Credit: Amanda Michelle Gomez

The family and friends of Malachi Lukes celebrated his birthday on March 5 without him. The teen was shot and killed near the Shaw-Howard University Metro Station just four days earlier. Thursday would have been Malachi’s 14th birthday. There have been no arrests in the murder of Malachi and the motive for the killing remains unknown. 

“Why are these weapons available on the streets?” asks Sudi West, executive director of the Shaw Community Center. 

West speaks before roughly one hundred people who showed up on Thursday to show their love for Malachi at Lincoln Temple United Church. After it held its last service in 2018, the church became home to the Shaw Community Center where a group seeks to minister young people in a gentrifying neighborhood. Malachi was a member of the group and his mother is a program director. 

“We hear the struggles of these young people,” West says. “It’s not their job to solve this. It’s our job.” 

Two months into the new year, Malachi is one of 29 homicide victims in District. Five of the victims are minors. The year’s rate of homicides is comparable to 2019, which was the deadliest year in a decade. Since Sunday, there have been at least two other murders—one in Petworth and the other in Deanwood. The constant gun violence has the city on edge, with residents demanding solutions from lawmakers. 

“Addressing gun violence has to come in a lot of different ways,” says Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen, who was at Malachi’s vigil. He calls for a multifaceted approach focused on violence prevention and intervention that also “includes the kinds of social services that can wrap around a young person who might be in trauma or might be in trouble and finding ways to intervene in that.”

Just hours before, Allen held a committee oversight hearing where Metropolitan Police Department testified. Chief Peter Newsham emphasized, as he typically does, that illegal guns are in large part to blame for the violence.    

Malachi’s mother, Melissa Lawstestified before the Council in November about police brutality. She warned that her son, Malachi, was traumatized after being arrested by transit police in June. The incident went viral because Metro Transit Officer Jonathan Costanzo used a taser on Tapiwa Musonza—an unarmed black man who intervened when police detained Malachi and his friend.  

“His perception changed about who he wanted to be,” Laws told the Post. “It was hard to get him to open up. He didn’t want anyone to see him as weak. The incident kind of broke him . . . It made him really closed. He lost all respect for authority, to the point where you really couldn’t touch him.”

Thursday’s vigil served as a forum for all of the young people impacted by murder. 

“He was nice, caring, funny,” says Arja’e Scotta friend of Malachi during the service. “He just—everybody loved him.”  She looks about Malachi’s age. “People who cared about him, like my family or friends, are upset about what happened. It’s just a lot of pressure because I’m trying to be strong for them and trying to be strong for myself … I tell them I’m OK, but I’m not.” 

Organizers invited dozens of students to the altar to be with Laws, who sat near the pew surrounded by her family all night. Some kids were teary-eyed, others sobbed as person after person spoke about Malachi’s life and potential.  

“Don’t let anyone make you feel small,” Laws’ sister, Natasha Muhammad, tells the young people in attendance. “You come into your power. This generation right here is the one that is changing everything.” 

Muhammad reminded those gathered that Malachi means “my messenger” in Hebrew. The question now, she says, is what message D.C. takes away from this murder so that his death is not in vain?  

“Though we have been crushed, we will rebuild the ruins,” Muhammad says, reciting a verse from the Book of Malachi, the last book before the New Testament. 

At the end of the service, everyone gathered outside, candles in hand, to sing Malachi the Stevie Wonder version of “Happy Birthday.” They sang on the steps of the church, chanted, and released balloons into the air.

By the end of the night, Laws finally spoke: “Thank you for all your prayers, support, and love. This is exactly what he would have wanted.”