Democratic candidates running for mayor of Washington, D.C. offered varying excuses – including a lack of after school programs, mental health and the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic – to explain surging carjackings in the nation’s capital being committing majorly by juvenile offenders.
Running for re-election in November, Mayor Muriel Bowser, who christened a downtown D.C. street "Black Lives Matter" plaza at the height of June 2020 unrest following George Floyd’s death when former President Trump still resided at the White House, did not mention the defund police movement in her response to a question seeking what she believed to be the "root cause" of the district seeing 420 carjackings in the last calendar year, and just 150 arrests – two thirds of those being juveniles.
Bowser, however, did admit that the government cannot do it all when it comes to raising children, suggesting indirectly that the increased juvenile crime correlates to the degradation of families.
"I’m going to say something a little different than my colleagues here because if anyone promises you the government can do it all, they are woefully mistaken," Bowser said. "What we know is strong kids, healthy kids, come from strong families and healthy families and how we pour into families matters.
Later in the debate, Bowser did seek to tie her opponents to the defund movement.
The incumbent mayor argued that’s why investments in affordable housing, quality health care across all eight wards and schools and "school reforms" matters in deterring juvenile crime.
"The truth is we very much have to focus on our young people," she said. "This pandemic has upended their lives. They’re coming back to school, finding it very hard to acclimate, and not only are they having problems in schools but they’re having and creating serious problems in the neighborhood."
Asked the same question regarding carjackings committed by primarily minor offenders, Democratic councilmember Trayon White of Ward 8 described himself as "an anomaly" of his neighborhood, noting the "divestment" in youth and young adult services in D.C.
"We can’t say we care about the youth and young adults and divest in their services," he said during Wednesday night’s debate. "You hear a person saying I want a mentor for my child. I want somewhere for my child to go after school. If we don’t build something constructive for them to do it leaves them to do stuff destructive, and so under my leadership, my job is to put our money where our mouth is and invest in our young people so they can have a brighter future right here in our city."
The third participant in the debate, Councilmember Robert White Jr., responded to the uptick in carjackings committed by youth by placing blame on schools for not supporting children of color.
"For most of my youth, I was a failing student who was counted out like a lot of the young people we are seeing spiraling in our city. They’re spiraling because our schools are not strong enough for children of color," he said Wednesday, garnering applause.
He continued: "60% of Black and Brown students are behind grade level, and that is one of the causes. One of the other causes is that we are not treating the mental health, the trauma that these young people are experiencing. We keep pointing at them and saying ‘you young people have failed us.’"
"The reality is that we have failed these young people not giving them the out of school time programs they need, not giving them the mental health support they need," White Jr. said. "We have to do better for these young people, and we have to do better in return."