As a public service announcement displayed a photo of his slain daughter, Kenneth McClenton buried his face in his hands, grief and loss crashing over him once again.
Yet the purpose of the video gives McClenton hope that the open homicide case of Charnice Milton may one day be closed.
The death of his 27-year-old daughter in May 2015 as she stood waiting for a bus is one of the first unsolved killings to be highlighted in new advertisements the District will run on cable access television and in social media.
“It was a reopening of the wound. It’s emotionally wrenching,” McClenton said after viewing the pilot PSA. But it is also, he said, “wonderful to see the wheels of government turning.”
Angie Gates, who heads the city’s Office of Cable Television, Film, Music and Entertainment, said her office will produce a series of announcements this fall to help draw attention to the killings and hopefully spark new leads for police.
Of the 90 homicides through the end of August, more than 50 remained open, according to D.C. police statistics and the department website.
The public service spots are in response to a year-long project by longtime political activist Philip Pannell to focus attention on open cases in neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River.
Since 2015, in locations citywide, Pannell has displayed his grim exhibit of poster boards with police fliers of the faces of more than 100 homicide victims. He has added face after face to try to encourage residents to offer tips to police and be inspired to not let slayings go unpunished.
Pannell also used his project to persuade community groups to support the city’s producing spots for public access channels. After a July Washington Post article about Pannell’s collection of fliers, Pannell said he met with Gates, and within weeks the pilot piece was ready for a preview.
It debuted Aug. 30 before about 50 people gathered at the Anacostia Community Museum in Southeast Washington for a monthly meeting of the Anacostia Coordinating Council that Pannell leads.
“That’s a good start. A great start,” D.C. Council member LaRuby May (D-Ward 8) said aloud as she watched the preview. May said that the council would support the production and airing of more announcements and that she was pleased the city was taking a tangible step to kick-start community involvement in solving homicides.
“It is really hard to get to the finish line if you don’t start,” May said. “We seem to have difficulty getting people involved.”
The first announcement focusing on the Milton case is 30 seconds long and is cut to be easily distributed via social-media sites, Gates said.
Milton was struck May 27, 2015, by a bullet detectives say was intended for someone else at a bus stop at Good Hope and Naylor roads in Southeast. Milton, a community journalist, was returning home from reporting on a neighborhood meeting at Eastern Market when she was shot at 9:40 p.m.
After her death, D.C. detectives released grainy surveillance video showing dirt bikes and all-terrain vehicles speeding along dark streets in Southeast. Police have said that someone on one of the bikes shot Milton and that they have been looking for the people on the bikes since that night.
Gates’s office is planning to coordinate with D.C. police, she said, to produce several more spots to be aired in “heavy rotation” several times a day on DCN (Channel 99).
Gates said the plan is for her office to produce longer pieces that feature interviews with victims’ family members and friends.
“I am looking to produce something quality and provide something that is going to lead to solving the problem. The next step is to take this 30-second PSA and turn it into a three- to four-minute sizzle reel,” Gates said.
Pannell still plans to push the city to produce a full show in the style of “America’s Most Wanted,” but for now he said he is thrilled someone in city government was willing to move quickly on the topic.
He knew Milton well.
“I’m very moved” by the new video, Pannell said. “I’m looking forward to it evolving into a 30-minute program. Persistence pays off.”
Before the screening, Milton’s father told the audience at the meeting that “the wheels of justice turn, but they’re slow,” and he urged them to use their voices to oil those wheels.
After he watched the PSA — and regrouped after being bowed again by the pain of his loss — McClenton said he was pleased by the work on the public service announcement, not just for himself and his daughter, but for other families who have waited years and sometimes decades for answers about who killed their loved ones.
“I know how much it burns in them as it burns in me,” he said, “to want to know who killed your child or who killed your loved one and to bring justice to that situation.”