Activists rallied and marched for peace after Nyiah Courtney, 6, was murdered in a drive-by shooting in Southeast, D.C. on July 16. (Courtesy Photo)

By Carl Thomas
Special to the AFRO

Community activists and neighbors came together last week to put forth action aimed at one of the city’s most pressing problems- gun violence. The District has experienced a recent surge in violent crime and District residents are looking to elected officials to bring solutions to the table. However, activists noted that the government’s reaction appears to be over-policing of a community that already lacks trust in the justice system.

One of the latest murders has rocked the Southeast quadrant- and D.C. residents in general- to its core. On July 16, six-year-old Nyiah Courtney was riding on a scooter near Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue S.E. and Mellon Street S.E., as she and her mother, Dominique, waited for a metro bus to arrive. Just then, as they expected the bus to be arriving, several shots rang out from a passing vehicle. A total of six people were injured, including Dominique, with Nyiah being the only fatality of the drive-by shooting.

Surveillance video from late Friday night shows a gray sedan speeding away from the intersection and D.C. Police think they have located the vehicle seen fleeing the scene. Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) Chief Robert Contee reported during a press conference that the vehicle was discovered in the 500 block of Eastern Avenue Northeast, engulfed in flames.

“I am sick and tired of being sick and tired. The cowards who committed this crime came into this community without any regard for human life, without regard for Nyiah’s life and opened fire,” Chief Contee said.

Despite the mistrust between residents and MPD, District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser has resorted to more police on the streets as a way to address gun violence.

“In the short-term, I have directed the Metropolitan Police Department to use any overtime necessary to increase their presence in neighborhoods most affected by gun violence. Every resident, in every part of our city, deserves to feel safe walking to the bus, going to the store, or letting their children play outside,” said D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser. “In the short- and long-term, we are making significant investments in a whole-of-government approach to reducing gun violence”

Mayor Bowser has come under scrutiny over Nyiah’s murder and other shootings, with community members demanding immediate action.

“This is a community that is saturated with liquor stores and looking at the D.C. Health Equity Report published by Mayor Bowser, it says that areas that are suffering from low economic development are at high risk of violence when they also are coupled with saturated, high alcohol density institutions,” Chairperson for ANC 8C Salim Adofo said. “We looked at the MPD crime data and within 2,000 feet of this liquor store, there has been one murder every 90 days.” Adofo was also chair of the commission which protested the liquor stores license renewal in May of this year.

While Nyiah’s family, Washingtonians and investigators search for answers, neighborhood leaders have implemented community solutions both to bring awareness to the number of violent crimes in the District and to engage the community around finding Nyiah’s murderers.

As a makeshift memorial began to form at the spot where Nyiah drew her last breath, several community leaders began making plans to solve the gun violence problem. One community response, which has increased in popularity, is the resurgence of marches for awareness.

Last week Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue S.E. and Mellon Street S.E. saw two marches in a neighborhood on the brink of outrage.

“We are tired of seeing what’s going on in our city. The youth truly don’t comprehend what love, care and respect really is,” said participant Robert Wood.

We Are Mothers combined forces with comedian, actor and activist Rodney “Red” Grant, who is running for D.C. mayor, to quickly pull together resources and supplies to hold a demonstration for peace and change. During the peace march, mothers led chants of “Put the guns down, pick the kids up”. As the march concluded at the very spot where Nyiah lost her life, each mother was given the opportunity to speak and say the name of their murdered child. They each shared similar stories of a child lost to gun violence in the District. The mothers at the event advocated for City leaders to do more to help end the killings.

As the march ended and the crowd of people began to disperse, a mural of Nyiah Courtney began by artist, Aniekan Udofia.

Metropolitan Police are offering a $60,000 reward to anyone who provides information that leads to the arrest of the suspect(s). They say to call 202-727-9099 or text 50411.

Nyiah’s grandmother Andrea Courtney asked that any donations be made using CashApp to $andreacourtney. They say this is the only legitimate donation source the family has created.

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