He was shot at 2:15 am on Christmas Eve while I slept. His name was Jason Emma, something of a kid, as I always say of people in their 20s. He’d moved to the neighborhood only a few weeks prior, lured as many of us are, to the bustle and buzz of this clean city. There is a certain attraction to Eastern Market and its reddest of meats, Barrack’s Row, certainly not too far for a tipsy stumble home, and the Metro within a few blocks. On Capitol Hill, we live in suburbs within the city, a neighborhood in which you rarely need drive more than once around the block before finding a parking space, where your same-aged neighbors leave pricey strollers outside overnight. Expensive row houses dot our streets and expensive cheeses fill our stores.
I slept at my mother’s in Virginia on Christmas Eve, a restless, awful attempt that left me wanting to drive home at 3 a.m. There would surely be a parking space, I thought. I’d sleep in my own bed and not have to drive home early before brunch the next day. I knew my mother would be furious, however, given her fear of driving in the city and the depth of her love for me. I halfway berated her for it the next morning, of course, a naïve and stupid 39 year old who knows more than the woman who birthed her. I’m an adult, I barked. I live in a safe place and I can look out for myself. If nothing else, dense and defiant, I am.
On Christmas morning I made it as far as Lincoln Park before a white husky skirted its outer edge, dangerously close to my car. I stopped. Others noticed him too, and the early risers walking their own pups tried to help, each as they could, one calling a trusted friend for advice and another attempting to put a leash on him. This dog would have none of it. I followed him for thirty minutes and five blocks, as he delighted in his freedom, stopping to mark trees and front gates and anything, I suspect, that had once been touched by another dog. No fewer than 10 people tried to help, ending with a couple who walked behind him while I blocked him at turns to corral him into their patch of front lawn. I was high on the good of it all, calling my mother to report our success at saving a dog that managed to cover two of the city’s four quadrants.
And then I caught the news of the murder, courtesy of my trusted social media channels. Jason Emma had been shot while still in the front seat of his car, only two blocks from the new home he shared with friends. Someone shot him 13 times. Not once, to incapacitate him, or twice, to kill him, but 13 times. Why? He didn’t make it out of his car. He couldn’t have been a threat. The men – two of them, almost nondescript – had always been in control. Police reports state he was found slumped over his steering wheel, car headlights still on.
I’m afraid. Yes, crime can strike anywhere and yes, I choose to live here, but something’s changed. I always knew there was potential for the violent and horrible to happen. It has, of course. I was already an adult when DC reigned as the murder capital of the United States; I understand that Lincoln Park was a crack haven in the late 80s and early 90s. My only remaining native neighbor, a woman in her 70s, once told me that she saw a man shot dead on my front stairs. But this wasn’t my Capitol Hill.
My Capitol Hill has been about walks on summer nights, about sharing a glass of Pinot Grigio on the front steps with a neighbor you only met two years in. My neighborhood was about not being gripped by terror when someone knocked past 8 p.m. When a cab dropped you off a block from home and you contemplated taking off those too-high heels for the last steps. When the sun set and you were still in the park with a few of your neighbors, just out not expecting the unexpected, walking your dogs. My Capitol Hill was the place you tried to convince your mother was safe. Because you believed entirely that it was.