Thou Shalt Not Kill

Phil Pannell, Executive Director of the nonprofit Anacostia Coordinating Council. Photo: Akiima Price

Last month there was a breakfast meeting of Wards 7 and 8 clergy and faith leaders with the owners of east-of-the-river funeral homes to discuss security at the services for homicide victims. It was a morbid topic of conversation but a timely one considering that this year there were shootings and murders associated with a few of those funerals.

In a tragically bizarre incident at a Prince Georges County cemetery last June, the owner of the Compassion and Serenity Funeral Home was in an argument with another funeral home director and shot two people during a burial. One of the victims killed was a pallbearer who tried to stop the argument.

This horrific scene occurred during the interment of 10-year-old Ariana Davis who was killed by a stray bullet during a shooting in the 3700 block of Hayes Street, NE. The owner of the Compassion and Serenity funeral home showed no empathy and brought trauma to a bereaved family that day.

Shootings at funerals and burials. Now death is being murdered these days.

In January of this year the THOU SHALT NOT KILL movement was launched.  It has been a simple visibility campaign with red and white posters, t-shirts, buttons and yard signs reminding the public of the biblical Sixth Commandment. Practically all people except the perpetrators of it are sick and tired of the violence.

And while most people do not participate in peace walks, vigils or stop-the-violence meetings or events, they might wear a t-shirt or a button or display a poster or yard signs. Only a few individuals and organizations have donated the time and funds to make these items free to the public.

The chief contributors have been former DC Councilmember William Lightfoot, Busboys and Poets proprietor Andy Shallal, the East of the River newsmagazine, the Anacostia Coordinating Council and the office of Mayor Bowser.

After the passing of Linda Harlee Harper, who was the first director of the Office of Gun Violence Prevention and the director of the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement, all DC Government support for the THOU SHALT NOT KILL movement dried up.

On July 29th the acting DC police chief Pamela Smith spoke at a lunch meeting of Wards 7 and 8 faith leaders that was sponsored by the Anacostia Coordinating Council, East River Family Strengthening Collaborative, East of the River Clergy Police Community Partnership and the Far Southeast Family Strengthening Collaborative. It was held in the Merrick Recreation Center of Saint Thomas More Catholic Church.

The day before that meeting two men were killed two blocks from the church.  The murders occurred in the Washington Highlands neighborhood, which has one of the highest rates of violence and killings.

One of the murder victims was 20-year-old Tyjon Clayton, a Ballou High School graduate who worked at the Smithsonian.  His grieving grandmother spoke on the microphone and told the new police chief and everyone assembled in the gym that her grandson was simply coming out of a store and was shot and killed. She held up his picture and tearfully said “My grandson was innocent and he’s gone.”

During the luncheon meeting with the acting police chief, I staffed the Anacostia Coordinating Council’s table which distributed THOU SHALT NOT KILL t-shirts, posters and buttons. Tyjon Clayton’s relatives came to the table and took the last of the posters and the buttons.

All the materials were gone. And unless there is support from the DC government and the community the THOU SHALT NOT KILL visibility movement will be gone as well.

Long-time Ward 8 community activist Philip Pannell can be contacted at Pannell is the Exebcutive Director of the Anacostia Coordinating Council. Help Make Wards 7 & 8 Great! Become a Member of the Anacostia Coordinating Council: Visit