District Mayor Anthony A. Williams told the congregation at the funeral of shooting victim Helen Foster-El yesterday that he will "redouble" his efforts against crime, and then listened as the pastor of the church criticized him for ignoring the concerns of the violence-plagued community.
"That's fine, Mr. Mayor. I felt good to hear you at least stand up and have the guts to say, 'I haven't been here,' " the Rev. Bernard Taylor, pastor of Open Door Baptist Church, told the congregation, referring to Williams's admission that he had not spent time in the neighborhood before the crime.
"Everybody comes out of the woodwork at a time like this," the pastor said, his voice rising. "They want to act like they're with you, but they're not really with you, because when you really need them, they are nowhere to be found. It's time for us to stop playing games with all of this. These are serious issues. People are not just dying because this lady lost her life. They are dying every day."
Foster-El, 55, died June 21 while she was trying to usher children to safety as bullets flew near her house. Over the weekend, several other people were shot, including a 5-month-old child and mother sitting outside a Southeast Washington apartment building.
Early today, two men were shot in the 300 block of 16th Street SE, police said. The men were taken to D.C. General Hospital, where one was in critical condition with a gunshot wound to the abdomen and the other was treated for a shoulder wound.
"This has been a crazy seven days. We all could use a break," said a D.C. police officer on the scene.
The rash of crimes presents Williams (D) with the first crisis of his six-month-old administration that does not involve sifting through budget spreadsheets and negotiating numbers with the D.C. Council. This time, the challenge is both daunting and new for Williams.
In his speech, Williams told mourners at the packed Southeast Washington church that the government and the community "must find the courage" to stand up to drug dealers and protect the city's children and its senior citizens.
"We saw a mother and her baby shot on their doorstep. We felt the loss of a woman killed by stray gunfire as she stood in her own living room," Williams said, referring to recent shootings in Southeast and Prince George's County. "And we must say goodbye to Helen Foster-El, a loving and courageous grandmother who died protecting the children of her community."
While some at the funeral were comforted by the mayor's comments, others criticized him for being a part of the "media circus" and suggested that the mayor would not be seen in their community if there were no crisis.
The mayor said yesterday that he is "redoubling efforts" to combat crime. His aides said that as early as today, Williams will meet with members of the District's Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee--a group that includes members of the D.C. financial control board and officials from law enforcement, corrections and youth services--to discuss short-term and long-term solutions.
Williams, his aides said, not only is concerned with fighting crime but also is committed to addressing the underlying causes of crime through neighborhood revitalization, youth services and general economic development.
The mayor's press secretary, Peggy Armstrong, said that Williams is trying to "create a sense of order and respond to the needs of the summer."
Williams said he will be getting out into the communities and talking to residents. His aides said the administration is identifying residents in the community who can serve as the mayor's eyes and ears.
Omar-Bey, who said he was a longtime friend of Foster-El's, said he took "no comfort" in Williams's presence at the funeral. "We need security in our neighborhood without fanfare," Omar-Bey said.
Mary Jackson, an Advisory Neighborhood Commission member who lives in Ward 7 near Open Door Baptist Church, said of Williams: "I want to hear from him; I want to see some action. I want to see him, and not just for one day of media hype."
Staff writers John W. Fountain and Brian Mooar contributed to this report.
CAPTION: A tearful Elizabeth Foster hugs Veronica Ford at sister-in-law's funeral.