Due to an editing error, a homicide victim was misidentified Tuesday in Courtland Milloy's column. The victim was Andre Reese Jr. (Published 12/7/90)
Inside Troyit's Barber Shop yesterday, Troyit, Walt and Sam were cutting hair. Homey was decorating mirrors with spray-on snowflakes and candy apple-colored wrapping paper. Birmingham Brown and Larry were seated under a picture of the Seagrams Gin poster girl, savoring victories by the Redskins and Bullets.
Only when Fred, a retired D.C. police detective, appeared in the doorway with his hands raised and joked, "I ain't packing no heat," did the sense of business as usual give way to macabre memories.
Troyit, who has owned his barbershop in the 2400 block of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue in Southeast Washington since 1967, said it still is hard to believe that his business was the scene of a gangland-style hit.
Troyit's is a comfortably old-fashioned shop where a cadre of established blue-collar family men talk sports, women and work while getting their heads ready for Sunday morning worship.
Last Friday, their weekly routine was upset when two youngsters walked in and fired eight slugs from two 9mm semiautomatic pistols into a customer.
The victim, an 18-year-old who police say recently traded the nightlife for night school, fell in agony to the floor, where he was shot again in the head.
"I thought it was some kids playing a prank with cap guns, until I saw that the man was riddled with holes," Troyit said.
Birmingham Brown's customer fainted. Brown panicked and tried to flee.
"I ran right into the dead man and we fell together," Brown said. "They weren't finished killing him, and all I could see was more gunfire was jumping out of the barrel."
Andre, the barber who was cutting the victim's hair, had just finished and was about to hand the man a mirror to admire the work when the gunfire erupted.
"Andre was real shook up," Troyit said. "He ran out of here so fast he sprained his ankle." Andre has not been back to work since.
Troyit reopened for business Saturday. Some regular customers were disturbed by this. It wasn't just that a couple of barber chairs still had flecks of blood on them. They were more concerned that the shop had not properly memorialized Anthony Reese Jr., the slain man.
"People keep asking me, 'You're still open? You should have closed at least one day,' " Troyit said. "I say, 'For what?' We reopened as soon as the police let us. The shop filled up like old times, like nothing had happened. I say, 'Life goes on.' "
As Troyit was being interviewed yesterday, the noon news appeared on the barbershop television. D.C. Police Chief Isaac Fulwood Jr. could be seen commenting on two more homicides that had occurred earlier in the day. In previous statements, Fulwood had cited community indifference as one of the reasons the homicides continue unabated.
"I don't think Fulwood is talking about us not caring," said Fred, the ex-detective. "He's talking about people who know people who are involved in drugs and don't do anything about it."
Trying to stay calm as he shaved himself, Birmingham Brown mumbled at Fulwood's reflection in the shop mirror.
"The reason it's business as usual is because people are trying to survive," he said. "There is a plague on this city, but it's not dope. It's called 'trickle-down economics.' D.C. police can't do diddly about that. And we know it. So we say, 'To heck with it.' And keep on hustling for our bread."
Larry, who is a painter, spun around in a barber chair where he was relaxing, suddenly perturbed.
"Every time a person gets killed in this city, it matters to me," he said. "But there have been almost 500 murders this year. How many times can you be shocked before you go numb?"
"Brothers killing sisters with babies in their arms?" interrupted Homey, indignantly. "That's shocking stuff, I don't care how many times it happens."
Another customer, a carpenter named Garfield, entered the shop unaware of the serious mood. "It's the O.K. Corral," he said, joking.
But all eyes stayed glued on Fulwood. Nobody, the chief of police was saying, knows how to stop the murders.
"Take a chair, say a barber chair with straps, and run some fire through it," he suggested. "If you take a life, you give a life. Then burn a couple of them suckers to show we mean business."
Heads nodded approvingly, and Troyit's got back to business as usual.