Ellen Mundaray was angry. Earlier this month, a 21-year-old riding a moped was killed when he was struck by a stolen van near her home in the Benning Terrace neighborhood of Southeast Washington. A 16-year-old was charged in the death.
Last year, two people were killed in the area by cars allegedly driven by juveniles. After this month's incident, Mundaray scolded a group of neighborhood youngsters. And then she started writing.
Mundaray, president of the Benning Terrace Resident Council, wrote to city officials demanding that they address a problem that she said plagues her neighborhood: young car thieves. The result was a rally, held there last night and attended by about 200 people, including ministers, politicians and police.
The visitors pledged their commitment to the residents. One D.C. police officer received applause when he said: "I'm here every day for you. I don't live in this community. But I care."
But Mundaray said she doubts that one rally will solve a problem she views as chronic. So, along with the neighborhood's First Rock Baptist Church, Mundaray plans to hold similar events every other Friday to foster neighborhood pride and togetherness.
"I just felt the top officials need to come out and tell us just what their plans are," Mundaray said.
Patricia Moten, outreach minister at First Rock, said she joined Mundaray in getting Safeway to donate hot dogs and chips. Speakers included ANC Commissioner Sheila Carson-Carr, D.C. Council member Kevin P. Chavous (D-Ward 7) and his primary election opponent, Vincent C. Gray. Representatives of Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) and the city housing authority were also on hand.
Moten said fear prevented adults from disciplining neighborhood children. "But I'm not scared anymore," she said.
Resident Gladys Simmons, 50, expressed skepticism about officials' promises. "The only time we get heard about is when tragedy comes to this area," she said. "It shouldn't have to be like that."
A 52-year-old woman, who identified herself only as Jessie, said she fears bad neighborhood influences on her grandson. "We're in a valley here," she said. "We can't afford to move."