In D.C., bullets leave another child fatherless
For 16 minutes, doctors in an emergency room treatment bay called Trauma 1 worked urgently to resuscitate the patient, a gunshot victim with no vital signs and a wound so grievous that saving him would have amounted to a resurrection.
David Robinson’s life had all but officially ended even before an ambulance crew wheeled him into Howard University Hospital that winter morning in 2012. A bullet fired on a dark street in Northeast Washington had severed his aorta, and surgeon Wendy Ricketts Greene knew that nothing in medical science could bring him back. Glancing at the wall clock, she noted the time, 3:13 a.m., and pronounced the young man dead.
Four of his loved ones soon hurried into Howard – four women in their 40s, trembling and desperate to know his condition, among them his mother and godmother.
Each had been jolted awake by a pre-dawn phone call as word spread from the crime scene at 58th and Foote streets: Some dude had a gun; Day-Day got shot. Waiting silently in an ER conference room, they clung to hope: David had been shot before and had pulled through. And lately, he’d been brimming with good intentions, promising he was done with the hazards of the ‘hood – with the beefs, the bullets, the burials.
This article is part of an occasional series examining the role of guns and the influence of the gun industry in the United States.
He had a full-time job that he enjoyed and a deepening religious faith; he was close to earning a high school diploma and excited to be an expectant father.
Then the doctor walked in, and from her solemn expression the women could see that a tragedy they’d long dreaded and tried to prevent had come to pass. “Unresponsive” is a word Evon Davis says she won’t forget, the term Greene used to describe her son, dead on a gurney two months shy of his 20th birthday.
After he barely survived being shot when he was 17, David Robinson began worshiping at Masjid Muhammad and reading the Koran. “Man, I need to believe in something,” he told one of his closest friends, Larry Reeves. “He said, ‘If I die, I have to have some type of belief.’ ” Above, Kyreem Robinson, now 16 months old, on the day that he took his first steps.
His killing, still unsolved, is the story of gun violence in Washington.
Year after year, young black males make up the bulk of the slain, most of them shot in poor or working-class neighborhoods, as David was.
In 2012, more than 90 percent of the dead were African Americans and nearly seven in 10 were younger than 35. The city’s homicide rate has gone way down – the annual body count dropped from a record high of 482 in 1991 to a half-century low of 88 last year – but the casualties don’t change. Like David, many of the fallen loitered in the danger zone, in the vicinity of the killers and the killed, always in the shadows of trouble.
Victims who aren’t perceived as innocent tend to draw scant public notice or sympathy, and the shooting of David Robinson appalled the civic conscience only briefly, owing to the dismal particulars of the crime: He had died in a gunfight after being robbed of his new Nike sneakers.
“The circumstances are not only tragic, they are incredibly disquieting,” Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) said hours after the slaying as he appeared at a previously scheduled church vigil against violence.”A life for a pair of Nike tennis shoes? C’mon, ladies and gentlemen! It’s time for us to be able to end this tragic violence in our society.”
There was a pistol on the pavement near David when the police found him bleeding and unconscious. He carried a gun routinely, for self-protection, he used to say.
“My best friend,” he called his piece.
It was how he lived. But he wanted a better way.
Robert “Pops” Brown, 78, attends the graveside memorial to mark the first one-year anniversary of the death of his grandson David Robinson. The baby being held at left, Kyreem, is David’s son, who was born four months after he was killed shot.
“R.I.P.” is all over some neighborhoods – swirled in tattoos on young men’s arms and chests, etched in sidewalk cement, spray-painted on walls and carved in courtyard benches: R.I.P. Sean, R.I.P. Anton, R.I.P. Tyrone, Cory, Rasheed, Fuzzy. . . . Rest in peace, gone too soon.
Weeks after David’s burial, after Evon’s shock had given way to an unceasing dull ache, her daughter, Rejjina, a CVS clerk, came home one evening with a DVD titled “R.I.P. David L. Robinson.” The two sat weeping in front of a TV, watching Day-Day’s life flash by in 30 minutes of video clips.
The disc is a montage of joy and pain, of David as a child having fun and David as a teenager, his visage grim, after events had made him keenly aware of his mortality.
Here was Day-Day in a chapel, gazing into the open coffin of his childhood friend Ashton Hunter (R.I.P. Duzzie), who had been shot while trying to buy a gun on the street. Hunter’s funeral would be followed within minutes by a retaliation killing a few blocks from the mortuary.
Here was the world David tried to escape.
Photos: A murder on the streets of D.C.
The rack of shoes has an empty space where David Robinson kept the Nike shoes that cost him his life. (Michael S. Williamson)
“All I ever wanted, the only thing I hoped for, was for him to grow up and be a person that can be respected,” says Evon, 48, who used to preach to him, “You have much more potential than you realize.”
