WASHINGTON, DC—Washington Mayor Anthony Williams bragged Monday that, after nearly a decade, the city has resumed its rightful place as the U.S. murder capital.
"Hey, it only makes sense," said Williams at a press conference Monday. "We're the capital of the United States, so we should also be the capital of murders. But the thing is, if you're from here, you know how to take care of yourself in a city as big and bad as D.C."
According to the latest crime statistics provided by the FBI, Washington led the nation in murders per capita in 2002 with 45.8 per 100,000 citizens, edging out 2001's murder capital, Detroit, by 3.8 murders.
"I knew we'd come back," Williams said. "These other cities are pretenders. Detroit doesn't have what it takes to keep up with the real champ. They talk a good game, but that's all it is: talk. We don't mess around here. We're for real."
Washington was one of a handful of cities that didn't follow the nationwide trend of decreasing homicide rates.
"Yeah, we're not big trend-followers here in D.C.," said Williams, puffing out his chest slightly. "We have our own way of doing things. Our murder rate has always been high. Just because folks over in L.A. or Miami start settling down, that doesn't mean we will here."
One possible explanation for the increase in the murder rate is the implementation of new homeland-security measures. Many Washington police officers have been reassigned from their regular duties in order to protect government buildings and public monuments. However, the FBI report noted that New York, which faces similar safety concerns, experienced a slight decline in the murder rate for 2002.
"I'll admit, it's a little rough here," Williams said. "This city isn't for everyone. You gotta have street smarts to get by. You can't carry yourself like some tourist from Cowtown, USA. You gotta watch your back."
"Even so, it's still the best place on earth," Williams said. "I wouldn't live anywhere else. Washington has so much to offer: history, culture, entertainment. A few murders won't change that. They just bring those of us who live here a little closer together. You see, we look after our own here. We got one another covered."
At the mention of community spirit, Williams appeared downcast.
"We would like to express our condolences to the families of the victims who made us number one," Williams said. "Our hearts go out to those who have fallen. We're like family, so it's always sad to see one of our own die. Unfortunately, that's the risk of life in the fast lane."
Although Washington led the nation in murders per capita, detractors were quick to point out that it ranked fifth in overall homicides. While Washington counted 262 murders in 2002, both Chicago and Los Angeles tallied more than 600.
"Yeah, Chicago thinks it's so great with its 647 murders," Williams said. "Believe me, if Washington had as many people as Chicago, we'd have more than twice their murders. Do the math."
Karla Rose, spokeswoman for the public-watchdog group Safe Streets D.C., expressed dismay over what her group called Williams' "cavalier attitude toward crime."
"I expected the mayor to address these disturbing statistics with sobriety," Rose said. "This city doesn't need a show of bravado. It needs a show of grave concern and nebulous promises to improve things."
Should the crime rate continue to rise at the current rate, analysts predict that Washington could see as many as 325 murders next year. For those who expressed concern, Williams had a suggestion.
"If you think it's too tough for you, and you want to move out to [Washington suburb] Silver Spring, then don't let me stop you," Williams said. "Seriously, I think we can get by without you. Me, I'll take D.C. every time."
Rose characterized Williams' comments as "more ridiculous posturing."
"It's absolutely outrageous that a graduate of Yale, who earned degrees in law and public policy at Harvard, would talk this way," Rose said. "See, I'm from D.C. I grew up right in [the inner-city neighborhood of] Anacostia. I think Williams better watch himself. You go around shooting your mouth off like that here, you're liable to get yourself hurt."