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Growing up in Shaw, Ben Barringer was a 7th Street guy.
At night, he’d stay up until 4 a.m., often drinking and smoking with friends behind the stocky brick buildings that line Shaw’s main thoroughfare. Then he’d pass out, wake up around mid-afternoon the next day, and rejoin his buddies outside.
Barringer’s mother and brothers resided in a town house on 5th Street NW. But growing up, he’d always hung two blocks to the west, around 7th and O Streets NW, near the apartments where other 7th Street crew members lived. This is prime crew turf in Shaw, with its easy access to the Giant, and most important, the Kennedy Recreation Center, where crew members gather on the front steps and play on the basketball courts.
The LW crew hangs out a block and a half up from there, just north of Rhode Island Avenue, at the Lincoln-Westmoreland complex, which includes a high-rise apartment building at the corner of 7th and R Streets NW and a series of smaller garden apartments that spread to 9th Street NW. Geography has accorded this group of toughs several monikers: the “Eighth and R Street” crew, “9th Street,” “Lincoln-Westmoreland,” or “LW,” as identified by public and confidential D.C. police department documents.
The Shaw territorial markings are clear. But Barringer crossed them anyway. He had a girlfriend, Tawanda Jackson, who lived in a town house at 936 French St. NW, just west of Lincoln-Westmoreland—a hostile region for a 7th Streeter like Barringer.
Jackson, 19 at the time, would ask Barringer to visit her and their two young daughters—clearly an unwise move, according to another girlfriend of Barringer’s:
“He’s beefing. Why would you even invite this man up there, knowing that he’s not going to say no because he doesn’t fear anything? He was real inconsiderate when it came to things like that,” she says.
On Saturday, July 7, 2007, at 5:45 p.m., Barringer and Jackson were getting ready to leave the house when a storm of bullets were fired in their direction. The shots came from a silver Acura and landed all over the front of the house. The incident’s police report says that the gunfire lasted 10 minutes. The couple wasn’t hit in the attack. Barringer, according to a court document, “was uncooperative and left the scene.”
Days later, D.C. police obtained an arrest warrant for Antonio Peoples in connection with the shooting attack. Peoples, as it turned out, came from a family that had some issues with the 7th Streeters.
Deon Peoples’ life ended quickly. On the night of Jan. 27, 2007, he was shooting craps by the entrance of an apartment building at 1512 7th St. NW when 10 bullets were pumped into him. After the body was removed, a pool of blood remained on the floor in the stairwell right in front of the large glass window that faces the street.
Peoples, who died at the age of 29, used to hang around with the LW crowd. Like many who lounge on the courtyard benches for hours, or loiter outside by the alley or the front entrance of the high-rise on 7th Street, he was just a visitor—but a constant visitor, says a man who has lived sporadically at Lincoln-Westmoreland for about 15 years.
“He would come around, offer you a beer,” says the man. “Talk and joke and play with the kids.” Peoples had friends at Lincoln-Westmoreland and friends down 7th Street. But, obviously, “he must have done something,” says the man. “You can’t play both sides.”
According to people at the scene of Peoples’ murder, his mother, Helen Peoples, and his sister showed up on 7th Street soon after the shooting. “It was chaotic, because they were like, ‘7th Street guys shot Deon,’ but they wouldn’t tell us which 7th Street guys,” says Officer Tommy Barnes, who has worked in Shaw off and on since 1988. “The homicide detectives—[Jed] Worrell and his partner and everybody—was trying to get them to, you know, tell them, ‘Eh, you say 7th Street guys, you know—where did you get this information from?’ And the mother and them wouldn’t tell them where they got the information from.”
Deon Peoples had lived in various addresses in Trinidad, the U Street area, and Shaw, including 1904 9th St. NW, roughly a block and a half north of the complex.
The Peoples are known for being a very large, tightknit family.
“They are very nice,” says one woman familiar with the relatives. “They’ll give you whatever they have. But they’re close. Their family is very close. If you’re in their circle, you got to stay in their circle and don’t try to cross them.”
Cops have been monitoring the inner-dealings of the clan for years. The Peoples surname appears remarkably often on incident reports and internal documents, several police say.
“The Peoples family is a big family. As far as drugs and stuff, they have a long, long history of drug trafficking,” says Barnes.
Police documents show several Peoples family members associated wiht the LW crew, including Anthony Peoples, 22, and Antonio Peoples, also known as “Tone,” 20, who live on Owens Place NE in Trinidad.