Evon raised David and Rejjina, born 11 months apart, in a housing complex named for a city that continues to evolve while nothing much changes about her life: Washington Apartments, it’s called.
She has lived there since 1978, first with her parents and four of her siblings, then in an apartment of her own. Except for intermittent stints as a hairstylist and a nursing assistant – eight years of work, long ago – Evon has been unemployed since finishing high school in 1983, mainly for health reasons, she says. Through the years, she has managed to get by on public assistance and money earned from babysitting and styling friends’ hair in her living room.
Like many of her neighbors, Evon is a low-income holdover in gentrifying Shaw. It’s a swath of the city transformed in the past decade by waves of monied newcomers, yet a community still blemished by poverty and crime, a reminder of the crack-fueled mayhem that ravaged the area a quarter-century ago.
The DVD had been given to Rejjina by an amateur videographer named Curtis Mozie, then a counselor at Shaw’s Kennedy Recreation Center.
For 20-plus years, Mozie, nicknamed C-Webb, has chronicled the street lives of young people in poor parts of the District, coaxing them to talk on camera about their hopes and fears. So vast is his archive – gathered at playgrounds and go-go parties, at homicide scenes and funerals – that when a teenager is killed, there’s a fair chance that the victim is someone C-Webb has recorded. And often he’ll produce a rest-in-peace DVD for the bereaved family, a video eulogy like the one he created for Evon and Rejjina, layered with a soundtrack of 2Pac and Whitney Houston.
“I was crying from beginning to end,” says Evon, who watched the DVD just once, unable to bear it again.
Here was Day-Day at age 10, laughing in a crowd of kids playing “beat your feet” on the corner of Seventh and O streets NW, busting hip-hop dance moves and yelling who’s best. In those days, with his big eyeglasses, high cheeks and sweet disposition, he reminded folks of the nerdy TV character Steve Urkel.
Shooting back: C-Webb’s crusade against gun violence
Curtis Mozie, a.k.a. “C-Webb,” has been filming in D.C.’s Shaw neighborhood since the 1980s, documenting inner city life. Mozie’s footage of neighborhood kids growing up eventually became something different, serving as both memorials to those who died in street violence and a form of community journalism in its rawest form. (AJ Chavar/The Washington Post)
And here he was at 12, boxing in the Kennedy Rec with his pint-size buddy Malik, the two flailing at each other, gleeful, as the referee tells C-Webb’s camera, “Instead of shooting a gun and stabbing people, we put the gloves on and let ’em go!”
“So,” said C-Webb to the boys after the bout, “y’all feel better now, using the boxing gloves instead of a gun?” Nodding, smiling, catching his breath, David replied, “Yeah.”
Watching the images through tears, Evon knew what roiled in her son back then, the anger and confusion stewing behind a youngster’s big grin.
He was a boy yearning for the father he was named after, David Lee Robinson, an auto mechanic with a 10th-grade education and a court record that would grow to list 17 arrests and four jail stints for assaults and other crimes. Big David would visit Day-Day and Rejjina, then vanish from their lives for weeks or months, says Evon, who met him when she was 25 and whose romance with him died of natural causes a couple of years later.
People could tell from Day-Day’s moods whether his father had spent time with him lately; they could tell from his exuberance in the afterglow of a daddy drop-by and from his growing surliness during his father’s long absences, when Big David ignored the boy like a bad debt.
Evon Davis still mourns her son, who lived with her in Washington Apartments. Behind her are the sonograms of her grandson, Kyreem, who was born after his father’s murder.
David was a third-grader at Seaton Elementary when his misbehavior began to seriously worry Evon.
“Getting in fights, talking back,” his mother says. “He was angry about things. Nobody ever said it was about his father, but I figured it was.”
He wasn’t yet 10 when two adults with kind intentions came into his life, each hoping to mentor him to a gainful future.
One of them, Pastor Annette Miles, now 60, is a longtime hairstyling client and neighbor of Evon’s in Washington Apartments. Pastor Annette runs an urban version of a country schoolhouse – two rooms in a Georgia Avenue NW storefront for about 60 well-behaved youngsters, K-to-12, neatly clad in uniforms. Students are obliged to be courteous and tidy at Academia De La Recta Porta, where the pastor also demands industriousness, good posture and precise diction.
Pastor Annette Miles, the dean at Academia De La Recta Porta, thought David Robinson would benefit from the private school's small size and strict rules. She urged his mother, Evon Davis, a longtime friend and neighbor, to enroll him there in third grade.
“Embrace the proper protocols relative to etiquette and manners” is what she expects from children. Thinking her school’s size and strict rules would benefit David – who struggled academically, slowed by a learning disability – she urged Evon to enroll him there as a third-grader, telling her to pay only as much tuition as she could afford.
