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Public service?
(Published July 12, 2004)

Most D.C. residents probably didn't even notice, while celebrating the long Fourth of July holiday weekend, that 47-year-old Northeast Washington resident Larry Baskin was killed.

But there were many others who were jarred by the noontime gunshot slaying, which occurred July 4 along one of the city's main thoroughfares in a busy commercial corridor while hundreds of parishioners were sloshing through torrential rain to attend nearby church services and dozens of merchants were attracting shoppers for holiday sales.

Granted, the District's Edgewood neighborhood is not upscale Georgetown, where authorities and major news media fell over themselves to tell the public about a June 26 confrontation at about 8 p.m. on M Street that resulted in a non-fatal stabbing.

The 400 block of Rhode Island Avenue NE where Baskin was shot in the chest and head in broad daylight includes one of the District's largest strip shopping centers, in which The Common Denominator's offices are located. Admittedly, that's why our staff took special notice of Baskin's death. Metro's Rhode Island Avenue station, located steps away, also draws substantial foot traffic to the neighborhood.

It also wasn't the first time a midday shooting has occurred along the corridor. A few years ago a Common Denominator photographer caught ambulance workers carrying a man and a woman, both wounded in a noontime drive-by shooting, out of an auto supply store in which they had sought refuge. Aside from our page 1 photograph, scant media attention was devoted to that violence, either.

While a lot could be said about the inequities in how the news media cover local crime, that's not our major point in this instance.

We're more concerned about the Metropolitan Police Department's lack of responsiveness to neighborhood inquiries about a violent crime. Residents and business owners, who are legally responsible for the on-the-job safety of their employees, should be able to get timely information about the basic circumstances surrounding violent assaults or property crimes in their area.

MPD was woefully unprepared to answer any questions 24 hours after Baskin's death. "I'm not allowed to give out that information," was the response from the Fifth Police District's desk officer on duty July 5 when she was asked to help The Common Denominator's owner contact an on-duty Patrol Service Area (PSA) officer who could discuss the incident. So much for Chief Charles Ramsey's much-ballyhooed "community policing" efforts.

An on-duty sergeant punted to an equally ill-prepared on-duty lieutenant, who punted to an off-duty captain. The lieutenant noted that a lot of people were off for the holiday. It seems MPD responsiveness to the community takes a holiday, even though residents, many businesses and, especially, criminals carry on.

In all fairness, Fifth District Capt. Melvin Scott eventually did call back late in the day on June 6. Ward 5 Councilman Vincent Orange's office has failed to respond to this constituent business's call about the incident.

There's a lesson in this: As long as D.C. residents continue to accept mediocre service from their government, they will continue to get it.

Copyright 2004, The Common Denominator