Randall Park in Southeast DC was alive with activity on Saturday as members of the DC community join forces to participate in some great community fun.
The gathering was to commemorate the annual Mayor’s Office of Returning Citizens Affairs Picnic, in its third year. It featured several events that ranged from a performance stage for musicians and speakers, a moon bounce and other kids activities, and of course a picnic where an over abundance of food was served. But this event is different this year as compared to other years because local police were invited as special guests.
“Last time, around this time of year returning citizens were getting a bad name for a whole lot of stuff that was going on, and so this year the police had been looked at in a bad light,” said Eric Weaver, with ORCA, “so I talked to my organization and said let’s do something with the police to show that in DC we can do something different; we can set the model and show that returning citizens and police can coexist and work together.”
When MPD Officer Jason Medina, 6th District, heard the news, he was excited to bring his fellow officers out for a fun filled day. “[We jumped] when we had the opportunity through Chief Grooms and MPD Chief Lanier to partake in this event with returning citizens. In the six district, we are in our community oriented. Our focus is a community involvement and engagement.”
Charles Thornton, ORCA Director, was present an even had a few words. He said, “Without y’all (referring to the community), there is no me. It takes all of us to keep this positive thing going.”
Yango Sawyer, a returning citizen and local activist, posted much of the event live via Facebook, and during that time he stopped toasked a group of ladies who were returning citizens what if anything they feel the government needs to do more of in order to help people make the transition from incarceration to the free community. The three women had a variety of answers but the most common words were: housing, employment, and education.
It’s estimated there are 60,000 men and women who reside in the District of Columbia that are considered returning services. In a city of 658,893, according to a 2014 US Census report, that is slightly more than 9% of the city’s populations. Annually, it’s believed in estimated 2,000 to 2,500 men and women return to DC from either local jails, or state and federal prisons.
The District of Columbia is unique in the world of reentry, because inside the “10 mi.²” that make up the city returning citizens are eligible to vote once they’ve paid their debt to society through incarceration and are no longer in a halfway house; they are voting rights are automatically restored. Theoretically that might mean that there are 60,000 votes that some people may not pay attention to, but historically, this voting bloc have rarely united together to push any particular candidate in public office.
While there may not be a particular voice in city government that specifically speaks for returning citizens, it’s believed that a new face coming to City Hall will keep returning citizens on his mind while focusing on legislative issues is Ward 8 Democratic nominee Trayon White. White has won his Ward primary race by defeating incumbent LaRuby May and is expected to take the Ward 8 seat.
White was present and received an award; he briefly spoke.
“I want to think Eric, Kevin, and the guys who had this great vision to put this together for a population that have been ignored for a very long time in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “I believe that sometimes bad things happen to good people that do nothing. I’ve been on the front lines trying to advocate for this population because guess what, these are my family members, these are my homey’s – my brothers and sisters -that have been affected by this.”
And for the record, the returning citizens played a softball game against MPD officers and the returning fit us in for 15 to 10.