And there was Steve Titlebaum, then 32, a new volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters of the National Capital Area. Having settled her troubled son in Pastor Annette’s academy, Evon saw an ad for Big Brothers and thought a worthy male role model might ease the boy’s futile yearning for his father.
“I think when I initially went into it, I was a little bit naive,” says Titlebaum, a professional fundraiser for nonprofit groups who lives alone in Takoma Park and has no children. Remembering his time with David, he tends to cry.
“I always talked about not succumbing to peer pressure, staying away from certain influences, staying out of trouble,” he says. “But any child, as they get older, there’s less and less you can do. It becomes his friends who have all the influence.”
The two were together almost every Saturday in the early years, visiting museums and ethnic restaurants. They hiked and picked apples and played problem-solving board games. Titlebaum urged David to focus his energy on school. “Growing up to live in an apartment similar to the one his mother lived in, right nearby, in the same place – that was how he envisioned life,” Titlebaum recalls. “And I would always say to him, ‘David, if you work hard, you can go further, you can have more.’ ”
It was in Evon’s apartment, in 2004, that Titlebaum first encountered another man destined to impact Day-Day’s life – a laborer named Maximillian Crawford.
“There was something about him I didn’t like,” Titlebaum remembers.
Crawford, then 36, was Evon’s new boyfriend, a relationship born in an AOL chat room. Chatting had progressed to dating, Evon says, and soon Crawford was sleeping at her place three or four nights a week. “I was in love,” she says.
Steve Titlebaum, who was a volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters of the National Capital Area, mentored David Robinson for several years. In the beginning, the two were together almost every Saturday, visiting museums, hiking and going to restaurants.
In all their chatting, Crawford had neglected to mention that he’d spent the 1990s in prison after admitting to sexually molesting a 9-year-old niece. Evon says she heard about it from a neighbor, who saw Crawford’s mug shot on the D.C. sex-offender registry. When she made delicate inquiries among adolescent girls who frequented her apartment, four of them said they’d been groped, or much worse, by her boyfriend.
There was a major ruckus after that – Evon calling the police; Crawford going on the lam briefly; and a posse of irate men shooting 20 or 30 holes in the clunker sedan he left behind. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison after pleading guilty to first-degree child sex abuse of one of the girls and attempted sex abuse of another.
The Crawford mess profoundly upset 12-year-old David, his mother says. “He came in the house, saw all the police, saw all the people outside, and he was like, ‘Ma, what’s going on?’ ” She explained it as well as she could. “I mean, he was just . . . ” Evon pauses, her eyes shut. “I remember he went in the kitchen, yelling how he was going to kill him; got a knife, before we got it away from him; kept saying he was going to go find him, he was going to kill him.”
Afterward, David’s father did some drive-by parenting, berating the seventh-grader for being derelict in his duties as “the man of the house.” That was Big David’s wisdom on the matter: If the boy had kept a closer eye on Crawford, the whole awful episode might have been prevented. Evon says she argued with Robinson, yelling: “You can’t put that blame on a child! If you’re going to blame anyone, blame me!”
She says of her son: “You could see the rage in him. I mean, it really messed with David. His whole attitude and demeanor, everything changed.” As a court-appointed psychologist later noted, David “felt pressure to prove himself, to show the world that he is tough enough to protect himself and his family.” And in his anger – in his misguided quest to be a man – he turned to the treacherous streets.
“Started hanging with all them other knuckleheads out there,” Evon says, “with their guns and whatnot.”
Cranes swing high above the gentrifying streets of Shaw, the Northwest D.C. neighborhood where David Robinson grew up. The famed O Street Market is being rebuilt, along with high-end apartments and other new businesses.
Countless young people living on the city’s margins congregate on building stoops and street corners, intending no harm. They go to school; they have jobs. They aren’t the “knuckleheads,” as D.C. police use the term.
In the knucklehead culture that Day-Day fell into, young street denizens belong to little clans – “crews,” in cop parlance – each claiming a stretch of neighborhood turf. Among the mini-nations of Shaw, the Seventh and O crew and the Fifth and O crew have been locked in a Hatfields-and-McCoys-type beef for a generation. The feud erupts in spates of murderous, tit-for-tat gunfire, goes quiet for a while, then flares anew.
Because Washington Apartments is in the Seventh and O realm, Day-Day became identified with that crew. But there’s no membership roll, no initiation rites. It’s a loose collection of street acquaintances, some of them varsity-level felons, some junior varsity, some just adolescent wannabe gangstas. They hang out, looking for trouble or waiting for trouble to find them, which, sooner or later, it usually does.