Word on the street was that Barringer may have been involved in the killing of Deon Peoples. And the Peoples faction was looking for Barringer. Two days after the murder, Anthony Peoples, a cousin of Deon’s, called a friend of Barringer’s: “He said, ‘You need to find that bitch-ass nigger, because I think he killed my cousin,’” recalls the friend of Barringer’s.
The friend didn’t know what he was talking about and asked what had happened.
“And he said, ‘I really don’t know, but I need to talk to him so I can find out.’”
The 7th Street crew perpetuates Shaw’s intractable crime problem. Over the years, it has carried on feuds with groups in three directions, feuds whose origins no one can really pin down.
To the northwest is LW, a group with which 7th Street has been trading shots for at least a few years. To the east is Shaw’s 5th Street crew, another frequent adversary of 7th Street. But the 7th Street boys are known for their outreach, starting beefs with guys in LeDroit Park to the northeast, says Ron Moten, who runs the Peaceoholics, an anti-violence group.
The resulting gunfire breaks out at random moments on Shaw’s streets. And gang warfare is not supposed to happen in a long-since-gentrified neighborhood, right next to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center and wedged in between the U Street corridor and the Gallery Place-Chinatown area, the epicenter of new D.C.: corporate development and condos galore, loaded with residents who can’t believe their shiny new buildings still haven’t driven out the crack dealers below their windows. Here, four blocks from the Verizon Center, crime landmarks dot a neighborhood with $800,000 homes, chic new eateries, and boutiques that sell purses for $200. The Shaw of yesteryear has disappeared, and yet its crew history is still evolving.
Last spring, 7th Street was willing to wave a white flag in one of these wars. In late May, nonprofit group Alliance of Concerned Men brokered a truce between the 7th Street and 5th Street crews. In early June, the Alliance leaders and city officials saluted the crew members with proclamations of hope and gratitude at a job fair at the Kennedy Recreation Center.
“I have a lot of faith in Washington, D.C., as a place where this type of thing can happen,” Mayor Adrian M. Fenty told the crowd.
The Alliance leaders stood with the mayor as he congratulated them for being a strong, visible, adult presence in the community.
In the building, there were representatives from several nonprofits, city agencies, and groups, including the Hotel Association of Washington, D.C., and the Excel Institute, an auto-mechanics and life-skills training program.
“The Man just came in,” group director Tyrone Parker proclaimed to the crowd. “Peace brought these individuals to the table—peace, not violence.”
Indeed, “The Man” was highly visible. Besides the mayor, Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, who organized the event, was joined by his council cohorts, Chairman Vincent Gray and At-Large rep Kwame Brown.
According to Evans’ own newsletter, he had heard the “resounding cry” for jobs at the previous week’s truce meeting. And so he answered with his job fair/press conference, which “was a success more than imaginable.”
The Peaceoholics’ Moten says his group counseled kids over at the Lincoln-Westmoreland complex that spring but started to back off when the Alliance of Concerned Men also began working heavily in the neighborhood—as if this town wasn’t big enough for two anti-violence nonprofits. Both groups receive sizable grants from the D.C. government, particularly the Peaceoholics, which is slated to receive $1 million in proposed earmarks for fiscal year 2009.
To Moten, the truce, largely brokered by the Alliance of Concerned Men, was disingenuous at the least. The LW crew didn’t come to the table. And yet people were backslapping and cheering as if Shaw’s violence was winding down.
“The only reason—and I’m going to be clear on this—the only reason why we left the first time is because I called everybody and told them that it was not a truce,” Moten says. “When you a part of something that ain’t true, you put yourself in jeopardy. We’re not going to do that.”
Moten says he tried to warn people that this so-called truce wouldn’t assure peace and quiet in Shaw. He called the Alliance’s executive director, Tyrone Parker. He also called Evans’ office. “Nobody wanted to pay any attention,” recalls Moten.
Three days after getting ambushed on French Street, Barringer was back in Shaw.
Sometime after 9:30 a.m. on July 10, 2007, he was sitting outside on 7th Street when a vehicle pulled up and someone inside started shooting. Lt. Michael Smith, who lives at 1203 7th St., was awakened that morning by another tenant who’d witnessed the shooting and had seen Barringer squatting between two cars.
When Smith stepped outside, he had an inkling that Barringer had been targeted. Another person had seen Barringer around the corner of 7th and M Streets, heading toward his great grandmother’s home, which is exactly where Smith and a police sergeant found him.
Barringer was both a suspect in a vicious murder and a man who could barely walk down the street without drawing a spray of ammunition. So far, no bystanders had been hurt on either French or 7th Streets.
