D.C. police ticketed and towed cars along Fairmont Street NW yesterday morning to clear a block near the church where the funeral of the mother of the city's police chief was held a few hours later.
"I thought it was a drug raid," said Gail Barnes, who lives in the 1200 block of Fairmont Street. She and her neighbors were roused by police ordering the residents to move their cars. "It was like the Gestapo around here this morning with the police running up and down the stairs and the loudspeakers and all," she said.
About 800 people including Police Chief Maurice Turner, Mayor Marion Barry, Fire Chief Theodore R. Coleman and several members of the City Council attended the 11 a.m. service, according to the Rev. Edward Thomas, pastor of the Greater First Baptist Church at the corner of 13th and Fairmont streets NW.
Elizabeth E. Turner, 72, died Sunday after suffering a heart attack while attending church services a week earlier, Thomas said.
The cars were parked three abreast across the newly cleared block of Fairmont for about three hours, according to residents.
Emergency no-parking signs for events such as funerals are to be posted 72 hours in advance.
But no signs warning of the parking restrictions were posted until about midnight Monday, residents said. Police showed up about 8 a.m. yesterday telling people to move their cars while a police officer in a patrol car announced over a loud speaker, "Get your cars off the street or they will be towed," Barnes said.
Police spokesman Lt. William White III said that some tickets were issued in error for cars parked in violation of the emergency sign and that the department was arranging to withdraw the tickets.
He said the department had realized that there would be an "acute" parking problem for the funeral only after seeing the large number of people who came to the church for the wake on Monday night.
"When we need additional parking for short duration in a situation like this, we post the signs and come in the following day with the cranes and tow the cars in violation," he said. "In situations like this, we do not ticket the cars and we try to place them in the immediate neighborhood."
Many residents, some wearing bathrobes, rushed to move their cars, but about 10 cars were towed, residents said.
Ruby Thompkins, a nurse who is at home recuperating from an operation, said that she heard the loudspeaker and looked out her door to see three cars being towed from the block, then she moved her car.
"It was my first time out since I got home from the hospital," she said. "I moved my car to 11th and Girard, but I was worried that someone might damage it over there. It was just terrible around here this morning, everybody out on the street fussing with the police about their cars."
Fairmont Street residents said that in the past no-parking signs have been posted for funerals but yesterday marked the first time police had towed cars for services.
George S. Brown, a retired construction worker who has lived on the block for 16 years, said he thought the police had done a good job of notifying residents by knocking on every door.
"When I got up at 5 a.m., I saw those signs and I moved my car," he said. "After all, it is the family of the police chief and I knew to move my car. Some people might not think it was fair to tow the cars, but I think they tried hard to warn us."