David got the street pose down in no time – the sneer, the saunter, the don’t nothin’ matter air of sullen indifference.
Amid his turbulent adolescence, the neighborhood was experiencing a dazzling rebirth, sparked by construction of the $850 million Washington Convention Center, which opened in 2003. Shaw’s ugly memories from the 1968 riots and the late-’80s crack scourge, which had caused lasting devastation to the community, were being buried at last.
“David . . . would not be ‘chumped.’ His response would be threatening to ‘bust you up.’”
Cranes swung high above the streets. Hotels, retail outlets, business offices and apartment buildings kept arriving as dilapidated storefronts and ramshackle rowhouses vanished. Over the past dozen years, census figures show, the median household income in the heart of Shaw has tripled to almost $70,000. Even the nature of crime has changed, with street robberies more common now than drug deals.
Affluent young gentrifiers, well-educated and racially diverse, began moving into Washington Apartments, which had opened in 1977 as subsidized housing for low-income residents. Back then, tenants paid about 30 percent of their incomes each month and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development took care of the rest.
In 2007, the complex’s owners began requiring new residents to pay market rates, while longtimers such as Evon remained in the federal subsidy program. Of the 262 apartments, 84 are still occupied by tenants with HUD vouchers.
For Evon, who doesn’t have an on-the-books job, and whose welfare eligibility ran out a few years ago, 30 percent of her documented income is zero. So that’s what she contributes toward the rent for her three-bedroom apartment, which would cost a newcomer about $2,400 a month. “Don’t pay nothing,” she says.
Evon mostly ignores her better-off neighbors, with their late-model cars, their big-ticket bicycles, their pricey jogging strollers. Shaw’s renaissance has changed nothing about her reality. Nor did it help her son.
The change in David, his new street ethos, worried Pastor Annette. “David would not stand for any disrespect or perceived disrespect from any of his male peers,” she recalls. “He would not be ‘chumped.’ His response would be threatening to ‘bust you up.’ ”
By the eighth grade, she says, his disobedience was so flagrant that it was obvious to her and to his mother that he’d hadenough of her academy and its rules.
“We talked it over,” the pastor says. “Rather than lose him altogether and have him drop out, we thought, well, let’s try public school. And we’d just hope for the best.”
On Aug. 28, 2006, David started the ninth grade at Shaw Junior High.
Two weeks later, he was arrested for the first time, after some hallway shoving between groups of kids boiled over after school in a nearby 7-Eleven parking lot.
Alerted by a neighbor, Evon left her apartment and hustled up the block in time to see her son being led away in handcuffs, accused of pulling a gun.
She glared at David, who eventually would be placed on probation. “Is this what you want for your life?” she hollered. “Is this what you want?”
Evon remembers his weary expression, his air of defeat. “He was just looking at me with these sad eyes,” she recalls. “And he didn’t say anything.”
He was 14.
Evon Davis and her brother, Bernard Brown, mourn the death of Evon’s son, David Robinson, a year after his death. Brown, who spent 18 years in prison for second-degree murder, warned his nephew about the perils of the streets in weekly phone calls.
Of the many adults who tried to help young David, one was a hard-time penitentiary inmate, an uncle who counseled Day-Day by phone for years.
In 1991, Bernard Brown, then 22, was beginning a sentence of 15 years to life for second-degree murder when he learned that his sister Evon was pregnant.
“When she first told me, I was scared,” recalls Bernard, who had been a pistol-packing dope dealer in Shaw. “I was like, ‘Yo, is you positive you want a child in that neighborhood, all the stuff they get into?’ ”
“It ain’t going to be like that,” Evon remembers telling him by phone. “He ain’t going to be like the rest of these kids out here.”
Bernard became a long-distance parent to a child he’d seen only in photos, talking with David weekly from about the time the boy was 6 years old. “I’d call him up, and I’d be like: ‘Man, what’s going on? How’s school? . . . You being good?’ ”
And starting when David was 10, his uncle made sure to caution him about the perils of the neighborhood.
Then Bernard got word that Day-Day was hanging on the streets, and he warned his nephew again about the dangers. Yet nothing he said made a dent.
On that September afternoon in 2006 when David was first arrested, it was Seventh and O vs. Fifth and O in the 7-Eleven parking lot, Evon thinks. Or maybe it was Ninth and O, not Fifth and O. David wasn’t specific about that. He wasn’t specific about a lot of things, with his mother or his uncle or his Big Brother, all of whom pressed him about where he got the gun. The code against snitching had become part of Day-Day’s system of street principles by then, along with his credo of tolerating no disrespect.
“For me,” says Titlebaum, “it was really a swift kick in the butt to face reality, that this kid was living a totally different life than I lived.”
