Ward 8 resident and activist Ron Thompson Jr. (right) speaks at the Ghost Shoe Memorial on Friday, May 31. Walking advocate Kristy Kwan (center) helped organize the event. Image by the author.

Last Friday, two vigils were held back to back on Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue in Congress Heights. One memorialized the victims of gun violence, and the other, people killed by drivers. Both were organized by people who want the District to make streets safer, especially east of the Anacostia where residents are disproportionately affected by both kinds of violence.

A somber group in front of St. Elizabeths Hospital watched as road safety advocates tacked up a pair of “ghost shoes” to memorialize the people who were killed by drivers while walking in DC. In 2019, 12 people have died so far from fatal traffic crashes. Half of those deaths were in Ward 8.

“I’m here because every single thing I’ve done in the last few months has been interconnected,” Ron Thompson, Jr, a Ward 8 resident and activist, said. “Schools, our safe streets and safe roadways, gun violence. They are connected.”

Cars and trucks whizzed by the vigil on the road where a driver struck and killed an unidentified woman late at night on May 17, and the advocates were sometimes drowned out by traffic noise.

Thompson spoke to the crowd about building a united front to keep streets safe: “It requires us coming together not just for moments like this, but whenever we see injustice, and speaking out however we can.”

Badly-designed streets and guns both kill

After the first vigil wound down, many of the attendees walked a few blocks to the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X Avenue to attend a “Stop the Violence” rally led by Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White. White, flanked by several community leaders, spoke positive energy into the air: “We’re celebrating life today.”

Advocates, community leaders and residents gather for the "Stop the Violence" rally on Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. avenues. Image by the author.

White encouraged residents to keep showing up at rallies and to keep doing the work of changing the community.

“It’s about consistency,” White said to the crowd, which got bigger as the sun settled into the sky. “If we aren’t consistent we are here today and gone tomorrow, and nothing ever happens.”

Residents walk down Malcolm X Avenue SE during the anti gun violence rally.

After more people spoke, the rally moved down several blocks to the convenience store on Wheeler Road where 15-year-old Maurice Scott was shot and killed. There have been 65 homicides in DC this year, and 66 people were killed by this same time last year, according to Metropolitan Police Department data.

Scott’s mother spoke to the crowd through her visible pain.

“He was a good little boy. He had dreams. He wanted to play basketball. But going to the store and not making it back home is a whole different story,” said Monique Scott. “I’m sorry I lost my little man.”

Monique Scott (with megaphone), the mother of 15-year-old Maurice Scott, who was fatally shot in Congress Heights, speaks a the Stop the Violence rally. Image by the author.

Safe streets need to be holistic

Walking advocate Christy Kwan, who helped tie the ghost shoes on the post at the earlier vigil, says it’s time to take a wider look at safety and safe streets.

“I think it’s really important, especially for the transportation community and bicyclists and walking advocates, to be really intersection in how we view the world,” Kwan said.

Kwan said that when they first planned to hold the vigil, there was a shooting at a school and they wanted to hold off to let the community grieve. Unfortunately, there was another shooting over Memorial Day weekend.

“It’s just not right where in a span of a week, and maybe a day, someone is struck and killed and someone is murdered,” Kwan said. “It was our hope with still having a rally today–knowing that another rally was going to happen–was to encourage people who usually come out to the vigils to broaden what they normally do.”

As we walked down Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue to the second rally, Kwan said she wants to make sure that all residents are “supported and heard and acknowledged and have solutions provided by the city, instead of generations of violence experienced.”

Thompson hopes the next step in making streets safer in Ward 8 is to gather past research into a comprehensive look at how to address all of the area’s traffic needs. He says the people and communities that have been the most marginalized need to become top priority.

“If you look at these roadways in the last 20, 30, 50 years they are not being configured for the people who live here. That’s the bottom line,” he said. “We can say we want a traffic study for the city, but the need is in Ward 8, and the projects are going to be so big you have to make it a priority and say: We’re going to be first.”

People throw peace signs in the air during the anti gun violence rally. Image by the author.

Volunteers at the "Stop the Violence" rally display their t-shirts for the camera. Image by the author.

George Kevin Jordan is GGWash's Editor and Correspondent writing about urgency and equity in transportation in the Washington region and also the transformation of Tysons. He is a proud new-ish resident of Hillcrest in DC's Ward 7. He was born and raised in Milwaukee and has written for many publications, most recently the AFRO and about HIV/AIDS issues for TheBody.com.