The silent march through Columbia Heights was designed to send a strong message to attackers that their community would no longer tolerate intolerance. The walkers started at the IHOP restaurant at 14th Street and Irving where a man was shot early Sunday morning after getting into a shoving match with a stranger spewing homophobic slurs. The throng walked toward Georgia Avenue, where a good friend of Brady’s was so heinously attacked by two separate groups of men that his jaw shattered in three places. Arrests have not been made in either case.
“When we heard about what happened to our friend, the first thing we wanted to do was take to the street,” said Brady, a 26-year-old paralegal. “But then we thought of how to make a really strong statement.”
Another friend, Patrick Pressman, sent an invite on Facebook to five friends to organize a small walk. That number grew to 11 friends and then to people who he had never met. Strangers told the story of a transgender woman who was beaten unconscious in Northeast on West Virginia Avenue and Mount Olivet Street, an incident police have not classified as a bias incident.
Over a five-day period, almost 700 people of all races and sexual orientations vowed to attend. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier did, too. So did three D.C. Council members.
Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) arrived at the IHOP a few minutes before the march was set to begin. Already, the line stretched past the pancake restaurant, wrapping around Columbia Heights’ huge shopping complex.
“There was a time when [hate crimes were] dismissed as not-serious issues,” Graham said.
The very presence of a grass-roots march showed how much things had changed and yet the fact that the crimes even happened showed that things still have not changed enough, he said.
Graham locked arms with fellow council members Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) and Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D) as the crowd of well over 600 walked to the corner where Brady’s friend was attacked. They passed a woman standing outside her house with her two children, saluting the protesters.
They also passed by Bruce Monroe Community Park, where a 17-year-old girl in a sleeveless T-shirt stopped a news photographer. She wanted to know what was going on:
“So all these people are gay?”
“Wow, because I’m gay. But they’re all white? Are there any black people in the march?”
“Can I come? I want to be with them.”
She stopped with them at Georgia and Irving. A.J. Singletary, chairman of the community group Gays, Lesbians Opposing Violence, read a description of what happened to the man who was attacked there. It was based on the account of the victim and his partner.
Singletary described how the victim was pummeled to the ground by a group of men shouting slurs at him. How he was dragged along Georgia Avenue, trying to claw the street. That another group joined in the assault, wrapping the strap of his briefcase around his neck. That they stole his iPad and broke his jaw, which is now wired shut, and probably will be for weeks. He was in the hospital until Tuesday and does not want to be identified.
Singletary said he read the story in hopes that it would inspire more people to give tips to the police.
“So many of my friends and so many of us have been targeted,’’ said Meredith Ives, a 25-year-old SAT tutor. “It’s so weird. We are known as being this progressive city that’s so tolerant and friendly. We have our ‘gayborhoods.’ But this reminds us that we can’t take anything in stride, and [we have to] look for wonderful ways to raise awareness.”
A group of Occupy D.C. protesters chanted “Whose Streets? Our Streets!” during the silent march, as a show of solidarity. The group continued down Georgia Avenue, where a huddle of five men shouted slurs at the group. The marchers ignored them and kept on walking.
They marched for 2.6 miles, ending at Cobalt, a nightclub in Dupont Circle. A fundraiser for the victims was planned.
Drips of sweat dripped down Brady’s face as he looked behind him at the mass of marchers, still in disbelief that a walk with a group of friends turned into something much bigger.
A friend wrested the megaphone from him to thank everyone for coming. No more needed to be said.
If you have an idea for a story about the D.C. area at night, e-mail Robert Samuels at email@example.com.