Washington's black-dominated local leadership was still stunned and bewildered yesterday by the large outpouring of sentiment for Bruce Wazon Griffith, the small-time drug dealer killed by police after he allegedly murdered a police officer.
But many of the street workers, ministers and community activists who work around the drug-plagued 14th Street corridor said they were not surprised.
To them, Griffith's sudden elevation to folk hero was a predictable outgrowth of a community where unemployment no housing and little hope had already become the status quo; a community that felt no one was listening to it and a community in which many were afraid to do anything.
"Here come Bruce along and he made something happen," said community worker Robert King of the 14th Street Project Area Committee. "Whether it's good or bad, he made something happen, and he's became a hero."
The Rev. Ray Kemp of Sts. Paul and Augustine Church at 14th and V streets NW, who attended Griffith's wake, said, "He probably became a sacrament of a lot of people's hopes and fears. The signals are clear. City Hall better listen . . . You haven't taken seriously these hopeless, lifeless suicidal folks who ought to be a visible sign or a very deep sickness in this city."
Mayor Marion Barry, who once prowled the 14th Street corridor organizing street dudes for Youth Pride Inc. and now has directed the city's police force to fight his War on Heroin there and throughout the District, said he was not stunned.
"It didn't surprise me, just like the reaction when some people said it was good [that police officer Arthur Snyder had been shot, allegedly by Griffith]. That's the emotion and psychology of some people who hang on 14th Street. There's not a universal love for police officers, especially since the city has gotten tough."
Others, however, noted that many of those who came to mourn Griffith were described as middle-aged, middle-income Washingtonians of moderate political views. They also pointed to longstanding joblessness, lack of housing and lack of government action in the 14th Street area.
"There's a segment in the city that none of use are advocates for. . . . I don't even know what to advocate because I've never listened to them. We've missed the mark," said the Rev. A. Knighton Stanley of People's Congregational Church on upper 14th Street.
"A lot of folks who were there were solid citizen types," said Jerome Page, president of the Washington Urban League. "They are unhappy with the drug traffic on 14th Street, but unhappy because their children are the ones who are gravitating toward 14th Street because they've gone through the schools and there's no jobs.'"
Much of the sentiment was clearly antipolice, according to Jerome Jones, executive director of Rap Inc., a drug rehabilitation project in the area. "Everybody knew he was a dead man, anyway," Jones said. "The fact that he was involved in drugs doesn't mean he didn't have associates who were in legitimate life styles, so to speak."
The Rev. Imagene Stewart of the street-oriented Church of What's Happening Now, said the large show of sympathy for Griffith was also a vote of no confidence in the city's black leadership.
"These people stand alone. They don't even identify with the black leadership. Ain't no black leadership for them," Stewart said. "There's a very negative feeling against black leadership in the hard-core inner city because they've gone into the system . . . [Bruce Griffith] killed someone who represented the system, and he went down swinging."
Family members, who had earlier estimated that there were 3,000 individual signatures in the guest books from Monday night's four-hour wake, said yesterday that a closer examination had revealed only about 2,000 names. Reporters attending the wake, family members and employes of the Jarvis Funeral Home, 1432 U St. NW, observed hundreds more who left without signing. About 100 persons attended the funeral Tuesday.
Among many of the lawyers, politicians, ministers and businessmen most prominent in the city's leadership, the numbers along were cause for attention, concern and puzzlement.
Bishop Smallwood E. Williams of Bible Way Church said he was shocked. "Certainly, the man didn't have that many friends," Williams said. Many of those who came must have been "morbidly curious" about a sudden celebrity, Williams said.
Former mayor Walter E. Washington said he was not surprised. "But I just don't know what to say about it," Washington said.
Sterling Tucker, former director of the Washington Urban League, asked, "How can you get that many people out that fast? I can't say what the message is there, but there's a message."
Council member David A. Clarke, whose Ward 1 includes the 14th street area, told a reporter, "You're trying to figure out what's happening? So am I . . . I'm not sure."
King, program director of the 14th Street Project Area Committee, said the large outpouring of concern for a drug pusher like griffith in the drug-ridden area was not unprecedented. Last year, police arrested an alleged drug pusher on Chapin Street NW, where young children sell bags of marijuana at curbside in shifts. About 200 persons came out of their homes and jeered the police for making the arrest, King said.
King said the community has long been toiling with the drug traffic. It only adds to nagging problems of poor housing and no jobs in the upper Cardozo area, he said.
King is convinced that most people in the area don't want the drugs around, and most were not happy to see Snyder killed, despite his reputation as a tough cop.
"I wish somebody would tell me what would solve it," Barry said. "If the community is serious about not wanting hard drugs in our community, we're gonna have to find ways to do it."