U Street shooting is latest in long history of violence between rival crews, police say

Jamal Coates was slain in the U Street corridor on Tuesday.
Jamal Coates was slain in the U Street corridor on Tuesday. (Courtesy of Brian Weaver)
By Paul Duggan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 29, 2010; 11:37 PM

The latest casualties of gang-related violence in the District - Jamal Coates, dead of gunshot wounds to the head, and Brandon Miller, jailed on a murder charge - were born a few months apart 21 years ago. Now one is in the city morgue, and the other, if convicted, probably will grow old behind bars.

"The motives never make sense," Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said Wednesday, on the morning after gunshots turned a usually peaceful, vibrant stretch of the U Street corridor in Northwest into a taped-off crime scene three blocks long.

"We do believe there was an argument . . . and we do know there are gang members involved," Lanier told reporters at 11th and U streets, hours before a D.C. Superior Court judge ordered Miller to be held in jail without bond.

The mayhem along U Street, the chief said, appears to have been yet another case of impulsive gunfire spawned by a mindless rivalry between street crews.

"A homicide occurs [and] we make an arrest, and then that person involved loses his life, too," she said. "I don't understand what kind of dispute would be worthy of not only taking someone's life, but giving your own life up as well."

Coates and three other men were in a Dodge Caliber parked at 13th and U streets Tuesday afternoon when at least two gunmen approached and opened fire, according to police. Coates and his companions were among hundreds of mourners who had just attended a funeral in a nearby church for a 21-year-old woman who was shot to death a few weeks ago, allegedly by her boyfriend.

In a court affidavit made public Wednesday, police said surveillance video showed the gunmen fleeing in a Buick LeSabre belonging to Miller. They said Miller later admitted to being in the car at the time of the shooting. But he denied any wrongdoing.

Police said Miller told them that he was with some other men, whose last names he doesn't know, that he stayed in the car while the others got out, and that apparently the others opened fire.

In Miller's apartment on Girard Street NW, police said, they found two handguns, one a 9mm, and two assault weapons. They found spent 9mm shell casings in the street. They expect ballistics tests to determine whether the shell casings and the fatal bullets came from the seized 9mm pistol.

The men in the Dodge sped away, traveling only two blocks before the car struck another vehicle and overturned. Two men ran. One was hospitalized with a minor gunshot wound. And Coates was dead.

In the Dodge, police said they found a 9mm handgun and spent shell casings, suggesting that there had been an exchange of gunfire.

"You know somebody for 10 years, and you fight for them to move away from a certain lifestyle," said Bryan Weaver, 40, a neighborhood activist who ran unsuccessfully this year for Ward 1's seat on the D.C. Council.

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