In Washington, D.C., funerals provide 'opportunity' for retaliatory violence

As a funeral in the neighborhood ended, a group of men opened fire. A vehicle believed to have been targeted overturned, and police reported one person dead inside.
By Keith L. Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 5, 2010; 9:58 PM

For most people, attending a funeral is a time to pay respects and lend support.

But increasingly in Washington, funerals are becoming a chance to settle a score.

Last week, Jamal Coates was fatally shot in the bustling area of 13th and U streets NW as he and three friends were set to join a funeral procession. Coates and his friends were among hundreds of mourners who had just attended a funeral at a nearby church for a 21-year-old woman who was shot to death a few weeks earlier.

It was just the latest in a string of violent incidents in the District that occurred at or immediately after a funeral of a young homicide victim.

On Wednesday, Coates will be eulogized at a church in Northwest D.C. And because of the growing possibility of violence, District police and peace activists say they will be there to try to put an end to gang retaliation at funerals.

"To a lot of young people, a church is just another building," said Ronald Moten, co-founderof the anti-gang organization Peaceaholics. "And a funeral gives them a chance to get back at somebody and catch them off guard."

Police and others say that the funerals of homicide victims are an easy place to exact revenge. Shooters know members of rival gangs will be there and be distracted.

In November, George Rawlings, 21, was fatally shot just blocks from the Capitol Mortuary at 1425 Maryland Ave. NE, after attending the funeral of Ashton Hunter.

Authorities said his killers mistakenly thought Rawlings was involved in Hunter's slaying. Two men at the funeral followed Rawlings and fatally shot him several times as he tried to board a Metro bus after the service.

In March, four people were charged with plotting to kill mourners who attended the funeral for Jordan Howe, 20, in retaliation for the wounding of Howe's suspected killer. The plotters couldn't carry out their plan at the funeral, but hours later, as mourners gathered nearby - still holding funeral programs - the men shot into the crowd, killing three people and injuring eight.

"Who thinks to shoot up a funeral? What kind of animal thinks like that?" asked Nardyne Jefferies, whose daughter, Brishell Jones, 16, was one of the three mourners killed.

Jefferies said her daughter had asked permission to attend funerals of friends who were killed before Howe's death. But Jefferies never allowed her, saying the emotional toll on her daughter would be too much. Jefferies said she never thought her only child would be unsafe at a funeral.

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