The focus on gun violence comes as the District and several other large American cities experience a rise in violence as they struggle to stave off the coronavirus pandemic.
“I think it’s disturbing to all of us to be over 100 homicides at this point in the year,” D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham said after the District reached the 100 mark in mid-July, a month earlier than in 2019.
There are no simple explanations. In court papers, police attribute some of the killings to feuds between neighborhood crews, domestic violence and disputes among people who know each other. Some victims were unintended targets of gunfire on the streets.
Newsham blames the availability of guns and contends that the consequences for having or using illegal firearms are not severe enough to deter potential offenders. He also argues that culling the jail population and slowing the work of the courts because of covid-19 — the illness caused by the novel coronavirus — have left free in the community people he says are contributing to the violence.
Tyrone Parker, the director of a group called the Alliance of Concerned Men, which seeks to intervene in disputes before they become violent, attributed the surge in violence to a combination of factors — guns, anger, environment and hopelessness.
He said the killing of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis and the pandemic have put inequities of policing and society in stark perspective. “There is no support system in place,” Parker said, citing problems of racial bias, poverty, addiction and health.
The killings have left families grieving over lost loved ones and squandered potential, residents fearful for their safety and police picking up bullet casings that sometimes number in the dozens at a single crime scene.
'People loved this lady'
For two years, Tamika Jones drove children from Bethesda, Potomac and Chevy Chase in Maryland to and from the prestigious Potomac School in McLean, Va., where she was praised by the head of school as a “friendly, high energy” driver.
“She loved the kids on her bus, and they loved her,” said Dwayne Pate, 22, one of her three sons.
Jones was fatally shot while talking with friends outside a row of apartments in the Carver-Langston neighborhood in Northeast Washington on a Friday afternoon. Police said Jones had been sitting on a wall with friends when two men fired at the group from a car. Someone in that group returned fire, police said. Jones was hit by one of 43 bullets fired; police said they do not think she was targeted.
Jones had lived in Carver-Langston for about a decade before moving to Maryland four years ago. She had raised three sons in the District, built up a lifetime of friends there and returned often.
Pate said his mother had been on her own since age 16, and raised her boys as a single mother. His father and the father of his older brother, Tayvon Jones, 26, were killed in separate shootings years ago. A third brother, 15, is in high school.
“A thousand things I could tell you about her,” Pate said of his mother. “She had a great heart. A lot of real people loved this lady.”
Pate, a singer who raps under the name “Poppy,” said his music is aimed at getting young men out of trouble. His message, he said, is “be humble, keep your head up, stay out of the way and don’t fall victim to the streets.”
One of his friends, 27-year-old Lowell Tolliver, was fatally shot a month before and two blocks away from where his mother was killed.
'All I could do was pray'
It seemed Kamonie Tyrese Edwards was off to a promising start.
Ketcham Elementary. Kramer Middle. Anacostia High.
She was accepted to college but decided instead to try her hand at catering, like her mother, and start her own business.
Her family had moved away from Anacostia, where she grew up, because of violence there. But Edwards, 21, went back to hang out.
Her mother, Monique Edwards, 47, called it “the danger zone.”
“My daughter had to be around there and be around her friends,” she said. “All I could do was pray.”
On Tuesday, June 9 at 12:25 a.m., Kamonie Edwards sent a one word text to her mother: “Ma.” It was their code for everything is okay.
At 1:30 a.m., Edwards got a call that her daughter had been shot, and she rushed to the hospital. Kamonie died at 2:05 a.m. of a bullet wound to the head. Police said she was struck by one of 46 bullets fired between two groups shooting at each other across W Street SE. They do not think Edwards was targeted. No one has been arrested.
That section of W Street SE is home to a gang called Choppa City, which police said has been battling the Young Original Gangsters, a group that includes two crews, one of them called the Crashout Gang, which operates on Cedar Street SE.
Cedar Street is where 11-year-old Davon McNeal was killed during the Fourth of July cookout in a shooting that police blame on the gang dispute. Police said one .45-caliber bullet casing found near where Davon was shot has been linked to casings found at the shooting of Edwards, just a few blocks away.
“I just believe it is an evil lurking in this area,” said Kamonie Edwards’s brother, Darius Edwards, a youth minister at a church and a security guard at a middle school in Prince George’s County. “It’s almost like the people who are doing these murders, there is no consequences for their crimes. They keep doing them.”
Kamonie Edwards’s family recalls a child who always smiled and always helped others. Her brother Darius recalled a time when Kamonie returned two hours after collecting her allowance, asking for more money.
“We thought she didn’t have a sense of how money works,” Darius Edwards said. The family then learned that Kamonie had bought food for her less-fortunate friends. “She wanted to make sure everybody got something.”
A second funeral
Rayfone Gassaway had his share of troubles but seemed to be off to a new start with a job as a dishwasher at a hotel. The 37-year-old had two daughters, ages 15 and 17, and he wanted to provide for them.
On July 10, his 61-year-old father, Ray Gassaway, a chef at American University, died of cancer. He’d always told Rayfone that it would be his job to take care of the family, and the son felt the weight of that responsibility, said his sister, Demetria Gassaway.
Nine days later, on July 19, Rayfone was shot to death on Stanton Road in the Douglass neighborhood of Southeast Washington, where he had grown up, a neighborhood from which his family had fled.
Police said Rayfone was shot once in the head and once in the chest, an indication he had been targeted.
He was killed four days before his father’s funeral.
His family buried the patriarch while mourning the loss of the son.
Rayfone’s 41-year-old sister said they have no idea what led to the fatal shooting. She said her brother liked to cruise around but rarely stopped places, and he always returned to her residence in Alexandria.
Demetria Gassaway described her brother as a “loving, giving person,” a “little quiet boy” who loved fixing cars. “If your car was making noise, he could tell you what it was,” she said.
She said her brother and their father were close, and his father’s sudden death of cancer “destroyed him mentally, physically and emotionally.”
Rayfone’s 70-year-old mother, Miriam Cheek-Gassaway, remembers her son as the person who saved her life 13 years ago, after she suffered the first of two heart attacks in a single month.
She was in bed, and Rayfone came in looking for a cigarette. She told him she couldn’t breathe. He called an ambulance that “arrived in the nick of time.”
“I always told him, ‘I wouldn’t’ be here talking to you if you hadn’t been there,’ ” Cheek-Gassaway said. “I will never forget that to this day.”
Now the family is planning its second funeral in a matter of weeks. Rayfone Gassaway will be buried next to his father at Heritage Memorial Cemetery in Waldorf, Md.
This story has been updated to correct the day of the week on which Tamika Jones was slain. It was a Friday, not a Sunday as the story previously said.
Eddy Palanzo contributed to this report.