Police lights swirled through the October night and blocked Georgia Avenue traffic -- not in response to gun violence, but to prevent it. Preachers, police brass and politicians marched by candlelight alongside a few dozen neighborhood residents, and at the center of it all strode Minnie Green.
In any municipality, officials know they must answer to the demands of the "Ms. Minnies" of the world. Green, a diminutive 78-year-old, is but one of dozens of neighborhood activists across the District. But her voice is set apart from that of some others by her willingness to work as well as agitate, and her recent march displayed the power that one dedicated taxpayer can wield.
Minnie Green, right, is hugged by Angela Harris, a facilities manager for St. Paul's Church, at a holiday party sponsored by council member Adrian Fenty.
(Lauren Victoria Burke For The Washington Post)
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Green persuaded officials to shut Georgia and New Hampshire avenues. She gathered active and retired police chiefs, her council member, several news reporters and more than a half-dozen ministers for her cause.
No single event spurred her action. Green had been upset by several violent crimes that had wracked her Petworth neighborhood much earlier in the year.
"You cannot sit at home and complain," Green said.
"Magnetic," "dedicated" and "consistent" are adjectives used by her supporters and those challenged by her in city government. Their respect inspires their loyalty.
"With Minnie, it's not a matter of whether you're coming, it's what time are you going to get there," said Executive Assistant Police Chief Mike Fitzgerald, who walked alongside his boss, Chief Charles H. Ramsey, and has known Green since the late 1980s.
Green challenged 4th District Commander Hilton Burton and his Patrol Service Area lieutenants to continue the spirit of her crusade with similar marches across the other four police service areas in her ward. She said her purpose is not to criticize, but to energize street officers and community members.
Earlier this month, as Green held court at a holiday party thrown by D.C. Council member Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4), she showed how she could work a room without ever leaving her chair.
Dressed in a leopard-patterned fur vest, Green hugged and schmoozed all who came near, greeting well-wishers with a compliment about how pretty they looked or their "good-looking husband."
"I just love everybody," Green said. "Just don't cross me."
Former 4th District commanders warned Burton, when he was promoted to command chair, that Green "has the ear of the chief." He discovered her penchant for truth-telling on his second day on the job, when Green rose at a community meeting and told Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) that the commander's job should have gone to a contender other than Burton.
"She basically told me she would be watching me," Burton said in an interview. "She's a dynamite person; she doesn't take no for an answer."
Life began for Green in the tiny hamlet of Rockingham, N.C. When she was 13, she and her mother, three sisters and some cousins moved to Washington, riding in the back of a pickup truck. When she arrived, Green spoke with a twang that rang of her roots and sounded like the opposite of political sophistication.