Barringer was clearly someone’s bull’s-eye—a man so deserving of retribution that he wasn’t safe even in the morning, long before most crew members rise to begin their days. And yet, here he was, waiting alone outside an elderly relative’s house, looking for safe harbor.
Smith and his associate spoke with Barringer, who was taken in for questioning at the Violent Crimes Branch in Southeast, then released.
The incoming fire was taking a toll on Barringer. After the July 7 attack, for instance, he took refuge at another girlfriend’s home outside of Shaw. There, he found her braiding her cousin’s hair and immediately instructed her to pack up his belongings. He had a “real bad attitude,” the moment he walked through the door, she says.
The girlfriend went upstairs and began to gather Barringer’s things. Then, he dragged her down the stairs, and started beating her up “for no reason.”
“Just because he’d got shot at somewhere else, he took it out on me,” she says.
After that, the girlfriend kicked him out. Barringer found his way back to Shaw soon, of course. He couldn’t stay away.
“Once you’re there, you’re addicted to it. It’s something that you need everyday. You can’t live without it. You feel empty without your friends,” says the girlfriend.
Inside and outside of Shaw, Barringer had plenty of places to lay low, and he took every advantage of the luxury.That June, one of his girlfiends, Tamika Hicks, had bought Barringer a cell phone so he could keep in touch with her and their young daughter, then 7 months old. After Barringer was taken in for questioning, he called her and explained how police interrogated him about the Deon Peoples murder and were trying to pin the crime on him and his friend, Jeffrey Bright, known to friends as “Blake.”
Around that time, on July 12, a warrant was issued for Barringer’s arrest. The affidavit alleges that Barringer had stated to a witness in two separate conversations that he’d shot Deon Peoples. First, he “confessed that he caught ‘D’ ‘slipping’ and that he ‘punished him’ by shooting him.” Then, a “short while later,” the witness heard Barringer “admit that he shot and killed the decedent,” and talked of catching Peoples “down the 1512.”
Hicks says Barringer never went into detail about who he was beefing with from LW, but he did say that he hadn’t killed anyone. She just advised him to cooperate with the police: If he was innocent, it would be fine, and he’d be released. But Barringer just couldn’t stand the thought of being in jail again, she says.
“He’d been locked up when he was a juvenile, and he had just gotten out of jail,” says Hicks.
One day in late July, Hicks got a voicemail from Barringer, saying he’d been arrested. He was being held on murder charges.
Hicks was close with the father of her child—but not as close with him as some of his other girlfriends. There were a lot of them, she knew, and an early hearing yielded some testimony on this matter.
The judge in the case, Wendell P. Gardner Jr., had trouble wrapping his head around Barringer’s productivity. The following exchange on Aug. 16, with Barringer’s lawyer Lloyd Nolan, is from a court transcript:
Gardner: “How old is your client?”
Nolan: “Twenty-two, Your Honor.”
Gardner: “Twenty-two. He got seven children.”
Nolan: “I’m sorry?”
Gardner: “Does he have seven children? That’s what [it] says down here, unless I’m reading it wrong.”
Nolan: “Yes, Your Honor.”
Gardner: “Twenty-two and seven children. What, you got some twins or triplets or something? Does he have twins?
Nolan: “No, Your Honor.”
The tally at that point was five mothers, seven kids: The first mother is Angel, 23, who has a 7-year-old son—Barringer’s eldest child—and a daughter. The second mother is Andrea, who has a daughter. The third mother is Tawanda Jackson, who has two daughters. The fourth mother is Tamika Hicks, whose daughter is now 18 months old. And the fifth mother is Lakisha, who has a daughter as well, according to a source who knows Barringer.
Hicks met Barringer back in 2005 while she was working at Wet Seal at Ballston Common Mall in Arlington. He had a job as a stocker at Hecht’s, and they saw each other around. The first time he asked for her number, she turned him down. But then he caught up with her again while they were both at a bank, and she relented. For a few months before they started going out, they just chatted on the phone and got to know each other. She heard about some of his family issues, like how he felt distanced from his mother, who Hicks now speaks to regularly and describes as “a nice person, a caring person.”
“I never had any issues with her or anything,” she says. “She constantly calls me and gives me updates about Ben, and asks about taking my daughter to church.”
Hicks thought she was having his first child, but a few months into her pregnancy, one of the other mothers, Andrea, came to her job at Downtown Locker Room on Minnesota Avenue NE and explained the reality of the situation—that she was still dating Barringer, and that there were other women in his life.
Initially, Hicks was angry, though she soon decided to just forgive and forget as much as possible. She ended her relationship with Barringer but stayed on good terms with him and saw him every once in a while.
