July 23, 2019 at 8:53 am EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Mayor urges community to join campaign against illegal guns
illegal guns, gay news, Washington Blade
Mayor Muriel Bowser and D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham at a news conference on Monday urged city residents to anonymously report to police people they know who possess illegal firearms. (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro Jr.)

The LGBT community should join all District residents in responding to a special appeal made by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and Police Chief Peter Newsham on Monday for city residents to inform police of people they know who have illegal guns, according to District Police Lt. Brett Parson, who oversees the department’s LGBT Liaison Unit.

Bowser and Newsham issued their call for city residents to contact a police anonymous Firearm Tip Line following a five-day period beginning July 17 in which at least 19 people were shot in D.C., with eight of them shot fatally.

Among those shot to death was 11-year-old Karon Brown, who police say was struck by bullets fired by a suspect outside a McDonald’s restaurant at Naylor and Good Hope roads, S.E., where a fight broke out between adults and juveniles. Newsham said tips by outraged residents helped homicide detectives identify the suspect, who has been charged with second-degree murder

Although none of the 19 shootings were known to be LGBT related, Parson noted that the large majority of murders of LGBT people in the D.C. area in recent years, especially murders of transgender women of color, have been the result of gunfire.

According to D.C. police records, at least six transgender women and two gay men murdered in the D.C. area since 2000 died from gunshot wounds.

The mayor and Newsham made their appeal for residents to alert police of people they know who are in possession of illegal firearms at a July 22 news conference at D.C. police headquarters on Indiana Ave., N.W. They urged people who know someone in possession of an illegal firearm to anonymously text a message to the Tip Line at 50411 or by calling the anonymous Tip Line at 202-727-9099.

A reward of up to $2,500 is being offered to people whose tips lead to the confiscation of illegal firearms or the arrest of those in possession of such firearms.

“We need you to help us make our neighborhoods safe by letting us know about illegal guns, letting us know about people you know who are prepared to use them and have access to them,” Bowser said.

“Let us know before they kill somebody,” she said. “Let us know before they ruin their own lives by committing these tragic homicides.”

The latest spate of shootings follows the March 30 shooting death of transgender woman Ashanti Carmon, 27, and the June 13 shooting death of trans woman Zoe Spears, 23, within a four-block area in Fairmount Heights, Md., just across the D.C. line in Prince George’s County.

Last week, P.G. County Police arrested 33-year-old Baltimore resident Geraldo Thomas in connection with the Spears murder. They said they have yet to determine a motive for the killing.

“Gun violence knows no gender, it knows no sexual orientation,” Parson told the Blade when asked about the impact on the LGBT community of the city’s effort to persuade city residents to report people who possess illegal guns.

“Gun violence impacts our entire community,” he said. “And to the extent that anybody that lives, works, does business in the District of Columbia knows about an illegal fire arm, we want them to tell us,” Parson said.

“If you’re asking me if we have a specific appeal to the LGBT community, I don’t think you need to look very far to realize that Ashanti Carmon, Zoe Spears – and those are just the ones on the top of my head – they have all died as a result of gun violence,” he said in referring to recent and past LGBT murders in the D.C. area.

“Gun violence touches this community and it should be something this community is concerned about regardless of their race, their gender, or their sexual orientation,” Parson said.

In response to a question from the Blade, Newsham said at the news conference on Monday that D.C. police continue to investigate five separate incidents of assaults or threats against LGBT people in D.C. that have occurred over the past two months.

“As you know, we take that very seriously,” Newsham said. “The Special Liaison Unit has been in contact with all of the victims in those cases. I don’t have any significant progress to report,” he said. “But as we have updates I will provide them to you and make sure you have them.”

He noted that following the murders of Carmon and Spears, who lived in D.C., District police have been in close contact with P.G. County police.

“We have offered them our special services with our Special Liaison Unit if they want to take advantage of that because we do have such a great relationship with the LGBT community here in Washington, D.C.,” Newsham said.

Newsham told the Blade after the news conference that he disagrees with the interpretation of D.C.’s juvenile justice law that information cannot be disclosed about the disposition of cases in which juveniles are arrested for violent crimes, including crimes against LGBT people. He was referring to one of the five recent cases of anti-LGBT assaults in D.C. where two juvenile males and an adult male were arrested by D.C. police for assaulting a gay male couple on U Street, N.W. near the gay bar Nellie’s on June 16. One of the two victims was hospitalized and treated for broken teeth and other injuries.

The U.S. Attorney’s office said it dropped an assault charge against the adult on grounds that insufficient evidence existed to secure a conviction if the case went to trial. But the Office of the D.C. Attorney General, which prosecutes crimes committed by juveniles, has declined to say whether the two juveniles were still being prosecuted, saying the city’s juvenile justice law prevents the release of any information pertaining to a juvenile case.

“I would say I would personally disagree with the assessment that you can’t release the disposition of a [juvenile] case,” Newsham told the Blade. “My reading of the law is you keep the juvenile’s name and personal information private. I think the disposition of the case is something you should have access to,” he said.

“If it requires a legal change I would 100 percent support that legal change. I truly believe that the victim of a crime should know what’s going on with the case regardless of whether or not a juvenile or an adult is the subject,” he said.

Deputy D.C. Attorney General Elizabeth Wieser, who leads the Attorney General’s Division of Public Safety, said she disagrees with Newsham’s interpretation that the city’s juvenile justice law allows the release of the disposition of juvenile cases to the public. She said the law specifically prohibits the public release of any information about a juvenile case.

She said she also disagrees with Newsham’s comment implying that victims of crimes committed by juveniles are denied access to information on the disposition of their cases. Wieser said the law explicitly allows crime victims in juvenile cases to be informed of the disposition of such cases. She said her office routinely informs victims of crimes committed by juveniles of the status of their case and the outcome of the case such as whether the juvenile is found innocent or guilty and what the sentence a juvenile receives if convicted.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

© Copyright Brown, Naff, Pitts Omnimedia, Inc. 2019. All rights reserved.