Back then, there were rules gunmen followed. Now, he explained, nothing guides their aim.
“There’s no type of code on the streets right now — about shooting women, children, into the crowds,” Moten says, recording a video he posted on Instagram. “So the question is: What are we going to do in the community? Are we going to allow people like this to take over our community? Where we can’t even go outside?
“This is worse than the ’80s, y’all, because in the ’80s, dudes had their targets. . . . It wasn’t like this. It wasn’t like this.”
America has long struggled to agree on what constitutes a “mass shooting.” When a gunman walks into a mall or movie theater, intending to hurt as many people as possible, that alarm-sounding term is used without question. But when a shooter, or two, or four — as was the case early Sunday at the block party in Southeast Washington — fire weapons wildly in neighborhoods that too often serve as backdrops for gunfire, there is hesitancy by some people and organizations to use that phrase.
That split stems from the range of definitions for “mass shooting” that exists in this country. The broadest ones focus only on the number of people injured and usually place the threshold at four or more. Stricter ones offer caveats to those numbers, excluding shootings that result from domestic disputes and gang activity, to better capture the indiscriminatory intentions of the gunmen.
This matters, because how we talk about violent incidents often determines how we respond to them. Those two words — mass shooting — have the power to raise our antennas and keep them up. They signal to anyone who hears them that many of the victims, simply because of where they were and when they were there, happened to end up in front of a shooter’s loaded gun and unchecked emotions.
What happened Sunday was not described by every media outlet as a mass shooting, but that’s exactly how we need to view it and respond to it. Our antennas should be high.
There are many concerning elements of that incident: that hundreds of people gathered during a pandemic in violation of the city’s 50-person limit; that many of those people did not wear masks; that a young father named Christopher Brown, who hadn’t yet celebrated his 18th birthday, was killed; that police were nearby and didn’t break it all up before it was too late.
It was also the starkest example yet of what community leaders describe as the changing nature of neighborhood violence in the nation’s capital. They describe witnessing a shift in street shootings from ones that were mostly targeted senselessness to ones that are increasingly seeing people caught in sprays of bullets that don’t bear their names.
One of those bullets found 10-year-old Makiyah Wilson as she walked toward an ice cream truck.
Another ended 11-year-old Davon McNeal’s life as he headed to get ear buds and a cellphone charger from a relative’s home at a stop-the-violence cookout his mother had organized.
At Sunday’s block party, which came as the city has been seeing a spike of shootings, a dozen bullets hit women. One of them was an off-duty police officer who was attending the party and was shot in the neck.
That shooting and other recent ones have left community leaders who grew up in the District and have tried to make its streets safer reeling and seething and pleading.
In a powerful video posted in recent days on his Instagram, D.C. native Anwan Glover, who appeared in “The Wire” and is a founding member of the go-go group “BackYard Band,” goes from smiling to shouting to wiping away tears.
“Look, to everybody out here in this world, in this city, anybody in any neighborhood, let’s teach these youngins, man, to put these guns down,” he says.
He describes the District as a place where older people can no longer walk outside and children can’t go to the store. He talks about how women and girls are now getting killed, and recounts how during a recent trip to a gas station, he encountered a “little dude looking at me, just mugging.”
“Come on man, let’s wake up, man,” he says. “My city is doing bad right now. Let’s wake up, man. These youngins need hugs, man. They killing each other, shooting each other. What’s wrong, man? . . . Nobody is doing nothing to your mother, your grandmother. . . . Put it away. Put the guns away. Please. I’m begging you.”
“Every five minutes, some mother is calling, sending me inboxes. ‘G, talk to the youngins, I just lost my son,’ ” he says. “Y’all don’t know how it feels until it hits your . . . doorstep.”
The video has been viewed more than 62,000 times. It has also drawn several comments that show what his pleas are up against.
One person wrote, “its too late for dis og,” using the abbreviation for “original gangster.”
Glover’s reply: “why you say that young Brother why?”
Another person responded, “og you got big respect but the reality is . . . we in too deep.” That person described needing to keep a gun nearby to get a decent night’s sleep and wrote, “nah im not gonna put my gun down cause the second I do ima be taken out. I keep it on me cause I wanna make it to my son college graduation one day man.”
“It’s getting real bad,” Moten tells me when we talk on a recent morning. When he was growing up in the city, he says there were consequences for hurting innocent people. “If you killed a child, when you got to jail, you had some problems. If you killed a woman, when you got to jail, you had some problems.”
Moten, who was one of the founders of the anti-violence youth mentoring group Peaceoholics and is now behind the creation of a go-go museum in the District, says he believes the entire city needs to figure out productive and creative ways to invest in young people who were feeling disconnected from the city before the coronavirus pandemic and even more so now.
He also feels strongly that people in the communities most affected by the gun violence need to come together to decide what they’re not going to allow in their neighborhoods.
In his Instagram video, Moten doesn’t hold back. He calls people “selfish” for risking the health of their relatives by gathering during a pandemic and tells them that is no justifying the “mayhem” that is happening on the city’s streets right now.
“We got to band together,” he says. “We got to take care of our youngins. We got to take care of ourselves. But we got to hold people in our community responsible. Jokers going out here acting like animals is not acceptable. I don’t care what you say. That is not acceptable. If we going to make it all right for people to go around and shoot in crowds of people and then go brag about it or get credit and medals of honors for being a damn fool, we lost, y’all.”
Read more from Theresa Vargas: