Activist Fatally Shot In NW

By Robert E. Pierre
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 9, 2006

A community activist who made a habit of confronting the powerful and had filed papers to run for D.C. mayor was fatally shot early yesterday in a park a block away from the city's thriving new convention center.

Chris Crowder, 44, was shot multiple times and found by police next to the wheelchair he had used since 1990, when he was shot and paralyzed from the waist down on a playground in the same neighborhood.

The earlier shooting -- a case of mistaken identity, Crowder had said -- came near the end of the crack epidemic, in a year when the District logged 474 homicides and was known as the nation's "murder capital."

Now his Mount Vernon neighborhood is in the midst of a rapid transformation, luring developers of pricey condominiums and suburbanites itching to be close to downtown. But homicides, sexual assaults, robberies and assaults with a deadly weapon have increased this year in the police district that includes Mount Vernon, according to police statistics.

Crowder was found at 3:43 a.m. in a park near Sixth and N streets NW, a place where his mother said he and other men his age often hung out and talked. D.C. police spokesman Joe Gentile said investigators know of no motive or suspects in the shooting and do not know whether it was the result of a dispute, a robbery or a random act of violence. Another man was shot multiple times in the same incident and was in critical condition last night, police said, declining to release his name.

Around the neighborhood and in political circles, Crowder was known as a loud-talking guy who had opinions -- often good ones -- on everything. He gained some fame for an appearance in 1995 on CBS's "60 Minutes," in which he spoke about the 1990 shooting, and for his penchant for taking on bigwigs. He would yell at D.C. Council members during hearings, and in May he bumped heads with entertainer Bill Cosby.

Often brash and disheveled, Crowder also came across as thoughtful, according to those who encountered him at public meetings.

"He stood out because of his energy and his passion," said D.C. Council member Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4), a leading mayoral candidate. "He was an advocate for affordable housing, more services and programs for young people. He spoke very loud. Even when he was challenging the government, he was always the type of person who would walk over and shake your hand. He really seemed concerned about the future of the city."

Crowder was among 12 candidates who had filed official petitions to run for mayor. He had filed as a member of the D.C. Statehood Green Party, which advocates for the elimination of federal oversight of the District, statehood for the city and reparations for descendants of slaves, among other causes.

"He said he wanted to help the city be better," his mother, Gracie Brown, said of Crowder's mayoral bid. "He didn't have much money, but he was running."

Crowder shared an apartment with his mother on Seventh Street NW, a few blocks from the scene of the shooting. Brown rushed to the park after neighbors knocked frantically on her door. A detective told her that her son had been shot seven times, she said. Yesterday afternoon, a steady stream of neighbors visited and telephoned her to offer condolences.

Crowder had graduated from Howard University and was working his way through law school in 1990 when he was shot the first time. Five years later, during the "60 Minutes" interview with Mike Wallace, Crowder said he had been shot by one of three teenagers who mistook him for a police officer. That attack led to years of health problems, he told Wallace, explaining that he required a nurse daily, medication for bed sores and several skin grafts.

Asked what he would have told the people who shot him, Crowder said: "Man, do you know how much you've sidelined me? Do you know how much you've cost me and how much it's costing me now? Do you know how much pain I have to go through certain days? How I feel when I wet myself?"

During Cosby's recent speech at the University of the District of Columbia, Crowder yelled to Cosby that he was hosting a "watered-down dialogue." Cosby has traveled across the country criticizing black people who shun personal responsibility, blame police for incarcerations and let their children speak improper English. After Crowder's outburst, Cosby came down from the stage to confront him. "You don't deserve an audience with me," the entertainer said.

Brown said her son had been unable to work because of his injuries and was receiving disability payments. She said he was always helpful with seniors in their apartment building in the 1300 block of Seventh Street.

One neighbor said that too many youths in and around the building are violent and disrespectful to adults.

"We bring this up at tenants meetings, but nothing is ever done," said the woman, a friend of Brown's who has lived in the same building for 15 years and declined to give her name.

One question bothered Fenty and others yesterday:

"How does a guy in a wheelchair get shot?" the council member asked.

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