Tears were shed for Deandre Sibblies.
His mother and loved ones choked up as they recounted the young man’s life, ended by a bullet fired into his back one afternoon last week in Northeast Washington.
But there was anger, too. Anger that the tears seemed to stop at the door of the family’s house on Eads Street.
There was no public outrage after the shooting of the 21-year-old and no calls for justice, only a sad recognition that living in certain neighborhoods of the District comes with a sense of fatalism.
“It could happen to each and every one of us when we step out of our door,” said Sibblies’s mother, Janita Morgan. She lost her brother to gun violence, and now her son. “You just never know,” she said.
Sibblies was shot at 5:38 p.m. on Feb. 22, a few blocks from the Kenilworth-Parkside Recreation Center, in the neighborhood where he was known as “Dre.” It is here where he learned the skills of a running back and the hard knocks of a fullback, playing recreation-league football. It is here, on some of the District’s most desperate and deadly blocks, where he returned to help youths learn the sport.
Morgan said she was struck by a Twitter message posted by her son’s onetime assistant football coach at H.D. Woodson High School, Larry Williams, who noted protests over police brutality against young black men but none for victims such as Sibblies. “A lot of times we get mad at the police killing people,” Williams said in an interview. “But we do it every day.”
In neighborhoods such as Kenilworth, it’s not so much the gunmen who get blamed as it is “The Street,” shorthand for the troubled and impoverished areas where guns are used to settle arguments, enforce justice and defend territory.
Williams says five of his former players have been lost to violence over the years. Of Sibblies, he said, “The Street shorted a life.”
Sibblies’s funeral was held Wednesday at the Holy Christian House of Praise for All People in Northeast Washington.
The District is coming off a year in which homicides surged 54 percent compared with 2014. Last year’s total of 162 was the highest in eight years. Sibblies was one of 18 people killed so far in 2016, a pace equal to that of the first two months of last year.
He and another man were slain in Kenilworth-Parkside, equal to the number killed in that community for all of 2015. So far this year, Kenilworth has also counted six nonfatal shootings and eight armed robberies, according to D.C. police statistics. Last year in the community, 17 armed robberies and 16 nonfatal shootings were reported.
According to the D.C. Promise Neighborhood Initiative, an effort by nonprofits to strengthen the community, Kenilworth-Parkside has 5,700 residents, of which nearly 1,900 are 17 or younger. The statistics are from 2014. The group said that 98 percent of the residents are African American and 85 percent of the children grow up in single-parent households. More than half of the children live in poverty.
Morgan, a 44-year-old home health aide, had dropped Sibblies off at the recreation center on Feb. 22 and was back at her house, about a mile from Kenilworth-Parkside, when her phone rang. “They shot Deandre,” a friend screamed. Morgan raced back, but by the time she arrived, her son was on his way to a hospital. She saw his clothes piled behind crime-scene tape. No arrests have been made.
Police and family said Sibblies had never been arrested as a juvenile or an adult. He was popular in his circle of acquaintances. He worked with children, took odd construction jobs, stocked supermarket shelves, parked cars and was learning to be a cross-country truck driver. The day he was killed, he held in his hand a $192 check from the Internal Revenue Service — his first tax refund.
Those who knew Sibblies described him as outspoken and direct, a jokester who let loose with his friends but was respectful to his elders and family. His sister was a standout basketball player and captain for Woodson, and he operated the clock at her games. He took her to his high school prom. He exhibited a wise and confident demeanor that his mother said some mistook for arrogance. He matured early, Morgan said, explaining that her son possessed what she affectionately called an “old soul.”
After a win on the football field, he was the first to shake the hands of opponents, assuring them they were worthy players. He attended private and public schools, and graduated from Woodson in 2013.
“He was totally different from the rest of the people in the way he carried himself,” Morgan said. His godmother, Felicia Taylor, added, “When he was out of this house, he represented it well.”
Sibblies was close to his uncle, Tommy Caldwell, and was 9 years old when Caldwell was fatally shot at the age of 37 in the Sursum Corda housing complex in January 2004. Now, another family member from another generation is gone. Hardest hit is Sibblies’s sister, Andrea Watkins, his confidante, who towered over him in their formal prom photo.
Sibblies was killed on her 22nd birthday.
Morgan thinks her son was killed because of a dispute with people he knew, a common motive, according to D.C. police, but not the type of crime to become the focus of the city’s collective conscience. Morgan said her son’s death shows that the quick-trigger mentality makes the street dangerous for anyone, even those who are not mixed up in illegal activity. Sibblies trained as a boxer and did not back down from a fight.
“He was a tough guy,” said Alvin “Til” Tillerson, who coached Sibblies in recreation-league football in Kenilworth from the age of 6 through his mid-teens. Those he was in a dispute with, the coach said, “couldn’t beat him with their fists, so they shot him.”
Tillerson, 56, recalled Sibblies as “a good guy, a tough guy. . . . He was a good person at heart, but he didn’t take nothing from nobody. He was a normal kid making normal mistakes.”
The recreation-league coach, who now runs a landscaping business, noted that “growing up where he did, toughness is what you have. And this neighborhood is tough.”
Police have not divulged a motive in the slaying, if they suspect one.
The Street offers a possible answer.
“They said it was all out of jealousy, that’s what I heard,” the mother, Morgan, said.
“All we hear are whispers,” the godmother, Taylor, cautioned.
Sibblies’s high school coach, Williams, said he has given each of his players the same warning over the past 17 years.
Don’t love The Street, he tells them. “The Street don’t love you.”