Loree Murray, 88, Dies; Called Attention to Violence During D.C. Coke Epidemic

At 85, Loree Murray graduated from the Senior Citizen Police Academy. She had been recuperating from quadruple bypass heart surgery at the time.
At 85, Loree Murray graduated from the Senior Citizen Police Academy. She had been recuperating from quadruple bypass heart surgery at the time. (By Katherine Frey -- The Washington Post)
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By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 3, 2009

Late one night in 1985, Loree Murray's home in Northeast Washington caught fire and was largely destroyed. The home, on Seventh Street near Gallaudet University, was where she had raised seven children since moving to the city from the South during World War II.

She was homeless for the first time in her long life, and she blamed associates of Rayful Edmond III, who was barely 20 and controlled one of the city's most violent cocaine rings.

Her once-peaceable community was a never-ending vista of bullets and sirens -- and now flames. "That did it," she told a reporter. "That made me mad."

Mrs. Murray, who died March 27 at 88 of pancreatic cancer, founded the Near Northeast Citizens Against Crime and Drugs to lead street patrols that helped police document evidence of drug dealing. She was joined by a handful of other men and women, including a 105-year-old who had once worked for the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.

They endured taunts and threats by street thugs.

Mrs. Murray's tactics were equally blunt.

Near Northeast Citizens organized protest marches that hit the usual outposts of public displays of rage: the District building, the Capitol, D.C. police headquarters. But they also targeted the home of Edmond's grandmother.

The hope, Mrs. Murray explained, was to shame the grandmother for doing nothing to help stop the violence.

Mrs. Murray worked with the police but just as often criticized them for inadequately patrolling the area and appearing to let crack houses flourish. She would not let go, even after Edmond was sentenced to multiple life terms in 1990 for running a continuing criminal enterprise that authorities said once netted up to $2 million a week.

Yvonne Smith, director of community outreach for the D.C. police, said Mrs. Murray was "not a community activist who only showed up when the press was around."

Indeed, the retired Environmental Protection Agency secretary had long involved herself in community affairs before she was on any public radar.

She was an advisory neighborhood commission member and a president of the Citizens Advisory Board of the War on Rats, a group set up to reduce the city's rodent population. She courted arrest at rallies to free South African political prisoner Nelson Mandela and protests against the recent war in Iraq. She also helped start a business group on the H Street corridor, where her family owned a liquor store, and helped organize an "orange hat" citizens patrol to let city officials know when streetlights needed repair, trash needed collecting and houses needed to be boarded up.

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