Six years after gang members in one of the most violent parts of the District called a truce, the survivors of the shootings and neighborhood residents used a quiet church ceremony yesterday to mark the cease-fire's remarkable endurance.
The truce between gang members in Simple City, as the area around the Benning Terrace public housing complex in Southeast Washington was known, has become city lore. Previous anniversaries have involved marches, church choirs, two-hour ceremonies. Yesterday morning, as a light rain began to fall, about 50 people sank into pews at First Rock Baptist Church and listened to straightforward speeches about the effect of an agreement by a group of young men to stop shooting one another.
"You have provided the model for programs in at least six other cities to stop violence," said Robert L. Woodson Sr., director of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, a Washington-based organization that helped negotiate the truce "There are hundreds of young people across the country who are alive today because of what you did here."
Arthur Rush Jr., a member of the Alliance of Concerned Men, a grass-roots group that includes many former prison inmates and that also helped negotiate the truce, said a delegation from Northern Ireland came to hear about the program recently.
From 1987 to 1997, at least 65 people were killed in and around Simple City. The violence was concentrated along Alabama Avenue and in a cul-de-sac in the 600 block of 46th Place. The turf was divided between rival factions of the Simple City Crew called "the Circle" and "the Avenue."
"Nobody could even tell you what the shooting started over," said Derrick Thomas Ross, a former leader of the Circle who now works as a transportation director for the Alliance of Concerned Men.
The transformative event was the abduction and killing of 12-year-old Darryl D. Hall. He was snatched by men wearing ski masks while walking home from school in January 1997. His body was found in a ravine. He had been shot in the head. "That was just too much," Ross said.
Leaders of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise and Alliance for Concerned Men pulled gang leaders into a series of tense meetings. Once tempers cooled, the young men on both sides discovered that they were all tired of the conflict. The truce was sealed by a series of hugs.
The crime rate in the area dropped 28 percent the next year. There has not been a shooting between the crew factions since.
"This was a war zone with shootings every single day," said Vivian Norris, the D.C. Housing Authority's property manager on the site for most of the past seven years, whose work was recognized at the ceremony yesterday. "We still have social problems. But there's just not the violence, the death."