Five years into their relationship, the two had begun to drift apart, and eventually they would lose touch permanently. “I kept asking: ‘Whose gun was it? Who gave it to you?’ ” Titlebaum recalls. “I said, ‘Why don’t you tell the police?’ And he was like: ‘No, no, no. You don’t do that.’ ”
From prison, meanwhile, Bernard kept talking sense to Day-Day.
“I told him, ‘Guns don’t make you a man!’ I told him, ‘Guns make you a coward!’ And he was like, ‘Unc, man, I know, I know, but these dudes out here, they’re carrying guns, talking about they’re going to do this, they’re going to do that.’
“He was like, ‘Unc, it ain’t safe out here.’ ”
David Robinson showed amateur videographer Curtis “C-Webb” Mozie an eight-inch row of surgical staples after he barely survived a 2009 shooting at a go-go concert. He told Mozie he wanted to change his life. “I need to do something, definitely,” he said.
The first time Day-Day caught a bullet, he was in a gaggle of young people who got to fighting at a go-go concert at a Knights of Columbus hall in Oxon Hill.
That May night in 2009, after bouncers showed the belligerents the door, the beef kept up on the driveway until the crack of gunfire put an end to the bravado.
David, 17, groaned, clutching his belly as he spun and collapsed. The crowd scattered, knuckleheads fleeing in every direction, while one of David’s companions cradled his gut-shot buddy on the ground. Just hours earlier, the two had been together at the funeral of a friend (R.I.P. Big Son) slain in one of Shaw’s incessant crew beefs.
At Washington Apartments, Evon got a phone call near midnight.
As she would do again almost three years later, she hurried to an emergency room, unsure if her son was alive. At Prince George’s Hospital Center, she waited for hours until a surgeon appeared and nodded reassuringly. David had pulled through, the doctor said, although the bullet had come close to putting him in a body bag.
“It went in one side of his abdomen and exited out his back,” Evon says. “It hit one of his kidneys. It hit some part of his intestines. It hit his stomach area. It was like it ricocheted through him.” She remembers the doctor saying, “He’s a very lucky young man.”
On his chest, above the scar, he would get a tattoo: “Blessed.”
Three rough years had passed since David’s first arrest – three more years of David on the streets, of David enduring his mother’s desperate pleas and lectures. He’d left a record of fistfights and suspensions, chronic absences and failing grades
at three public high schools in 18 months. And he’d been arrested again, hauled from the passenger seat of a stolen car after it crashed during a police chase.
Each arrest brought a stretch of juvenile probation. “Never mind the things they was doing out there that he didn’t actually get caught for,” Evon says, rolling her eyes.
Amateur videographer Curtis “C-Webb” Mozie calls his work “Tale of the Tape,” a reference to the yellow police tape strung up at homicide scenes. He once asked David Robinson whether he thought he would become a “Tale of the Tape.”
In the months before the go-go shooting, Evon had poured out her heart to Pastor Annette, who had consoled her, saying: “Evon, David’s going to be all right. God’s just pinching him right now.” Which had made Evon think: “Lord, I know Pastor Annette says you just pinching him right now. But I don’t think you pinching him hard enough.”
As she sat with David in his hospital room, Evon half-wondered if the wound he had miraculously survived was a tough-love form of divine intervention, the Almighty just up and pulling the trigger on Day-Day to make an impression.”I think it made everything real to him,” she says, “like he finally realized all this craziness going on ain’t for him.”
Here was Day-Day a few weeks later, fresh out of the hospital, standing in the Kennedy Rec with amateur videographer Curtis “C-Webb” Mozie. And here was C-Webb, chronicler of the streets, aiming his camera at David, inquiring about his near-demise. Their chat eventually would be featured on his R.I.P. tribute DVD.
C-Webb, now 47, calls his work “Tale of the Tape,” a reference to the yellow police ribbon strung up at homicide scenes. He asked Day-Day, “You ever thought about C-Webb, ‘Tale of the Tape’ stuff, that you might be a story?”
Day-Day, 5-foot-9 and slender with a thicket of untamed hair, lifted his jersey, revealing an eight-inch row of surgical staples running up his abdomen like a zipper. “Yeah,” he replied, “I was thinking about that a lot” – thinking he ought to change his lifestyle before he landed permanently horizontal. “I need to do something, definitely.”
Which was easier imagined than done.
“All he talked about was how afraid he was,” says his uncle Bernard, who had been locked up for 18 years by then and was close to being paroled. “All he could think about was not being able to see his mom and sister no more.”
After the go-go shooting, David would rarely be without a pistol. A second juvenile arrest for gun possession, just weeks after his release from the hospital, and another round of probation would not dissuade him from packing a weapon.
“My best friend,” he would say, patting his waistband.
