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Thursday, May 23, 2024

The Old Man of Anacostia

Several years ago I decided that I would stay home on the Fourth of July because I cannot distinguish the sound of fireworks from gunshots. This year in many east of the river neighborhoods the Independence Day celebrations started a week early and many of the fireworks resulted in loud explosions that went on all night.

This Fourth of July was not celebratory for me. I am still a second-class citizen because DC is not a state, COVID-19 has me self-isolating and homicides have increased east of the river. These murders have become more brazen with many of them occurring in broad daylight and most of them unsolved.

The high number of unsolved homicides in our city is unacceptable. Unfortunately, there is a code of silence in our community that contributes to it. “No snitching” has emboldened some folks to shoot people down with no fear of consequences. I am reminded of Denzel Washington in his film American Gangster when his character is having lunch with his nephew and leaves the restaurant, goes outside, kills a man in front of a crowd of people and returns to continue his lunch assured that no one would say anything. In my opinion, a snitch should be considered a criminal who is willing to “drop a dime” on another criminal in order to receive lighter time or a shorter sentence. That should have nothing to do with being a good citizen and giving information to bring murderers to justice.

When people are murdered in DC, MPD issues fliers offering $25,000 for information leading to an arrest and conviction. The reward is too low. The fliers say that information can be given anonymously. Let’s be real. Practically no one believes that you can contact the police anonymously. Phone calls, emails and texts can be traced and no one is going to personally go to a police station or invite the cops over to his or her home to give information.

I propose that a public campaign be promoted where people can simply and anonymously drop a piece of paper in any U.S. Postal mailbox giving information about a homicide.


Every December, children throughout our nation put letters to Santa Claus in mailboxes and volunteer efforts are made to respond to those letters.  The U.S. Postal service calls it Operation Santa:  https://beanelf.org/how-to-be-an-elf/.  If kids can send letters to the North Pole, the DC police should be able to receive letters, cards or even scraps of paper giving information about murders.

There is a downside to my recommendation. If such a campaign is promoted, most likely there will be vandalism of mailboxes in high-crime neighborhoods. Then the federal government would be forced to get involved. So be it.

Since the beginning of this year, there have been at least two murders per week east of the river. Where is the collective outrage about the continued killings in our neighborhoods? Don’t those deaths matter?

Philip Pannell is a long time Ward 8 community activist. He can be contacted at philippannell@comcast.net.

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