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September, 2019

People commute with their heads buried in their phones. They text and surf and smile as they walk, drive, and yes, bike, from one place to another. Even the ones who, at first, seem unconnected are wearing AirPods. Earbuds and headphones provide a secret soundtrack to the morning’s monotony. 

At the corner of 15th and R streets NW, where two bike lanes meet and pedestrians head downtown while cars reverse commute north, a sight wrests them from their routine, if just for a moment.

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Bright white T-shirts blow in a gentle breeze. They hang on PVC pipe crosses, a clothespin holding the neck together so they don’t billow. Black text—most of it handwritten—lists a name, age, and date on each shirt. A red and black sign provides little-needed context: “Gun Deaths 2019 DC/MD/VA.”

There’s Breon Austin, 16, who died on April 19. One shirt memorializes the life of someone a year shy of 70. Another’s age is unknown. Together they make a ghostly graveyard that fills the lawn of Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church.

As they pass by, some people seem not to notice the display. Their eyes stay fixed ahead, or down on their screen. Some give just a half glance of acknowledgement. Others follow that up with a second or third look. 

A biker headed downtown stopped at the light catches the end of the display. He turns his neck to look back, taking in the full scene. —Will Warren

Will Warren writes Scene and Heard. If you know of a location worthy of being seen or heard, email him at wwarren@washingtoncitypaper.com.

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