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Posted at 6:52 PM ET, 02/18/2011

Downcast eyes at the scene of the crime

By Karl Wirsing, Washington

I was in Miami a few weeks ago when my roommate in the District sent a link to a story from The Post: “Random act of violence claims man’s life.

On Jan. 19, Bill Mitchell was walking home after seeing a play with his mother. The 33-year-old got off the Metro at New York Avenue and started walking up Florida Avenue NW. At the intersection with North Capitol Street, he came across someone hassling a woman. Mitchell apparently intervened to help her, and the assailant shot and killed him.

I live only a few doors down from that intersection. Eckington, NOMA or whatever you want to call this neighborhood has been home to me for nearly two years. You tell people you live here, and they sometimes wince like you’ve waved a grenade in front of them. Sure, my car has been broken into — twice. It’s kind of an initiation around here. Same window, repaired, and then resmashed a week later. But I truly had never felt in danger before; never entirely at ease, but also never physically threatened. Plus, this part of town has some real appeal for D.C. living.

The rent isn’t offensive, public transit is close at hand and you can see growth nearly by the day — trees planted, sidewalks installed, a great new trail in development between Union Station and Silver Spring. And most noticeably, the area right around the New York Avenue Metro station is bursting with life.

There’s a Courtyard Marriott, a brand-new 7-Eleven, a Harris Teeter grocery store and a Potbelly sandwich shop. It’s starting to feel almost neighborly. You can stop by Pound coffee for an amazing nutella latte. Chat with the owners, Khalil and Karl, and feel like a local.

Yet nothing lifts the curtain on the illusion of community like a senseless murder just a few doors down — especially when you have to step over chalk in the sidewalk on your way to get milk.

The easy lesson from Bill Mitchell’s death is to turn away. Keep your head down and don’t make eye contact, because that can establish a relationship you can’t control, and perhaps lead to feeling the need to help someone in peril the way Mitchell did.

I’ve felt this thinking taking root. Around 11 on a recent Saturday night, I walked home alone down P Street for the first time since Mitchell’s murder. I found myself feeling afraid of each figure on the sidewalk and shying like a horse from leaves rustling in the wind. I knew I had good reason to be fearful, but later I worried more about the consequences of that fear.

This part of town has never felt less like a neighborhood to me. But how do you build a neighborhood if you’re afraid to look your neighbors in the eyes? How can you expect to change a community’s course if your instinct is to withdraw or move away?

Mitchell lost his life as a consequence of a basic act of human kindness. His reflex was to reach out and help. I didn’t know him, but I know that the price he paid for caring was enough to harden any heart. I don’t know if I have the fortitude to walk confidently or cheerfully down these streets anymore.

Yet the best way I can think to honor Mitchell’s memory would be to keep faith in this neighborhood and city. Mitchell hadn’t given up. Neither should we.

By Karl Wirsing, Washington  | February 18, 2011; 6:52 PM ET
Categories:  D.C., crime  
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I found Mr. Wirsing’s letter very poignant. Ironically, he was in Florida when Bill Mitchel died, and as a Floridian, I have a different take on what I would do here (and what the law-abiding citizen should be able to do in The District) regarding this kind of event.

According to the story on 21 January, Mr. Mitchel “exchanged words and possibly tussled with an unknown assailant who was hassling the woman and who then shot and killed Mitchell.”

A similar event here in Miami, or anywhere in Florida, would have a significantly different possible outcome.

Had I came upon this unfolding event, I would have done the following in this order:

1. Take out my cell phone, and place it in my right hand (I am left handed).

2. Take the safety off my traveling companion (a 9mm Beretta with a 12 round magazine and one in the chamber) with my left thumb.

3. Get a grip with my left hand on my traveling companion, but keep it concealed under my overshirt or coat.

4. Dial 911.

5. Announce to the attacker that I was calling 911, and suggest he cease his attack. I would get only as close to him as necessary to let him know what I was doing. I would not attempt to touch him.

