There was a perfect blue sky, laughter and a kung fu exhibition for Father's Day entertainment yesterday at Freedom Plaza in the District, but Kenneth E. Barnes Sr. had not come there for fun.
In full view of the U.S. Capitol and across Pennsylvania Avenue from the offices of the mayor and D.C. Council, Barnes and his supporters gathered to mark the deaths of homicide victims in the city and to call on District officials to do more to stem what he called "an epidemic" of violence.
"We're here to say we remember all homicide victims. And we're here to say that the number one killer of our youth is guns, and we have to do something about it," Barnes said. ". . . Our children are being murdered and are committing murder. Enough is enough."
The rally was organized by ROOTS Inc. and other local anti-violence organizations. Barnes founded ROOTS, which stands for Reaching Out to Others Together, after his son, Kenneth E. Barnes Jr., was slain in the District almost three years ago.
The younger Barnes, 37, owned Boutique U, a clothing store at 11th and U streets NW that sold stylish outfits to the club crowd. He was shot to death in September 2001 during a robbery, leaving a wife and four children.
The elder Barnes said the anti-violence groups have launched a new effort, "Guns Aside," that is designed specifically to get guns off District streets.
Many people in the small crowd yesterday had lost a family member to violence, including Marita Michael, mother of Devin M. Fowlkes, 16, a star football player at Anacostia Senior High School who was killed by a fellow student last fall.
"We have to stop this," Michael said. She also said she hoped the rally would have some impact on city officials, whom she called on to improve school security and take other safety measures.
Reciting homicide statistics as of June 13, council member Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D-Ward 5) said 84 people had been killed this year in the District, 46 of whom were under age 25 and 15 of whom were under age 18.
"Clearly that has to be unacceptable," said Orange, who addressed the rally with his 8-year-old daughter, Jannie, at his side.
Orange then announced that the council would soon vote on a proposal to declare Father's Day in the District "Moratorium on Murder Day."
The rally, which included a host of speakers and a martial arts exhibition by students at Hung Tao Choy Mei Kung Fu Academy in the District, concluded three days of events to call attention to the number of homicides in the city.
A seminar on violence was held at the University of the District of Columbia on Friday.
An anti-violence workshop was held at Ballou Senior High School on Saturday, and a "Stop the Violence" concert was held later that evening at a city nightclub.