John Muller
John Muller

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“Look, man, look,” said an older man waiting for a westbound 92 bus on Naylor Road and Alabama Avenue, as he pointed to a bullet hole on the bus bench that had been covered over.

“That bullet that killed that young girl ain’t have no name on it,” he said, declining to give a name other than to say he’s “a man who cares.” He continued, “She didn’t deserve to die like that. She was going to be somebody.”

As I posted numerous posters at the bus stop where 27-year-old Capital Community News reporter Charnice Milton lost her life two years ago, a thin older man shouted at me, “Why the fuck are you covering up the glass? Put up one and move the fuck on!” Without my offering a word, a group of women strongly told him the significance of the bus stop and shared their endorsement of the postings. He retreated to the adjacent gas station parking lot.

There were also repeated mentions ofTonnet Smith’s 2016 murder during a drive-by shooting at the same bus stop. “Around here, every day is a blessing with the way these fools be shooting up the place,” said a middle-aged woman with a walking cane. “They’d shoot into a crowd where their mother or sister be. Life holds no value.”

I didn’t know Charnice well, but I knew her work. We shared a foxhole as entrenched reporters east of the river attending ANC meetings, zoning hearings, emergency town halls, ground breakings, ribbon cuttings, gallery openings, community festivals, small business launches, police briefings, and other events.

Charnice was a devout woman of God, but she was also a righteous journalist who beat me on more than a couple stories over our nearly three years as colleagues. If I hesitated a day or two following up on a story, Andrew Lightman, editor of Capital Community News and East of the River, would simply tell me, “Charnice is on it.”

From the fall of 2012 until 2015, Milton filed on average eight to 12 stories a month. Back then, opening a new digital or print edition of East of the River, and even now looking through the online archives, I felt a sense of competition with Charnice and that I was always falling further behind as she continued to expand her news beats. She even wrote stories that were published after her murder.

My first contact with Charnice was in October 2012, when she blindly emailed asking if I could share my contacts and provide her an update on what was happening in Barry Farm. My immediate reaction was to push back and protect my reporting turf from this young upstart. I held my ground and retained Barry Farm as my beat, filing a story the next month. Charnice actually shared with me information she had gathered. She was a reporter’s reporter. All she cared about was telling the story and telling it right. I managed to maintain reporting on Barry Farm but lost my senior status and priority when covering arts and school news in Ward 8, among other areas.

The last time I saw her was at “Kojo in your Community” held at the Anacostia Playhouse on April 1, 2015. Before the interview with Mayor Muriel Bowser started, I went over and said hi and asked what stories she was working on. Small and brief conversation, nothing consequential.

Late last month I called Kymone Freeman of We Act Radio to collect quotes and finish up a profile for East of the River about the station’s five-year anniversary. In the course of conversation, I mentioned an article I was working on about the absence of bookstores east of the river. He mentioned that We Act Radio had a vacant basement used for storage, and I suggested that would be a great space for a “Charnice Milton Community Bookstore.” He agreed, and the project was conceived.

Today at 3 p.m. the Charnice A. Milton Community Bookstore community cookout will formally launch the effort to create a bookstore in the basement of We Act Radio at 1918 Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE. Remarks from family and friends will be followed by a performance from Experience Unlimited featuring Sugar and Elijah Coles-Brown, a nationally known youth advocate and oratorical contest winner, as Frederick Douglass.