Chris Bradley, a 26-year-old boxer turned-promoter who lives in Northeast Washington, stood shivering with the others in Lafayette Park in the late afternoon, his back turned to a cold, cutting wind and a White House that nowadays is described by some in similar terms. Someone asked why he was going to Atlanta.
He turned slowly to face the question. "I got three children of my own," he said, looking just a little pained. He paused. "It's kind of deep."
"The time for this type of thing is past," he said. "I mean, they're not jumping off here against drugs dealers or corrupt politicians, but against children."
"These are our babies," a 27-year-old Northeast Washington woman said a short while later, when radio station WOL-AM had just about filled the three buses it hired Saturday for the 12-hour drive from Washington to yesterday's Atlanta march to benefit the investigation of the unsolved murders of 20 black children. "These are my babies."
If there was one thing held in common by the more than 120 people gathered for the trek south, it was children. The ages of most of the people in the group seemed to hover between 25 and 35, although there were teen-agers and those in their 60s. But most seemed to have children of their own and all had seen and heard a little too much about the children in Atlanta. So they paid their $35 for the bus trip south. WOL took along $10,000 it had raised from listeners and said another $17,000 has been pledged.
There was the 26-year-old Hyattsville mother of three -- aged 4, 9 and 11 -- who prayed that "whoever this fiend is, he or it doesn't spread up here;" the college counselor from Alexandria who figured "if I can go 10,000 miles to fight in war in Vietman, I can go a couple of hundred miles to do what I can in Atlanta;" and the seven men from the Transit Workers Union local who brought a banner that said "Stop the Murders."
"I was in Atlanta last summer, when there were eight or nine children dead," said Sharon Sanders, 22, who lives in Northwest Washington and works part-time in the financial aid office at American University, "but there wasn't any widespread media coverage then -- I believe I found out about the killings in a local black newspaper. And I agree with the parents in Atlanta that the thing was played down, because Atlanta's convention town, no one wanted to stir up trouble.
"It was a social class thing, yes it was," she said softly, and a companion nodded her agreement. "The thing is, if it were middle-income or upper-income black families, or if the children had been white, then things would not have been allowed to go as far as they have."
She stopped to think, and then turned suddenly, "I also think it's just disgusting," she said, "that this country would have to have entertainers go to Atlanta to raise funds for a police investigation when this country sends millions of dollars to El Salvador and overseas elsewhere."
Claudette Kerns, 34, a Northeast D.C. woman with three children, aged 9 to 15, gathered her two bags as one of WOL's "bus captains" called off the names of the last passengers scheduled to board. She echoed the sentiments of those around her -- a hope that group demonstration will prove fruitful in what many see as a good deal more than a simple police investigation -- and then added: "This thing has hurt me very deeply, you know. When the hostages came home and everyone made a big fuss about that, it just got me mad. The hostages really didn't do anything, but these little kids are dying, and those that aren't are scared to death, scared to go out and play, scared to go to school."
"These kids are being held hostage," Chris Bradley said earlier.
Bradley, whose 1-2-and 4-year-old children were staying with their mother and his mother while he went to Atlanta, seemed to be somewhat of an authority on pain -- possibly due to his background in boxing.
"It's like when you have a toothache, it comes and goes, comes and goes," he said. "The Atlanta situation was like that. Now it's as if the teeth were being pulled, and the pain is just unbearable -- excruciating pain. It's a psychological thing that keeps you bumping off the walls."
This is where the boxing comes in. "There are some things boxing teaches you," Bradley said, "things like confidence, and courage -- stuff that makes you get up even when you don't want to get up no more."
Carlton Barnett, who is 23 and lives in Potomac, was the first to plunk down his two bags in Lafayette Park Saturday afternoon, and may be the last to leave Atlanta. He said he plans to stay "for as long as this thing lasts."
For the duration, Barnett had packed one extra jacket, one first-aid kit, one can of mixed vegetables, a needle and thread, a blanket, a pair of sandals, toothpaste, a washcloth, Chapstick, $3 and some change.
"My heart and mind and soul are alfeady in Atlanta," Barnett said. "I'm just bringing my physical body down there to join them."