A comfort gun. For personal safety.
Student support specialist Khayree Kornegay checks up on students in the hallway of Maya Angelou Public Charter School, the last school David Robinson attended before he was killed. Maya, as it is known, is a last resort for teens on the verge of dropping out.
Besides scaring and scarring him, the slug in the gut moved David to ponder his existence. An older fellow in Shaw introduced him to Islam in 2009, and Day-Day took to reading the Koran.
“That’s when he cut off his dreads and got his Muslim outfit,” his mother recalls.
He wasn’t a poseur; he didn’t wear his thobe and kufi as a fashion statement. Worshipers at the Masjid Muhammad mosque say David found solace and meaning in the Islamic holy book and regularly attended Friday jummah prayers. “He was just like, ‘Man, I need to believe in something,’ ” one of his closest pals, Larry Reeves, remembers. “He said, ‘If I die, I have to have some type of belief.’ ”
David’s new faith was accompanied by a commitment to earn a diploma.
By then, he was attending the Maya Angelou charter high school in far Northeast Washington, a place of last resort for teenagers on the verge of becoming dropouts. Evon had enrolled him there just weeks before the go-go shooting, and he returned in the fall of 2009 for his first full academic year. He delighted his mother by showing up for classes (usually) and obeying the rules (usually).
When David occasionally misbehaved or skipped a class, he got fast attention from school psychologist Troy Waller and student support specialist Khayree Kornegay, a former special education teacher.
“In his soul, he wasn’t really a tough guy,” recalls Kornegay, now 51, explaining why he and Waller saw “a lot of potential” in Day-Day. “He wasn’t no straight-out thug. He had a heart that wanted to help people, that genuinely cared for people.”
In the last week of David’s life, Troy Waller, left, a school psychologist at Maya Angelou, took him to sign up for the last two classes he needed to graduate from high school: English IV and biology. Khayree Kornegay, a student support specialist at Maya Angelou, saw a lot of potential in David Robinson: “In his soul, he wasn’t really a tough guy. He had a heart that wanted to help people.”
Kornegay and Waller knew the weight of the baggage David carried from his childhood. They knew he felt compelled to prove he was a man. And they knew he clung to the dangerous notion that a real man won’t tolerate being “punked.”
Kornegay, who worshiped with David at Masjid Muhammad, says, “His famous line was: ‘Korn, tell that boy he needs to check my résumé – I don’t play in the streets.’ ” And in those moments of anger, Korn would calm him, coaxing David to rise above pointless aggression, to “stay on your deen,” the path to righteousness in Islam.
“Once he got here, he tried to leave that street stuff behind,” Waller, now 39, remembers. “He really wanted to. He was working on it. But it’s difficult to break those ties.”
What finally pushed him permanently from the streets was a ‘hood drama that began unfolding seven months after he was shot. It started with a robbery that landed David and another teenager in jail and led to gossip that Day-Day was a snitch.
In the Dec. 15, 2009, stickup, a young man selling a pair of Nikes on a Capitol Heights street corner was relieved of the sneakers at gunpoint. David and his pal Dalontray Williams, nicknamed Apple, were the alleged perps. Apple was arrested by a Prince George’s police officer after a foot chase that day. David eluded capture and hurried home to Shaw, conflicted over what to do next.
As usual in dicey situations, he turned for advice to his street-savvy godmother, Brenda Mayo, a neighbor of Evon’s and her closest friend since before David was born.
Day-Day swore that he hadn’t known the robbery was going to occur until Apple suddenly pulled a gun. He told Brenda that he suspected the police knew his name. He was worried he would seem guilty if he waited to be arrested, he said. Yet if he gave himself up, Brenda remembers him saying tearfully, “Guys out here are going to think I’m sucker! They’re going to call me a punk!”
At his godmother’s urging, David surrendered, joining Apple behind bars, until the victim decided not to testify and the robbery charges were thrown out.
When Apple got back to Shaw in early 2010, he began whispering to folks that Day-Day had implicated him in the holdup – that Day-Day was a rat. Which instantly made David persona non grata to the Seventh Street crew and put his life in danger.
Apple isn’t around now to explain his accusation: R.I.P. Apple, stabbed in a fight outside a dollar store in Shaw last year.
“Day-Day wasn’t no snitch,” insists his friend Larry Reeves. “Day-Day could have brought this whole ‘hood down if he was snitching.”
Yet the allegation changed his life. In the places where he used to hang out, where he used to find trouble, he was no longer welcome.
So he stopped hanging out. And he stopped finding trouble.
“He knew he was better off,” says Evon.
David Robinson’s godbrother, Jamar Crawford, left, with his son Andre, 8, look out over a courtyard at Washington Apartments, where both young men grew up. David tried to escape the gravity pull of Shaw’s streets, but couldn't.
