July Homicide Total Rises To 14 In District

Allison Klein, Washington Post, July 12, 2006

D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey reacted yesterday to a recent surge in homicides by declaring a “crime emergency,” a move that gives him the freedom to quickly adjust officers’ schedules and restrict their days off.

Fourteen people have been killed since July 1 in the District, in all quadrants of the city, and police are being pressured to take action by residents at community meetings and vigils to honor the dead.

The victims included a popular store owner slain at closing time, a community activist killed in a park and a British citizen whose throat was slit in Georgetown.

The most recent to die was 23-year-old Michael Dorsey, of Capitol Heights. He was found shot in the chest just after 2 a.m. this morning, in the hallway of an apartment building of Gallaudet St. NE. Three other people were also shot in the city overnight, but were expected to live, police said.

“You can’t make sense of it because it doesn’t make any sense,” Ramsey said yesterday, hours before Dorsey was slain. “Thirteen people is simply unacceptable by anyone’s standards. We have to do something right now.”

The declaration came on the same day that Ramsey transferred a police official who was accused of making a racially insensitive remark at a community meeting Monday night in Georgetown. Ramsey temporarily reassigned Inspector Andy Solberg, who urged residents to report suspicious activity and said, “This is not a racial thing to say that black people are unusual in Georgetown.”

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Eleven men, two women and a 16-year-old youth have been killed in the city since July 1. About 25 hours before Dorsey was killed, Laquanda Johnson, 24, was found fatally shot in the 3600 block of 22nd Street SE. A suspect was arrested yesterday afternoon in Suitland.

Despite the recent uptick in violence, the 95 homicides recorded in the city so far this year is only one more than the total committed by this date in 2005. But the number of robberies is up 14 percent, and Ramsey and other commanders are concerned that more holdups will turn deadly.

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Three of the hold-ups occurred in late May on the National Mall, a part of the city usually untouched by crime. Late last night, two more robberies were reported on the Mall. The robbers targeted a family of four from Missouri and two women from Texas, police said. One woman was sexually assaulted in those attacks, police said.

Police have linked robbery and homicide in the slaying early Sunday of Alan Senitt, 27, a British citizen who was caught by surprise while walking a friend home along a tree-lined street in Georgetown. Senitt’s throat was slashed and his friend was nearly raped, police said. Four suspects are in custody — including a woman who allegedly drove the getaway car and a 15-year-old who authorities want to prosecute as an adult. Senitt had been working in Washington with a political action committee set up for former Virginia governor Mark R. Warner (D).

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About 400 people crowded into a church in Georgetown on Monday night to discuss the Senitt killing. Solberg, the commander of the 2nd Police District, was addressing that forum when he made his remarks about race. Senitt was white, and the suspects in the case are black.

When he made the comment, Solberg was telling the crowd to report suspicious-looking people to police when they see them in the neighborhood. He talked about the suspects in the Senitt killing and described one as a “chubby, stocky guy” and one as a 15-year-old. He said at 2 a.m. they “are going to stand out” in the area.

“They were black,” Solberg said. “This is not a racial thing to say that black people are unusual in Georgetown. This is a fact of life.”

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Other community activists in Georgetown and downtown said they were surprised that Solberg had been reassigned for the statement. Lowaunz Tascoe, a black shop owner who has lived in Georgetown for almost 40 years, said Solberg had merely stated the truth.

“How come people don’t know that? These people live in a box?” Tascoe said. “ It is highly, highly unusual to see three young black males roaming around up there in the residential neighborhoods.”

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Washington, DC—The District of Columbia police commander whose officers investigated the murder of British political activist Alan Senitt was reassigned Tuesday after making racially insensitive comments in a community meeting about the crime.

Cmdr. Andy Solberg was transferred from the 2nd Police District to the department’s security services division, said Sgt. Joe Gentile, a police spokesman.

Solberg spoke Monday night to hundreds of Georgetown residents who had gathered to express concerns about the slaying of Senitt, whose throat was slit as he returned home from a movie early Sunday. Speaking to residents of the upscale neighborhood about the need to be aware of suspicious people, Solberg, who is white, made potentially offensive remarks about blacks.

“I would think that at 2 o’clock in the morning on the streets of Georgetown, a group of three people, one of whom is 15 years old, one of whom is a bald chunky fat guy, are going to stand out,” he said, referring to the suspects arrested in the case.

“They were black. This is not a racial thing to say that black people are unusual in Georgetown. This is a fact of life.”

Chief Charles H. Ramsey, who is black, said he had received no complaints about Solberg’s remarks, but felt the move was necessary.

“This isn’t an indication of guilt or anything else. It’s just a way of being able to make sure we maintain public confidence. Andy Solberg is a very, very good person, he’s a good police officer, an excellent leader. I’m really disappointed that I had to move him Wednesday.”

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