WASHINGTON — Community members rallied together in Southeast D.C. for a vigil and prayer service Sunday, a few days after the discovery of a noose hung several doors from Anne Beers Elementary School.
“A neighbor sent me a photo of the news, and I started crying,” said Ayanna Smith, one of the event organizers. “Within 30 seconds, I emailed the mayor and the police chief and the community to share the photo, and we’ve been getting organized.”
Neighbors walked from East Washington Heights Baptist Church to the school, where the prayer service was held. Church leaders from nearby congregations as well as community leaders in the mayor’s administration such as D.C. police Chief Peter Newsham and Council member Vincent Gray spoke words of encouragement and solidarity to the diverse crowd of more than 100 people and the greater Southeast community affected by the racist symbol.
Newsham said that although there are currently no updates on who hung the noose, “The entire police department is going to put every effort we can to find out who is responsible for this.”
Police are considering it a suspected hate crime.
“In this city, we are inclusive and we don’t tolerate hate or ignorance by cowards,” he said.
The elementary school’s principal, Gwendolyn Payton, told the crowd that there is “fortune in this misfortune.” She called on parents and community members to have conversations with children about how to approach such a situation.
Jeanne Contardo, who lives in the neighborhood and has two children who attend Anne Beers, said that she chose to live in the neighborhood because of how inclusive and diverse the community is.
She showed up with her children to the rally to teach them that “you don’t get to complain if you don’t show up. We want them to understand that we live the values that we believe.”
Rev. George C. Gilbert, of Holy Trinity United Baptist Church in Northeast, was one of the many church leaders in attendance who prayed for the neighborhood in light of the many signs of blatant racism that have popped up in the District recently.
“It’s good for us to pray, but we also have to keep our eyes open, our mouths open and our feet walking,” said Gilbert. “We come in solidarity with you. We stand today not surprised.”