Robert Moses's testimony before Washington, D.C., Council opposing racist checkpoints

Robert Moses’s testimony before Washington, D.C., Council opposing racist checkpoints 

On June 7, the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, D.C., established a checkpoint and dragnet sealing off part of the Trinidad neighborhood, setting the stage for a martial-law-like occupation. The ANSWER Coalition, along with other concerned organizations and individuals, took to the streets to oppose the measure, maintaining a presence at the checkpoints nearly every day or night they were in effect. On June 12, in the face of growing community outrage, the MPD announced the temporary suspension of the checkpoints. 

On June 16, the DC Council’s the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary held a public oversight hearing on “The Executive’s Public Safety Initiatives and Their Impact on Civil Liberties.” Below is testimony given by Robert Moses, a Maryland resident and organizer with the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition. 

I want to thank the Council for holding this hearing and for the consideration of this testimony. My name is Robert Moses. I am a resident of Maryland and an organizer with the A.N.S.W.E.R Coalition, which stands for Act Now to Stop War and End Racism. 

While I am not a resident of the District, I had to come today and speak out against the new Neighborhood Safety Zone initiative. The “success” of this program in the District would set a precedent and allow for the violation of individuals’ civil rights not just here but in Maryland, Virginia and across the country. 

All the members of this committee must ask themselves: do you stand with the people of DC? Will you become a voice in their struggle for adequate funding for schools, housing and job-training programs? Or will you become part of the lobby that seeks to implement checkpoints in predominantly African-American neighborhoods that leads to the criminalization of our community? 

In 2006, a man’s throat was slit in the Georgetown area. This crime was violent, but there was no talk of violating individuals’ civil rights in that neighborhood.  

The Trinidad neighborhood is a mostly Black neighborhood, but it sits close to the H St. Northeast area, where the city government and developers have an aggressive plan of gentrification. And Trinidad is not the only neighborhood being targeted by these martial-law type programs. Following a number of youth shootings in the Columbia Heights neighborhood, a historically Latino neighborhood that is ground zero for gentrification, police also increased their visible presence and created a new unit to “deal” with the youth “gangs.”  

But to attract new, mostly white, well-to-do people who generally make up the majority of gentrifiers, the city has to overcome these area's reputation for crime and violence. Accordingly, the D.C. police hope to create the illusion of “safety” through the complete lockdown of predominately poor Black and Latino neighborhoods close to mixed or totally gentrified neighborhoods.

If this initiative continues in the District it will spread. The criminalization of our communities will make the racist nature of gentrification seem acceptable. D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, Police Chief Cathy Lanier and D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles - who lives in a wealthy estate in Virginia - never address the root cause of crime: poverty and inequality.  

In D.C., there are virtually no decent job opportunities for young Black people from impoverished neighborhoods. Many participate at varying levels in different illegal sectors of the economy in order to make extra money or as their sole income. In this pressure cooker of poverty and illegal business, aggressive police searches and the criminalizing Black and Latino youth will not provide a long-term solution. Only a flourishing of educational and employment opportunities can turn this situation around.

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