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The armed carjacking of Texas Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar in Washington, D.C. Monday night shocked millions around the nation, but it’s an issue residents have been dealing with for years.
“I was just coming into my place. Three guys came out of nowhere, and they pointed guns at me,” Rep. Cuellar told reporters Tuesday morning.
The armed assault occurred in the District’s Navy Yard neighborhood, and follows an attack on Rep. Angie Craig (D-Minn.) at her apartment building on Capitol Hill in February, according to Politico, which first reported Monday’s assault.
“I do have a Black Belt, but I recognize when you have three guns–I looked at one with a gun, another with a gun, I thought one behind me–So, they said they wanted my car. I said ‘sure.’ You gotta keep calm in those situations,” Rep. Cuellar said.
While the carjacking of a Congressman in D.C. captured national news, the alarming trend impacting regular residents hasn’t received the same level of coverage.
Carjackings on the rise in nation’s capital
Metropolitan Police for Washington D.C. (MPDC) keeps a record of carjackings across the District. The Hoya news outlet described the increasing rate as a “skyrocketing” trend.
Some residents on social media called out the lack of attention on the issue and pushed for gun reform laws.
In 2018, MPDC documented 133 carjackings. That number rose to 484 in 2022. So far, MPDC has recorded 753 carjackings between January 1, 2023 and October 2, 2023.
Of those 753 carjackings this year, 566 of them involved a firearm, with a majority of carjackings impacting the Southeast portion of the District and parts of Capitol Hill.
Notably, a majority of the suspects have been teenagers. MPDC has only made 113 arrestes related to those 753 incidents, its dashboard shows.
A whopping 65% of arrests were under the age of 18, and roughly 3 in 4 suspects had an address in the District.
“I saw a teen get into the front seat of the car. I at first thought that must be like an Uber pickup or something. Until I heard the driver start to scream,” witness Brian Beaty told NBC4 Washington after a carjacking in late August.
Telling reporters they’d had enough, video shows some residents began to fight and try to detain a suspected carjacker. A second suspected carjacker then gets out of a car with a golf club to defend the first.
What’s the solution?
A proposal by the D.C. city council to rewrite its criminal code was struck down by Congress and Pres. Biden in March.
The bill would’ve reduced the maximum penalties for certain crimes. For instance, armed car jackers would face 24 years instead of 40, which criminal justice advocates said was in line with actual sentences.
Yet D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser struck it down, leading to both Republicans and Democrats overruling the D.C. council.
In January 2021, MPDC established the Carjacking Taskforce. A year later, MPDC expanded the taskforce and began partnering with Prince George’s County PD.
Meanwhile, carjackings increased by over 100% from 2022 to 2023, with two full months remaining in the year.
“They recovered the car. They recovered everything. What really got me upset was they took my sushi,” Rep. Cuellar said.