Six D.C. police officers marched alongside Minnie Green’s coffin to her final rest Tuesday.
Few civilian city residents, outside of elected leaders, garner honor guards and police escorts at their funeral. But it seemed a fitting tribute for the 87-year-old woman, who died May 16 of congestive heart failure after spending decades defying the dangers of drug dealers and gunfire in a battle to rescue city streets from violence.
The tiny lady with graying hair forged partnerships between police and community members to build programs for youths and led neighbors on weekly patrols. She pointed out drug houses to officers, even when people set fires outside her home hoping to intimidate her. Politicians went to her doorstep when she called and when they needed community support to get things done.
From mayors to corner drug dealers, she called all of them her “babies.” They called her Ms. Minnie.
Petworth is a safer place to live these days, in part because of Green.
“She devoted herself and her life to the cause of good and to the District of Columbia,” Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) told more than 100 people who filled Asbury United Methodist Church in Northwest Washington to hail the accomplishments of one ordinary retired federal worker.
“We’ve all heard the term ‘force of nature.’ Minnie Green was a force of nature,” Gray said.
Long before she amassed power brokers’ numbers on her living room phone’s speed dial, Green moved to the District at age 13 in 1939, from her native Rockingham, N.C. She later graduated from Cardozo High School and Atlantic Business College, which led to a 39-year career in the federal government, mostly as a records-management supervisor.
She honed her leadership skills serving as a union representative for 15 years, and in the 1960s, she aligned with co-workers to help desegregate Crevella’s Wayside Inn in Silver Spring, said her only child, Mike Leake. For 20 years, Green served as a driver and board member for the Upper Northwest Meals on Wheels program.
But her charity began at home in Ward 4. Leake remembered a mother eager to treat his friends as her own. If she went shopping for chinos at J.C. Penney, she didn’t just buy for her son.
“If she bought me a pair, she bought my buddy a pair,” Leake said in an interview. “She just hated to see people down and out.”
And at the same time, Green was no-nonsense. Leake said he often got into trouble at Roosevelt High School student and later hung out in pool halls. His mother never gave up on him and never stopped praying for him, but that was mixed with the tough love of many a “North Carolina whuppings,” he said.
Green retired in 1983, and it wasn’t long before crack cocaine exploded the murder rate on city streets.
Ronald Monroe, a former assistant police chief who attended the memorial, recalled that in 1991, there were more than 40 killings in the neighborhoods near Green’s home. Citywide, more than 480 people were slain that year.
The next year, Green initiated the Wise-Up Orange Hat Patrol, a group of senior citizens who patrolled Petworth neighborhoods to try to end street-corner drug dealing and the violence it sparked. Dealers burned the trash cans outside her house. She prayed to God to keep her safe, and she kept marching.
“Grandma Minnie started with her street, then her neighborhood, then her community. And before long, it went throughout the city,” Mike Leake Jr., her grandson, said at the service.
Green spent the rest of her life working hand in hand with the 4th District Citizens Advisory Council, which she chaired for three years and which became a model for community policing long before police officials used that term. She organized larger walks and helped set up National Night Out events each August.
“I never saw anything quite like what Ms. Minnie Green was able to do,” Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said in a letter read at the memorial. “From her special chair in her living room, she could pick up the phone and have city leaders working, at her request, to come up with solutions to public safety concerns in the 4th District and the entire city.”
As Green stood up to crime, she remained steadfast to principles of love and care: Green hated crime, not the criminals.
Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), the Democratic nominee for mayor, said that Green reminded people during the dangerous crack cocaine days that “this is our block. These are our children, and they are worth fighting for.”
“She worried about the people of Petworth and the people of Ward 4,” Bowser said. “We’re grateful to her.”
Former police chief Charles H. Ramsey remembered a “little-bitty woman” who loved to announce her age and led every community march, walking fast and giving orders faster. She called police chiefs, mayors and everyone else “honey, sugar and baby.”
“Washington had a renaissance and tremendous turnaround, and it really starts right in the neighborhood with the Minnie Greens,” Ramsey said in a telephone interview. “She didn’t care if it was drug dealers, gangbangers — they weren’t going to take over her neighborhood.
“Minnie is just the person who walked the talk.”