Still, he was afraid, because he had that label: snitch.
“I was real scared for him,” says his uncle Bernard, a parolee by then, living in Prince George’s. “Little guys killing dudes over that label.”
So Day-Day held onto his pistol. And he kept an eye out over his shoulder.
“Sometimes I just want to know how it feels not to feel scared,” he told his godmother, who pleaded with him repeatedly to stop carrying a gun.
Then, on Christmas Eve 2010, David crossed paths with a Seventh Street miscreant who waved a knife at him – and he decided he’d had enough of Shaw. Only by putting distance between himself and the ‘hood could he escape the pull of the streets. A few weeks later, with Evon’s blessing, David decamped to his aunt Linda Brown’s brick-front colonial on a tree-shaded cul-de-sac in Glenmont, leaving the blare of city sirens for the chirp of crickets. It was a respite and a revelation.
“I think he really enjoyed the quiet once he got used to it,” Linda says.
Commuting to Maya would have been impractical, so he left the school, hoping to attend Montgomery County’s John F. Kennedy High. But complications involving his legal residency and tangled academic history kept preventing his enrollment.
While his aunt tried to sort out matters with the Montgomery school system, David worked full time at the Home Depot in Northeast Washington.
“He liked flooring,” says Evon, remembering how proud David was of the Homer Award he received for customer service. “He’d come home and tell us all about tiles and this, that and the other.” And he promised his mother that he would get his diploma, that she would see him “walk across that stage,” that she would “get to scream and holler like everyone else.”
David Robinson's room was left untouched for months after he was killed. His mother, Evon Davis, used to preach to him, “You have much more potential than you realize.” The shoe rack in David Robinson’s bedroom is missing the pair of Nike Zoom Rookies that were stolen from him on the night that he died.
He felt he owed it to Evon for sticking by him. His dad, on the other hand, had been mostly MIA. Nevertheless, David was heartbroken when Robinson, 53, succumbed to an AIDS-related illness on April 22, 2011. Big David had been living in an auto-repair garage he rented on a junk-strewn lot in Hyattsville, and there he died, alone on his bunk in a dingy storage room.
His only possession of value was an old canary-yellow dragster dubbed Tweety Bird, worth $6,000. He left instructions for it to be sold and for the money to be given to a longtime girlfriend.
“Like a week later, David and Rejjina went over to the garage,” Evon recalls. “They just wanted to find something to remember him by. . . . There wasn’t nothing there for them. They wanted something so bad, they brought home a broken fan.”
Kennedy High never happened for David; his aunt couldn’t persuade the school to accept him. “David wanted to stay out here, he really did,” says Raynesha Brown, one of Linda’s daughters. “But he was definitely all about school. . . . He wanted that diploma.”
In the summer of 2011, he reluctantly moved back to Evon’s place, back to Shaw and all its hazards, figuring he would re-enroll at Maya. In the courtyard outside her apartment that July, he met the woman who would become the mother of his baby.
Jamisha Houston was 23 then, a Starbucks barista rooming with a co-worker in Washington Apartments. “You know how boys be chasing girls, like, ‘Oh, I’m going to get you!’ And he did,” she recalls. “He got me.” Jamisha, who already had two toddlers, soon found out she was pregnant, and 19-year-old Day-Day was elated.
“He couldn’t wait to have a child,” Jamisha says. He planned to take night courses for a diploma while working full time at Home Depot. He vowed to immerse himself in his son’s life, to be the kind of father Big David never was. He and Jamisha agreed that the boy would live with David in Evon’s apartment until David graduated from high school. Then Day-Day would get a place of his own and devote his life to his child.
Father and son, together in Washington Apartments.
It wasn’t long afterward that his godmother rewarded David for all the progress he was making, for his growing sense of purpose. Brenda handed him $220 to buy the new Nike sneakers he’d been pining for – a just-issued pair of Zoom Rookies, white over black. Three days before Christmas 2011, Day-Day crossed the parking lot of the Brentwood Shopping Center from Home Depot to a Foot Locker. He laid down the cash and went home smiling with his kicks.
Shaw, where David Robinson grew up, is increasingly affluent. At a bus stop across from the Washington Convention Center, the face reflected in the glass shelter is from an ad promoting mortgage help for low-income home buyers.
In the final week of his life, David and Jamisha visited an OB-GYN and watched a three-dimensional sonogram of their unborn child.
“You should have seen him,” Jamisha says of David. “His eyes getting all watery and stuff.”
