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Carjackings are among the crimes that have escalated. One victim shares his story

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Imagine this. You're pumping your gas or maybe sitting in your car, tapping out one last text before you get on the road. And the next thing you know, you see a gun in your face, somebody pulling on your car door or pulling you out of the car, demanding you give up your keys. That's not a scene from some crime show. That's the terrifying experience hundreds of people across the country have been having over the past year or so, as carjackings and other violent crimes escalate in many places since the start of the pandemic. Last month, Nate Fleming, a lawyer and a candidate for the D.C. City Council, was one of the people who experienced this. It all took place close to where he grew up and still lives. The frightening scene was captured on security camera, made the local news, and a 17-year-old has been arrested.

We're going to talk more about gun violence in the next few minutes. It's something that's gotten the attention of the president, who flew to New York earlier this week to meet with New York's mayor to talk over strategies for addressing this. But we're going to start by hearing from Nate Fleming. He is, as we said, a candidate for D.C. City Council. He's been a longtime public servant, and he's with us now. Nate Fleming, thanks so much for joining us.

NATE FLEMING: No, thanks for having me.

MARTIN: Well, first of all, I'm so glad you're OK, at least, you know, physically. But could you just start by walking us through what happened? And I realize this is not the most pleasant thing to remember, but what exactly happened?

FLEMING: Yes. So it was a Saturday afternoon. I was just going about my business. I just finished going to the post office and mailing some letters, and I stopped at the local gas station a few blocks from my home. And when I came out of the gas station, I was going to approach my car, and I noticed a red van pulled up pretty quickly. And I looked inside the van, and I saw four masked men. And when I saw four masked men, something struck me to be odd, given that carjackings, I knew, were on the rise in the D.C. area.

So as soon as I had that thought, they jumped out of the vehicle, and there was a gun with an extended magazine pointed in my face before I knew it. So I backed up as quick as I can. I believe I had my keys already in my hand, so I threw them up over the head of the gunman. He screamed, give me your keys. But almost before I could get it out, the keys were over his head. And so they quickly determined that they would get the keys and drove off in not only my car but the car that they came in, the van that they came in.

MARTIN: So as we said earlier, the D.C. police have arrested and charged a 17-year-old in connection with this crime. D.C.'s Mayor Muriel Bowser said in a press conference recently that 64% of the people arrested for carjackings in 2021 were under 18 years old. So did you register that this was a really young person doing this?

FLEMING: To be honest, I - it was a group of four, so I'm not thinking about it in terms of an individualized way. So in my impression, I thought that there was a range of ages in the group, some, you know, as young as, like, the age of 17. But, you know, to - group looked to me to be - have some older members in it, too, like early 20s. So that was my thinking.

MARTIN: But why - why there, and why those kids? Like, what's your take on it? Like, why that gas station? Why that neighborhood? I mean, and why kids? Are they bored? Your sense of - that they're bored, or - what?

FLEMING: They're not being engaged. That's what's going on with the young people. And we have to understand that in D.C. in 2020, there was a 158% increase in carjackings. So I think you have to at least speak and point to the pandemic, how it interrupted a lot of the engagement that we do have with young people, things like schools, things like recreation centers.

MARTIN: There has been an arrest in this case. I mean, do you envision confronting this young man in court? And if so, what do you think you'd say?

FLEMING: Well, I haven't given much thought to that. I've given a lot of thought to what we need to do for young people in D.C. in general - because we have to engage them, not just only during the school year and during the school day. We have to engage them year-round. We need to guarantee that every young person that lives in D.C. has access to a high-quality after-school opportunity of their choice because that's what's going to engage our young people and keep them active and doing something positive and on the trajectory towards success instead of doing these disruptive activities that's, you know, really wreaking havoc all throughout our community.

MARTIN: That was Nate Fleming. He is an attorney. He's held a number of offices in public life, and he's running for the D.C. City Council. Nate Fleming, thanks so much for talking with us. As I said, once again, I'm sorry for what happened to you, and I'm glad that you seem to be able to sort of process it in a way that seems to be helping you move forward and helping us understand what it's like. So, Nate Fleming, thanks so much for talking with us.

FLEMING: Well, thank you for those words, Michel. And thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.