A Local Life: Robert 'Noochie' Kinlaw Jr.
Ex-Offender Turned Mediator, He Tried To Help End the Killings on D.C. Streets
Sunday, September 16, 2007
At some point this year, Robert Kinlaw Jr. -- a 34-year-old ex-offender from Seventh and O streets Northwest, a high school dropout with a long arrest record -- finally had enough of street danger. He was out of jail and trying to raise his teenage son. He also was an expectant father with his fiancee.
Kinlaw, known as "Noochie," liked to say he was putting his life on the line by becoming a mediator between violent "crews" that operate block to block in the city's Shaw neighborhood. His death Aug. 31, after an apparent heart attack at a convenience store, shocked nearly everyone Kinlaw knew, in part because it came in an admirable chapter of a troubled life.
His criminal record started as a teenager in the late 1980s, a peak moment in the District's crack wars. He was convicted on several charges over the years, including conspiracy to distribute cocaine and attempted possession of a controlled substance.
When not in jail, he worked part-time construction and home-renovation jobs and was often frustrated when paychecks from his employers either bounced or did not come at all.
He had, at times, expressed a vague interest in working with younger people, but he "could not get it together" for years, said his mother, Denise Kinlaw, who helped start a college program for ex-offenders from Lorton prison and also ran a summer program for children in the Shaw neighborhood.
Kinlaw knew that many of the young people fighting in Shaw had attended his mother's summer camp, and his friends said he saw that as an opportunity to build on her goodwill in the neighborhood. He also had the authority to handle the younger crowd because he was intimately familiar with their codes and grievances.
In recent months, a city work program assigned Kinlaw to the Alliance of Concerned Men, a nonprofit organization that has tried to end street killings. He became a mediator, working in the alliance with guys from rival crews in Shaw to persuade the younger fighters to reach an accord.
"We showed how we had bonded, and we were the originators of the feuds," said Jeffrey Edelen, 40, from the Fifth and O block. "We concluded it had to end."
It apparently did, starting in June. Members of the Seventh and O crew brokered a peace with members of the Fifth and O crew -- not the only rivalry among those two blocks, but one of the most violent in terms of retaliatory shootings and other expressions of rage, said Larry McCoy, commander of the city's 3rd Police District, which includes Shaw.
Weeks after a truce was reached, a young man from the Seventh and O crew who did not entirely buy into the truce shot at a young man from the Fifth and O crew.
This could have been the undoing of the fragile treaty among the crews.
Kinlaw, used to being called to duty at all hours, found the shooter within 45 minutes of the incident. A colleague in the alliance, Eric Perry, a mediator from the Fifth and O block, located the intended victim. They all met in Kinlaw's truck, and Kinlaw talked to them, softly but assertively.
"He told them to look at the big picture, the greater good, because you can start the whole war over again," Perry said. "Noochie was a guy who had a lot of respect in the neighborhood because the younger kids looked up to him."
That respect partly was born from Kinlaw's jail record. He also was physically intimidating, a stocky and muscular man who had played football on the streets and worked out with weights in jail.
Tyrone Parker, executive director of the alliance, said Kinlaw "did almost the impossible, because you need someone with respect and authority to gather the kids. He went from corner to corner and knew the kids and knew which kids to go to."
Kinlaw also was known on the street for keeping his word and for encouraging his son, DeAngelo Edwards, 17, to finish high school.
Denise Kinlaw said that even while Robert was in jail, he tried to look out for his family, especially his younger brother, David, who became a Baptist minister and now lives in Herndon.
For the funeral last week, the Rev. David Kinlaw had written a eulogy for his brother: "A man who had to portray 'Noochie' because 'Noochie' was too ruff for the church, but at the same time, did he or did he not do the ministry of the church?"