The same day, Troy Waller, the Maya psychologist who had mentored David, drove him to Roosevelt High and helped him register for two evening classes, English IV and biology, the last credits he needed for a diploma. In the car, Waller noticed Day-Day’s spiffy footwear. “He was proud of the shoes. And we sort of laughed at the fact that he was trying to get me to buy him lunch. I said: ‘C’mon, man! You got yourself some nice new sneakers. You can pay for the McDonald’s!’ ”
Day-Day wore the Zooms to a party in Northeast Washington a few nights later. Afterward, he and his cousin Tim Brown, who was clad in a pricey Helly Hansen ski jacket, were waiting for a Metro bus at Foote and 58th streets, in the Capitol View neighborhood, when a sport-utility vehicle eased past them. In the pre-dawn stillness, the SUV turned a corner, vanishing from view, then doubled back around
Tim, sensing danger, knew Day-Day packed a piece. “Get that junt ready,” he remembers saying to his cousin. It was 2:30 a.m. Sunday, Jan. 8, 2012. The SUV, bearing three or four knuckleheads, came to a stop, and one of them got out, aiming a gun.
The corner of 58th and Foote streets in Northeast D.C. where 19-year-old David Robinson and his cousin were waiting for a bus when the deadly robbery occurred. The cousin escaped, but David did not.
“Give up the Helly!”
Tim bolted, escaping in the dark with his fashionable winter coat. David, who stayed put, gave up his Nikes. And it should have ended with that, his family says. Except Day-Day would not be chumped; he would not be punked. Day-Day, who used to warn, “Check my résumé” and “I don’t play in the streets,” evidently drew the comfort gun he carried for personal safety and traded shots with the dude who stole his sneakers.
“Having a gun can save you or kill you,” says Brenda Mayo’s son, Jamar. “In this case, I think it killed him. I think him having that gun is the reason he’s gone.”
One bullet hit him. It went in near his left armpit and sliced the artery carrying blood from his heart; it pierced both of his lungs, fractured two ribs and came out near his right armpit before entering and lodging in his upper right arm, just beneath another of his tattoos, “R.I.P Bill-Bill,” in memory of a slain friend.
The mystery crew rode off, leaving him bleeding on the pavement.
Today, the dog-eared case file labeled ROBINSON DAVID is 20 months old and two inches thick. It sits on Bob Alder’s desk in the squad room of the D.C. police homicide unit, unsolved and going cold. “We’re carrying the motive as robbery,” Lt. Alder says, riffling the pages. “Pair of Nike sneakers.”
ROBINSON DAVID is the story of gun violence in Washington.
He owned those Nikes for 17 days before somebody shot him. Yet robbery wasn’t the only reason he died, his loved ones say. He died because of the way he’d lived, because of the fear he felt and what he’d learned about manhood as a boy on the streets of Shaw.
“I truly wish I’d proceeded to do more about this gun he carried around,” his godmother, now 49, whispers in anguish. “Sometimes I pray to God to forgive me for that.”
Down a hall in Evon’s apartment is Day-Day’s bedroom. There’s the old futon he slept on. There’s the closet where he hid his various guns in a shoe box. There, on a wooden rack, are four pairs of his Nikes, but not the Zoom Rookies, his reward for seeking a future where futures are elusive.
David Robinson had worn a new pair of $220 Zoom Nikes like these for 17 days before he was shot on Jan. 8, 2012. His assailants, who robbed and then killed him, have not been found.
And there’s his son, in a strip of sonogram images taped to the wall above a television.
Kyreem Dawoud Robinson is 16 months old now, squirming on Evon’s lap one afternoon in the dim light of her living room.
“He has David’s eyes,” she says as Ky, in need of nap, bawls and fidgets. “He’s like the sweetest little baby when he ain’t sleepy. So I see a lot of David in him.”
Another generation, the fourth, in Washington Apartments.
While Jamisha works and cares for her two other sons in Southwest Washington, Ky stays with Evon four days a week. The boy, his hair in cornrows, finds the pacifier clipped to his jersey and falls silent, burying his face in his grandmother’s bosom.
She worries, as her brother Bernard used to fret when Evon was pregnant:
Yo, is you positive you want a child in that neighborhood?
By the time her grandson is 4 or 5 years old, if gentrification hasn’t rid Shaw of its knucklehead culture, Evon says, “I would think about moving. Because I don’t want to go down the same road, you know?”
A boy missing his father, turning to the streets.
It ain’t going to be like that. He ain’t going to be like these other kids out here.
“This is a second chance,” Evon says, in a tone of self-persuasion. “Maybe the mistakes I made with my kids, I can change them with him. Or at least try.”
Story by Paul Duggan
Photos by Michael S. Williamson
Editing by Lynda Robinson, Art Daglish, MaryAnne Golon
Production by Katie Myrick, Tim Richardson, Tim Wong
Video by A.J. Chavar, Jonathan Forsythe