Fontessa West walked to the front of the packed community center in Ward 8, quieting the room filled with dozens of mourners. She was there to share a few words about her son, Wesley West, who was fatally shot early last Saturday.
Through tears, she spoke into the microphone.
“Someone killed my baby right where he came from,” she said. “He knows everybody, and everybody knows him.”
West, 25, was shot in Congress Heights, one of three people in the District who were killed overnight July 17 and 18. Monday night’s Advisory Neighborhood Commission meeting at the community center on Savannah Street drew upward of 50 people, many there to grieve together and share their pain.
While the mourners shared Fontessa West’s grief, they also echoed her frustration over the circumstances of her son’s death: He died in the neighborhood where he grew up and the community he strove to improve.
For years, he was a member of Peaceoholics, a District organization created to prevent violence among city youths. Ron Moten, who ran the now-disbanded organization, said West would help foster peace with violent kids. Moten would have West do odd jobs for him but eventually used him to broker truces. West was skilled at mediation, Moten said, because he garnered respect from the young people he worked with and was not one to escalate a situation.
“He was trying to do the right thing,” Moten said.
Moten said that he fell out of consistent contact with West after 2011 but that he would still see him around. West was always working, Moten said, often seen in a construction hat or out on a job.
In his 20s, West moved out of the neighborhood, trying to cobble together jobs and start a career. He had some minor legal offenses, his mother said, but shortly before he was killed, he was working on obtaining a contracting license to help bring in a steady income.
He would always pop back into the neighborhood, friends and family said, talking to young people and checking on his family. And his family was always checking on him.
To Charletta Smith, an older cousin, West would always be the baby, even though he had three brothers and a 2-month-old son. Because “you’re a certain age don’t mean you’re grown,” Smith said.
West’s death comes during a rise in homicides in his neighborhood: This year in the 7th Police District, which includes much of Ward 8, there have been 27, up from 18 for the same time period last year. Indeed, there have been two other homicides this year within 1,000 feet of the block where West was killed, according to police records.
That West was killed in the community he still considered his own has fueled frustration because answers about who shot him have been hard to come by. At Monday’s community meeting, several people insisted that some in the neighborhood must know who was responsible, and they demanded that anyone with information contact police.
Paul Shelton, captain of the 7th Police District, who spoke at Monday’s community meeting, explained in an interview that the police department needs help from everyone, especially in a tightknit community.
“The reality of it is, it’s going to take a complete partnership between the police, city agencies and the community,” Shelton said. “Us alone is not going to do it.”
Many in the area said they want to help but fear retaliation.
Shekita McBroom, commissioner of the local ANC district, said she has heard of incidents in which residents gave information to the police and then felt unsafe with nowhere to turn.
“You want to come out, you want to voice your concerns, your opinions, and you want to give up all the information, but what pillow do you have to fall on?” McBroom said in an interview after the meeting.
Shelton said he recognizes people’s fears but maintains that the police department won’t accomplish much without community support. He noted that there are anonymous tip lines and other avenues for people with helpful information.
Commented Moten: “There’s a big difference between citizenship and snitching.”
In a show of unity — and perhaps to call attention to West’s death in the hope of getting answers — members of the Congress Heights community walked together on Wednesday to the place where he died. The spot is at the end of a turnaround usually referred to as “the circle.”
The group joined hands around the circle, surrounding the West family, with D.C. Council member LaRuby May (D-Ward 8) leading the discussion.
“The family in the middle needs the family on the outside to get somebody to tell who killed this baby,” May said. “We have an obligation and responsibility to them and to all of the mothers and aunties and cousins and brothers and sisters that have lost their lives right here in this circle.”
Under the watch of everyone along the block, the community pleaded for justice.
“Step forward and turn yourself in,” West’s great-aunt, Sabrina Wynn, demanded from the center of the circle. “Snitch on your own damn self and turn yourself in. You’ll feel better, because if I know who you are, I’m turning you in. Simple as that.”