6. Should he move toward me, he would be immediately looking at the business end of my traveling companion.

7. Should he continue to advance, my traveling companion would provide him with some immediate Copper-Lead Injection Therapy, stopping him where he was, and not allowing him to get his hands on me (I am assuming he is much younger than my 63 years, and possibly be bigger and stronger).

8. Should he pulled a gun instead of trying to attack me physically, I would just take my traveling companion out of concealment, and stop his threat immediately without hesitation, because he had demonstrated the capability and intent to use death or serious bodily injury.

I can do envision this approach because the laws here in Florida or different.

I am one of over 700,000 Floridians (and over 80,000 non-Floridians, as well as millions of individuals with similar permits in the 34 states that have reciprocity with Florida) that have permits to carry concealed weapons.

The law regarding this kind of event, called Stand Your Ground, permits me to act as I indicated because I (1) was in a place where I had a legal right to be, (2) did not initiate the altercation with the attacker – he did by attacking the woman, (3) was meeting force with equal (now deadly) force, and stopping an immediate forcible felony (assault) on the woman and potentially on me.

I was acting on my responsibility for my personal security and by implication the security of the space and time I was in. I am not afraid to walk the streets of Orlando, because I have the ability to take care of my responsibilities. The Other/Dark Side has a say, and my responsibility trumps my desire for non-violence.

Posted by: GHF_LRLTD | February 19, 2011 11:21 AM | Report abuse

What do you expect to happen in DC when low-lifes are armed and law-abiding citizens aren't?

Posted by: ronjaboy | February 19, 2011 3:04 PM | Report abuse

"Bill Mitchell was the kind of man who stepped up instead of shying away, the kind of person who would help someone even if he didn't know them, his friends and family say.


He had once planted trees and cleaned up his Bloomingdale neighborhood, at the same triangle park where he was killed Wednesday [January 19, 2011], his family said.


The shooting took place on a triangle-shaped island of concrete at the northwest corner [of the intersection between North Capitol St & Florida Ave]. Neighbors call it a park, but it has no grass; five trees are protected at their base by spiky metal tree boxes."

--Theola Labbé-DeBose, "Random act of violence claims man's life" (1/21/11)

At the very least, the locals in this area should consider renovating this island into a real, well-planted park and dedicating it to Bill Mitchell's memory, with a plaque reminding everybody of this Good Samaritan and his courageous spirit.

Posted by: FedUpInMoCo | February 19, 2011 10:23 PM | Report abuse

With all due respect, Mr. Wirsing, you're a pansy, like so many other leftwing D.C. residents and voters. Until you come to your senses and support candidates for office who will aggressively act to limit the wlefare state, discourage out-of-wedlock births, and allow law-abiding citizens to arm themselves and act as a check against the lawless, fatherless thugs now ruling our streets, you're part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Posted by: NorplantNow | February 20, 2011 9:14 AM | Report abuse

Brains are 10 times as good as guns in a fight. As much as you want to be the hero, don't. Keep your head down, keep walking NEVER look at the assailent, and once you get out of eyesight call 911. Its called self-preservation.

Posted by: davidofhumans | February 20, 2011 7:37 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: davidofhumans

Brains are 10 times as good as guns in a fight. As much as you want to be the hero, don't. Keep your head down, keep walking NEVER look at the assailent, and once you get out of eyesight call 911. Its called self-preservation.
Send me your picture - or at least a description, so if you are the one being beaten, I will take your advice, and not do what I indicated was proper in my comment above.

If you end up getting the stuffings beat out of you while in Florida, I will know NOT to come to your aid.

Criminals are aided and abetted by your approach, since they control the security in your space and time, not you.

Remember, when seconds count, the cops are at least minutes - if not much longer - away.

Posted by: GHF_LRLTD | February 20, 2011 9:38 PM | Report abuse

Kudos to GHF_LRLTD for his plan on what to do if he happens upon a felonious assault in progress.

DC needs more commonsense gun laws like Florida's gun permit and Stand-Your-Ground laws. I hope Congress is listening and will take action NOW.

Posted by: cfan1 | February 21, 2011 9:10 AM | Report abuse

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