In Renewed Area, Crime Remains
Tuesday, July 11, 2006
The downtown block where a community activist was fatally shot last weekend is in an area that has been rife with shootings and gang skirmishes, police and neighborhood leaders said yesterday.
Chris Crowder, 44, an activist who had filed papers to run for mayor, died early Saturday in a yard near the Washington Convention Center, on N Street between Sixth and Seventh streets NW.
A second man who also was shot in the incident remains in critical condition. Police have not released his name.
Investigators have not determined a motive or a suspect in the shootings, said Lt. Robert Glover. "We're open to all possibilities," he said. Police set a $25,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in the case.
Yesterday, passersby paused before a makeshift shrine of candles and stuffed animals near the spot where Crowder, who used a wheelchair, was slain. The neighborhood courtyard where he died is a patch of cracked concrete wedged between two apartment buildings, with a sagging basketball hoop at one end.
The Mount Vernon neighborhood has undergone a renaissance in recent years with the opening of the convention center and new condominium buildings. Yet, police and neighborhood leaders said, violence persists.
Lt. Michael Smith, who lives on Seventh Street and once patrolled the area, said two gangs he identified as "Fifth and O" and "Seventh and O" have engaged in turf battles in recent months.
"There have been a lot of shootings at night," Smith said. "I'm quite often awakened by gunfire."
At a June 15 meeting called to address concerns about crime, community leaders criticized police, saying they did not provide enough officers to patrol the neighborhood. Alex Padro, a local Advisory Neighborhood Commission member, said police officials at the meeting "indicated that they are providing adequate resources."
"Certainly it hasn't been enough to deter the problem, since it has gotten worse," Padro said. "We've gone from gunshots going in the air to people being wounded and killed."
Crowder, who attended Howard University, was paralyzed in 1990 after he was shot on a playground near where he was killed. Over the years, he took an active role in city politics, attending D.C. Council hearings and neighborhood meetings to speak out on various issues, including tenants' rights.
In the walkway near where he died, neighbors who knew him as "Brother Chris" leaned a crude wooden platform against a tree to create a display of stuffed animals and condolence cards.
"I just saw you Tuesday," read a note signed by Sweet Pea. "We did something with the senior citizens. I gave you a cake and we asked about life and things happening on 7th Street. I would not have figured the next couple of days that you would be gone."
Men hanging out in the shade a few yards from the shrine said that Crowder was a ubiquitous presence in the neighborhood, never allowing his disability to stop him from going to community meetings. He would urge youngsters to focus on their schoolwork and always let politicians know what he thought.
"He inspired people to go out and get theirs, and don't be begging," said Torrence Lewis, 43, a longtime friend.
Crowder's mother, Gracie Brown, with whom he lived in an apartment around the corner, was busy planning a funeral for Saturday and greeting neighbors who rang her bell to make sure she was all right.
Brown said she had long ago stopped warning Crowder to stay off the street late at night. He never listened anyway.
"I'm not about dying," she recalled Crowder telling her. "I'm about living."