D.C. community activists yesterday called for a more comprehensive investigation of the murder of Yulanda Ward, a leader of the District's City-Wide Housing Coalition, who was killed during a street robbery early Sunday.
Leaders of the D.C. Rape Crisis Center, for which Ward served as a board member, said they believe that Ward's death may be linked to recent harassment directed at her for her efforts to stop housing displacement of the poor in the inner city.
"The murder of Yulanda Ward was due to more than a simple robbery," Nkenge Toure, director of community education for the Rape Crisis Center, said at a press conference in All Souls Unitarian Church.
However, D.C. Police Deputy Chief Alphonzo Gibson said police believe robbery is the only motive for the shooting. "We have no evidence to indicate that there was anything other than robbery," said Gibson, who, along with the mayor's special assistant, Warren Graves, attended the press conference.
According to police and one of the robbery victims, Ward and three friends were walking in the 2800 block of Gainesville Street SE about 2 a.m. Sunday when they were approached by four men, at least one of whom was armed with a handgun. The four robbed the men and shot Ward.
Because of Ward's community activism, Toure and others said, the case merited more attention than the police had given it, and disputed the conclusion that it was the climax of a random street robbery. Although Toure was not specific in recommending the kind of investigation being sought, she hinted that the mayor's office, for example, should become involved.
One of the robbery victims, Bruce Terry Mansa, said in an interview earlier this week that the men "only said basic robbery stuff" [such as] 'Don't move' and 'Hold it.' They never said they were out to get her."
Police have arrested two men in connection with the shooting. They are William E. Tate, 23, of 1113 Chicago St. SE, and Sylvester Harrison, 37, of 2315 25th St. SE. Both have been charged with homicide.
Gibson, who heads the criminal investigations division, said police are continuing their search for other suspects. He urged anyone with information to contact the police.
Loretta Ross, director of the D.C. Rape Crisis Center and a friend of Ward's, said that "what we are calling for is an immediate, full, public and private independent investigation" of Ward's death. "It's not a mere coincidence that she was killed."
Rose said a memorial fund was being collected. Contributions may be sent to Yulanda Ward Memorial Fund, c/o D.C. Rape Crisis Center, P.O. Box 21005, Washington, D.C. 20009.