By George Kevin Jordan, AFRO Staff Writer
There were two moments, wrapped in pain, confusion and anger, leading to one call to action as DC residents mourned the death of people killed in fatal traffic accidents.
Abdul Seck, 31, of Bronx, New York, Dave Salovesh, 54, of D.C. and a third unidentified person all died over the past week. Residents of all wards communed at the corner of 16th Street and V Street S.E. Wednesday for a vigil for Seck, and then later converged on the WIlson Building for a Die-in demonstration that Friday.
Residents Take A Moment to Grieve During Vigil
During the vigil, activists, family and mourners took a moment of silence and listened to a prayer, but the anger was palpable throughout the night.
“Abdul was very young, a college graduate doing things for himself and to just be visiting one of his friends for the weekend and never be able to return home – it’s some of the worst news that you have to deliver to a parent,” said Ebony Munnerlyn, an Anacostia resident and friend of Seck. “It’s one of the worst feelings to say to your friend to go to the store and come back and they take too long to come back and you feel in your gut: ‘something is wrong.’”
“Abdul was one of my friends for over 11 years. He had great things that he wanted to do for himself and now his family has to bury their son which is something a parent should never have to do.”
“It shouldn’t take a tragedy like this in order for it to get the attention of DDOT and the safety that we need in our community,” said Maisha Riddlesprigger, Principal at John H. Ketcham Elementary School, 1915 15th Street S.E. She called for speed bumps at the intersection of U and 15th Street S.E., near her school, more crossing guards and an additional crosswalk at that intersection.
“We’re really concerned not only about our students, but the safety of all of the students here in Anacostia,” Riddlesprigger said. “It’s about every child that’s affected by DDOT not paying attention to the needs and wants of the community.”
Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White put the week’s accidents into a larger perspective.
“We’re past the conservation about talking about equality. We’re talking about equity in our community and we haven’t gotten it,” White said. “So the moment we put away our differences to come together to fight for what we need, the stop sign won’t be an issue.”
“I talked to the father of this young man today. He was in New York. And to hear him trembling on the phone as he attempts to talk to me breaks my heart. We’re burying far too many young people in our community for nothing.”
Seck was killed April 21 when a car struck him while he was walking. Salovesh, who was a local advocate, bicyclist, and activist for safer streets, was killed just three days prior, when a car moved into the bike lane and struck him. Several others were injured. Two men, a 21-year-old man, and a 25-year-old man, have since been arrested and charged with second degree murder, and second degree murder and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, respectively.
A third unidentified person was killed in a traffic accident on the 4000 Block of East Capitol Street N.E. on April 20 when the driver of the vehicle lost control and struck and curb and ultimately struck a tree.
Hundreds Gather for Die-In Protest
Last Friday hundreds of residents gathered on the steps of the Wilson Building to fight for streets that don’t kill people. People stretched out in silence along Pennsylvania Avenue in memory of the 128 people who died in D.C. traffic fatalities during Bowser’s terms as mayor. The event was organized by the Washington Area Bicyclist Association.
As of April 26, there have been eight traffic fatalities in the District this year, according to data from the DC Metropolitan Police Department. This is an 11 percent decrease compared to nine this same time last year. However, looking at a 20-year span from 1999 to 2018, traffic fatalities have fluctuated depending on the year. Traffic fatalities peaked in 2001 with 72 deaths recorded. 2012 saw the lowest with 19, according to police data. Looking at the past five years, traffic fatalities seem to be ticking back up with 26 deaths recorded in 2014 and 2015, 28 in 2016, 30 in 2017 and 36 in 2018. Ward 8 shares a disproportionate number of traffic deaths.
Ron Thompson an activist and resident of Ward 8, whose own mother was in an accident on the very corner that Seck was killed on, led the vigil Wednesday and spoke at the Die-In protest on Friday. He made a plea to the city for an inclusive fight for safety on the streets, and called for Mayor Bowser to take drastic steps to stop the deaths and create plans to help all residents.
“This isn’t a bike issue,” Thompson said. “This isn’t a gentrification issue, and I’m not going to let this mayor or anybody put my neighbors at risk because they don’t want to take action. We’re not going to have more people dying because people don’t want to give up street parking that they don’t even use.”
“That’s why I wanted it to be an inclusive message. Because our lives matter too. And if you say that then you have to prove it by giving us the investments that we need.”
There was a legislative response mid-week with Council member Charles Allen (Ward 6) introducing an emergency bill to reprogram any capital funds until the department completed redesign plans on Florida Avenue N.E. Councilmember Mary M. Cheh (Ward 3) also introduced a bill that would require protected bike lanes to be built if a roadway that has a bicycle plan already, has to endure construction or repairs.
Devan Tracy, a Ward 3 resident, agreed with plans for more protected bike lanes.
“I would like to see more protected bike lanes,” Tracy said. “I think that’s really the next step. You’re not necessarily changing the width of the road, the design of the road. You’re just rearranging the order of the road. So then you’ve got the cars, the parked cars protecting the bike lane, protecting the sidewalk. And it costs money, but not as much money as it does to create a typical highway from scratch.”
Thompson called for DDOT to do a large scale study of every street in the District and then make a concrete plan to make safety adjustment. He also called for the city to invest back into wards and its people.
“Two we need to put our people to work in Wards 7 and 8.,” Thompson said. “We have the highest rates of unemployment. This mayor and this Council can establish the largest public
works program in the District since the days of Boss Shepherd to put people to work building the sidewalks, painting the crosswalk, put the stop signs in place.
“We can tackle two birds at once. We can put people to work but we can keep people safe as they get to work, to school and from home.”