bowser's other proposals will require D.C. Council approval and take at least months to implement.
Among her legislative goals is to authorize warrantless searches of violent offenders released on parole or probation to look for illegal guns. The protesters argued those searches would put innocent people at risk.
The mayor's supporters stood and applauded to try to drown out the hecklers, and her staff attempted to restore order. No one was arrested or escorted from the building, and the mayor mostly ignored the shouts and forged ahead with her speech.
"I will not be shouted down or scared away when it comes to the safety of the District of Columbia," Bowser said.
Afterward, the mayor said she agreed with the protesters more than they were willing to acknowledge.
"I don't come across any citizen of this city, any Washingtonian, that says it's OK to commit murder," she said. "I don't come across anybody that says repeat violent offenders should have access to guns."
She and Police Commissioner Cathy Lanier also said many community members have been asking for more officers on the streets.
Outside the school, which Bowser said would be converted into a temporary community center offering city services, was a collection of stuffed animals and empty liquor bottles marking the spot where 18-year-old Shaun Simmons was fatally shot on Aug. 1. His mother, Shantee Simmons, said she agreed with the mayor's approach. A friend, Robin McKinney, said the protesters were rude.
"None of them came to support her when her son died," said McKinney, who is black. "None of that 'Black Lives Matter' came and supported her."