A playhouse located in Ward 8 recently sponsored a theater production and a discussion session that focused on homicides in the Black community. On Oct. 9, the Anacostia Playhouse hosted a play, brownsville song (b-side for tray), written by playwright Kimber Lee, that centered on the shooting death of a promising young Black man in Brooklyn, New York.
“Plays resonate in an immediate space,” Colin Hovde, the producing artistic director of the Theater Alliance and a facilitator of the discussion, told the AFRO. “Art is meant to be a window or a mirror on somebody else’s life. Art also creates a sense of empathy.”
The play ran from Sept. 15-Oct. 9 and was directed by Paige Hernandez.
The play was 90 minutes and after that, the discussion began. Thirty people stayed after the show to participate in the conversation.
Philip Pannell, executive director of the Anacostia Coordinating Council, and Kenneth McClenton, the father of slain journalist Charnice Milton, are leaders of “Open Heart, Close Case” campaign that seeks to get the District of Columbia government to put more resources to solving murders and making the public aware of that situation.
Pannell said that the situation depicted in brownsville song (b-side for tray) is all too familiar in Ward 8. “This phenomenon of unsolved murders is not new,” Pannell said. “People have grown numb to it. What got me was Charnice’s murder.”
Milton was killed by gunfire when she got off the bus from work on May 27, 2015 near Alabama Avenue, S.E. Milton was killed with a bullet, police say, was intended for someone else.
Pannell said that there were witnesses. “It’s safe to assume the people on those ATVs and the people who were in the immediate area knew who killed Charnice,” he said. “There seems to be a ‘Code of Silence’ when it comes to reporting the murder of people in the Black community. This has to stop because it is Black men being killed.”
Pannell carries around pictures of people whose murders have been unsolved. He has been doing this since August 2015. McClenton attended the play with his wife, Francine, and other relatives. He spoke about the lethargic response he has gotten from District government officials on the issue of solving murders.
“A lot of people would like for us to fold up and walk away,” he said. “Ninety-eight percent of the unsolved murders in this city are Black men. If this was a White cop who shot a Black person, this theater would be full of people who would be ready to march anywhere to make a statement about that.”
McClenton said that it took public pressure to get D.C. Council member Kenyan McDuffie (Ward 5), chairman of the Committee of the Judiciary, to hold a hearing last year on unsolved murders. He noted that so far this year, there have been 105 murders, with 54 unsolved.
“We have a real problem because there have been 3,000 unsolved cases in D.C. for the past 25 years,” he said.
Jada Hendrix lives in Ward 8 and attended the play. She said the real problem with solving murders in the city is that people are insensitive to the problem. “Nobody takes it seriously until it hits home,” Hendrix said. “We don’t get to see what it does to the family. That’s what I liked about this play. I had the chance to see how losing a child affects the family.”
Marco Coleman said young people who live in the District are influenced by the homicides. “A lot of youth are afraid to walk outside because they are afraid that they may be shot or get hurt,” he said. “My cousin, Raheem Jackson, was killed in 2011 and I saw that as a 12-year-old. It still affects me. I smile and joke a lot around people because it hides my pain.”
Pannell suggested that people be allowed to mail in information on unsolved murders through postal boxes, just as children send Santa Claus letters during the Christmas season. “We have a Facebook page ‘Open Heart, Close Case,’” McClenton said. “Please go to that page and like it. That will help generate interest.”