A month after the Washington, D.C., government set out to do whatever it took to save Jahmeze Williams, the 20-year-old slumped over in the back seat of a car, a bullet lodged in his right arm. He died within half an hour.
Williams was one of about 230 D.C. residents the city dubbed “People of Promise,” referring to a list of those considered most at risk of committing violence or becoming a victim themselves.
The initiative was a key to Mayor Muriel Bowser’s effort to combat crime as homicides continue at a pace that could reach a two decade high, was designed to bring intense government services to those on the list, assigning a cabinet-level official to supervise each person’s case.
Five months after the city launched the program, two people, including Williams, have been killed, at least eight others on the list have been shot, and more than a dozen have been charged in connection with nonfatal shootings, carjackings and unlawful possession of firearms, found a review of the list by The Washington Post against court and other public records.
City officials enlisted many agencies to run the program — including behavioral health, public works and transportation. They acknowledged missteps and conceded they have yet to even make contact with about half of those they want to protect. Asked to grade the initiative, Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice Christopher Geldart gave it a “C-plus.”
Critics said the city was too slow in rolling out the program after identifying the names of people they wanted to target. They worry that the decision to show the list to front-line workers who mediate street conflicts — which officials hoped would help them find people — allowed the list to circulate too broadly.
Some at-risk residents view the document as a sort of “hit list” that police will use to target people for arrest, and are therefore more reluctant to embrace the city’s offers of help.
Officials insisted that someone on the list being shot or killed does not represent a failure, because each person was selected precisely because of the high risk that they would become victims of crime.
In the case of Williams, officials said they offered him resources, and that his slaying demonstrates how difficult it is to reach someone who is not fully ready to change their lifestyle. His mother, Aleathea Cumbo, said she had no idea Williams had been dubbed a Person of Promise, and did not believe he received enough help from the government.