They stood holding red-and-white candles in front of a boarded-up grocery at First and U streets NW last night: young and old, blue-collar and white-collar, white and black.
In all, more than 50 residents of the Bloomingdale neighborhood of Northwest Washington gathered to remember grocer Song Sun Sop, 50, of Silver Spring, who was shot in the head and killed in an apparent robbery attempt as he locked up his store Friday night.
They said their candlelit presence on the corner where the slaying occurred was intended as a message to police and to drug dealers that violence in the neighborhood has to stop.
"Police have not really been able to come across with the kind of resources we need," said Jean Thomas, head of the crime action committee of the Bloomingdale Civic Association. "They are not willing to work with citizens who want to improve the situation and regain control of their neighborhood."
Thomas said 38 people have been slain on First Street NW between Rhode Island Avenue and Bryant Street since 1987. In the six weeks preceding Thanksgiving, she said, 37 robberies and burglaries were reported in the neighborhood.
Residents gathered for the vigil repeated those statistics and lashed out at city officials for their inability to stop the crime. Several said police did not arrive at First and U streets NW Friday night until 30 minutes after Song was shot.
"I'm very leery of the neighborhood right now," said Keith Lowe, a W Street NW resident whose home was burglarized Sept. 26 and who was robbed in his house at gunpoint Nov. 11. "I think it's indicative of the general deterioration of the city."
One V Street NW resident who declined to give her name said she was fed up with police and with the administration of Marion Barry. "I'm waiting to see what Mrs. Dixon is going to do," the woman said, referring to Sharon Pratt Dixon, who will be inaugurated mayor today. "I think she's going to make a difference."
Many attending the vigil wore the trademark orange baseball hats of the civilian patrols that have diminished drug activity in Bloomingdale, Edgewood and nearby neighborhoods. They talked of uniting against the drug dealers who they said operate freely on the unit block of U Street NW.
"People have to step to the forefront and make a commitment that they're not going to be intimidated," said George Crawford, former president of the civic association.
But that message didn't even carry across the street, where two young men stood bouncing a basketball and shaking their heads at the nearby candle holders.
"What are they holding a vigil for? They just need to get police on the beat walking," said Langley Dobbins. "Take those cars away and let them get exercise."
As they discussed the violence, several residents recalled Song as a neighborhood fixture who often sold on credit and who supported the civic association. The night before he was killed, Thomas said, Song donated $200 to the group. "There was nothing you could ask him to do that he wouldn't do," said Ted Bush, a 26-year Bloomingdale resident.
Asked whether he thought Song's wife and daughters would reopen the store, Bush shook his head. "I don't think so," he said. "I wouldn't if I was her, because of the violence."