The Other Sons Lost to the Code of the Streets
No bouquets of flowers rest outside 2921 Knox Pl. SE. Not for Angelo Hursey. Not for Anthony Lucas. Not for Donieal Sadler. Not for any of the 10 young black men who have been killed in recent years in or around that white-brick apartment building just a block from a police station.
Along Redskin Park Drive in Ashburn, the flowers pile up in memory of Sean Taylor, a bounty of sorrow and sympathy, an expression of caring a world apart from the pain that gnaws at the families of the murdered men of Knox Place. For those men, there were no stories in the papers, no battalions of investigators tracking down the killers.
Hursey was shot to death last year in a hallway inside that building. Ten shots from behind. Fifteen people were there. They're awfully sorry, you see, but nobody saw anything. An epidemic of temporary blindness.
At Redskins Park, Jane Scott arrives with two bunches of flowers, one from her, one from her 11-year-old son, Steven. A Redskins fan all her life, Scott, who lives in Gainesville, admired Sean Taylor for his athleticism. Her son, well, "his big thing was the hitting. Sean hit so hard, so well." Scott decided to take her boy out of school and bring him to pay tribute to a fallen player because of the pleasure Taylor had given them as fans and because of the sense she had that "Sean was turning his life around."
Whatever that means. "In this affluent area, we probably can't relate to what he went through, where he came from," Scott says.
On Knox Place, the guys who hang out in front of the building, occasionally stepping into the street for a quick exchange with a passing motorist, say not a word about the quality of Taylor's work. When I ask them why Taylor's death brings out such reverence and emotion while those who die on Knox Place gain notice only on the D.C. police department's reward posters ("Up to $25,000 Reward for information regarding this incident . . ."), one guy says this:
"Sean Taylor died representing where he came from."
Another says this: "He was standing up for his home, going back to his people."
The unknowns surrounding Taylor's death hardly matter here; on Knox Place, the story has been adapted to local realities.
There is a code at work, a system of beliefs about the obligations you carry because of where you grew up and who you hung out with. This is not simply a matter of inculcating young people with a belief that standing up for what's right is somehow "snitching." It is a larger set of street rules in which loyalty and personal worth are judged according to your willingness to take part in or at least condone illegal acts.
This is a code almost wholly unknown among those gathered at Redskins Park. It is part of what divides us as a country. From the outside, the code can seem mysterious, even alluring, the stuff of rap lyrics and Hollywood fantasies. But to those who live the consequences of that code, there is no such glamour, only brutal truths.
Last year, the D.C. police selected Knox Place, a one-block-long street off Alabama Avenue, for intensive enforcement against drug sales. That was then. The D.C. police Web site today says, "This Drug Free Zone is no longer active."