House Republicans discussed the rise of violent crime in Washington, D.C., in a contentious hearing Thursday, describing the city as embroiled in a “culture of lawlessness” and pressing authorities to impose harsher punishments on those convicted of violent offenses. The two-hour hearing was a partisan boxing match, with Republicans wielding D.C.’s high crime numbers to argue against liberal approaches to mitigating violence, and Democrats casting the hearing as a “political stunt” used to distract viewers from chaos unfolding a few steps away, as the House GOP failed to select a speaker. There was rare consensus among nearly all federal lawmakers and witnesses: Crime in the capital has reached a point of crisis, reports the Washington Post.
“I would say there is a crisis,” said D.C. Deputy Mayor of Public Safety and Justice Lindsey Appiah. Homicides in the city are on pace to reach highs not seen since the late 1990s, and overall violent crime is up by 40 percent compared with the same time last year, largely driven by a spike in robberies. Violent crime rates in some other major metropolitan centers are falling compared with last year. Violence has made the capital a particularly easy target for congressional Republicans looking to make clear their stance on crime. Members of Congress and Hill staff have been victims of violent crime blocks from the Capitol in high-profile incidents that have fueled the urgency among some members to focus on the problem. Congress has voted to block D.C. criminal justice and policing policies that Republicans painted as “soft on crime,” as local officials protested the bipartisan interventions. The Thursday hearing was part of an effort by the House Judiciary subcommittee to target Democratic-led cities for their handling of violence. Those hearings, which have taken place in New York and Chicago, have largely focused on liberal prosecutors — and the GOP’s approach to D.C. on Thursday was no different. Thomas Abt of the University of Maryland Center for the Study and Practice of Violence Reduction said that violent crime in D.C. may be rising while similar metrics in other major cities are falling because the mixture of federal and local law enforcement agencies makes it harder to share critical information.