Bowser argues for DC autonomy as she defends city on crime response
Republicans point to statistics, such as an 11 percent spike in homicides
Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser sought to “set the record straight” at a House Oversight hearing Tuesday as Republicans ramp up criticisms — and seek to overturn some — of the city’s policies.
Bowser, a Democrat in her third term, stopped short of disputing claims that Washington was in the midst of a “crime crisis” and instead sought to provide greater context for the factors behind it.
According to data from the Metropolitan Police Department, homicides are up 11 percent year-over-year, motor vehicle theft is up 114 percent and total crime is up 27 percent.
“No one can be satisfied with increasing crime trends in any category. I certainly am not. In D.C., like what is happening around our country, we’ve experienced some concerning increases in crime,” Bowser said. “For me, these trends are unacceptable and we do not accept this as a new normal.”
Bowser’s appearance comes after months of intense scrutiny over the city and its local leaders and the same day that the Senate passed, 56-43, a joint resolution that would effectively repeal a January 2023 D.C. Council police accountability measure that passed out of the House in April.
Bowser found herself in an awkward position: She left the police bill unsigned after it was adopted by the D.C. Council and opposed an earlier piece of legislation that would’ve revised the city’s criminal code, which Congress overrode and President Joe Biden signed in March.
But Bowser defended the importance of autonomy for D.C. while also attempting to explain the complexity of the city’s criminal justice system, which can handicap local leaders attempting to address rising crime.
Washington residents are disenfranchised, without a voting member in Congress, Bowser said. And most of those arrested in Washington are prosecuted by the U.S. attorney for D.C., an employee of the federal government, not the city, and tried by federally appointed judges.
“I won’t be making any excuses here,” Bowser told the panel. “I’m the mayor and I’m responsible for making this very complicated, unique system work for my residents, businesses and all Americans.”
‘Declining by several metrics’
Crime in the nation’s capital has become a renewed focus since Republicans took back control of the House earlier this year.
Under the District of Columbia Home Rule Act of 1973, Congress has final say over bills passed by the D.C. Council and controls the city's budget. That law hadn’t been invoked in more than 30 years until a bipartisan group of lawmakers earlier this year overrode the proposed overhaul of the city's criminal code.
“We want our nation’s capital to be safe and prosperous, a city for its residents and visitors alike.” Oversight Chairman Rep. James R. Comer, R-Ky., said Tuesday. “But our nation’s capital is declining by several metrics. Crime has gone through the roof. Education levels are on the floor.”
Comer has called two hearings focused on “overdue oversight” of Washington, and his Republican colleagues have unleashed a barrage of attacks on the city and its leaders.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., on Tuesday introduced articles of impeachment against U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Matthew Graves for allegedly ignoring violent crime in the city while too aggressively pursuing defendants who participated in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.
Graves, who testified beside Bowser on Tuesday, was accused of failing to prosecute two-thirds of the crimes in the district since taking office in 2021, a figure cited by multiple Republicans. Graves contests its accuracy.
The U.S. attorney noted that his office has charged roughly 90 percent of the most serious violent crimes. But he said the city shifted strategy starting in 2018 to prosecute fewer misdemeanor offenses, such as unlawful entry and drug possession. According to Graves, 2023 charging rates are higher than the year prior.
“Because [misdemeanors] greatly impact the quality of life of our fellow community members, we are committed to prosecuting these crimes in a way that both reduces their negative impact on the community and tries to address the underlying mental health and substance abuse issues that typically drive these crimes,” Graves said. “But no one should confuse addressing these public safety issues with a strategy for addressing gun violence and carjackings.”
Democrats, meanwhile, have tried to reframe the discussion around D.C. as a states' rights issue.
“I think we’re at a point where we have to ask why we’re doing this again,” Oversight Committee ranking member Jamie Raskin, D-Md., said Tuesday. “I wonder if second guessing the elected leaders of Washington, D.C., is really the most urgent priority for the U.S. Congress today.”
Some also sought to accuse Republicans of hypocrisy on crime. Republicans bemoan homicides in D.C., but are unwilling to pass more restrictive gun regulations, Raskin and others argued.
Rep. Jasmine Crockett, D-Texas, noted that per capita murder rates are higher in many red states than in many Democrat-controlled cities. She also noted the recent civil case against former President Donald Trump and federal charges brought against Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y.
“My Republican colleagues want to talk about keeping D.C. streets crime free. They can’t even keep the halls of Congress crime free,” Crockett said.
“My freshman colleague has just been indicted on 13 felony counts. But have they exhibited any courage to say, you know what, we will disallow this in our body, we will expel this individual? They have not.”