She never expected much financial support for her baby, considering how thinly he’d need to spread any earnings. As for the other mothers, her attitude is: “We all have kids with the same man. Our kids are brothers and sisters,” says Hicks. She doesn’t speak with all the women on a regular basis, but she has cordial relations with them, she says.
Hicks’ daughter was born in November 2006, while Barringer was incarcerated after entering guilty pleas the previous May for possession with intent to distribute cocaine, carrying a pistol without a license, possession of an unregistered firearm, and a violation of the Bail Reform Act.
When he got out in late 2006, he drifted around, living with his mother and various girlfriends, staying with Hicks for a night here or there and spending a significant amount of time with a teenager named Myesha.
After receiving Barringer’s voicemail, Hicks dialed his cell number. Myesha answered. She’d been with Barringer the day police tracked him down.
“The cell phone was in my name, and it belonged to me,” says Hicks.
Barringer had often associated with Jeffrey “Blake” Bright on 7th Street. The two had grown close when they were homeless teenagers sleeping in various buildings around the area. Bright had been kicked out of a family member’s apartment, and Barringer, stubbornly, refused to follow house rules, says a friend.
“His mom wanted him to come in the house at 6 o’clock, and he wouldn’t come in the house at 6 o’clock. And that’s where that started, him being outside all night,” says the friend.
Despite their tight bond, Bright and Barringer had different styles: “Ben was a lady’s man. Blake didn’t really care about the ladies. He was all about his money,” says the friend.
Bright is “an icon” around his zone of 7th Street, says one man from the area. “Those who are willing to do certain things, the neighborhood considers them the man. He’s one of those guys who handles his business.”
But he was also a lost soul, according to another friend. After some cajoling and questioning about his past, Bright told this confidante that his mother was a drug addict who’d left him at home alone for long stretches when he was younger. He bounced between family members’ houses and didn’t always shower.
“Jeffrey’s business—I would know it, but I wouldn’t really want to hear it because I know there’s a lot of people that didn’t like him,” says the friend. Bright had the reputation for being “this ruthless guy that didn’t care about anybody. I’m like, ‘I’ve been around this man. He care about me.’”
Like Barringer, Bright has a steady record of arrests, with a variety of charges, including threats, drug-related infractions, carrying a pistol without a license, and others. Bright’s last known address is 1330 7th St., the home of his girlfriend Kim and ground zero for the 7th Street crew.
In spring 2005, he wrote two letters to Judge Brian F. Holeman after violating his probation on a 2004 charge for possession of ecstasy. In the first letter, he wrote that he knew he deserved “every day” of his withheld 360 day sentence, but his first child was scheduled to be born in August. He’d been with the mother of his child, a student at the University of the District of Columbia, since 2003.
“I just want to be the father I never had to my child and to be the man who is there for his family,” he wrote.
(By his second missive, the due date for his baby had changed from August to November.)
Though Bright slipped in and out of custody frequently, one thing is for sure: He was out and about on New Year’s Eve 2006, a pivotal night in Shaw’s crew wars. That night, Bright was shot outside of 1330 7th St.
After the attack, he walked into the lobby of 1330, as seen in a series of camera images provided by Officer Barnes. He appears to have been struck in the shoulder.
Immediately, a girl in a green shirt goes over to him and others start to crowd around. He’s seated, and his jacket is removed by another woman standing above him. The jacket disappears; Barnes later heard that a gun was concealed inside.
According to court documents, Bright believes he was shot by Deon Peoples that night.
On Feb. 25 of this year, police officers, religious leaders, nonprofit workers, including representatives from the Peaceoholics and the Alliance of Concerned Men, gathered in Scripture Cathedral at the corner of 9th and O.
Again, nine months after the “truce,” gunshots were lighting up the streets of Shaw. Since the beginning of January, there had been two shootings on 7th Street, and two days before the meeting, a white 1995 Cadillac drove into a parking lot at Lincoln-Westmoreland and was immediately riddled with bullets. The driver fled and abandoned the car behind Gibson Plaza Apartments on 7th Street, right across the street from the Kennedy Recreation Center.
According to one man in attendance at the church, Councilmember Evans spoke for about 20 minutes to the crowd, delivering a memorable speech. At one point, he directly addressed the nonprofits—the Alliance and Peaceoholics—that receive city funding:
“He said, ‘I’m giving you people millions of dollars,’” says the audience member. “This was the first time I’d ever seen Jack that angry. Jack was livid….He said, ‘I’m not going to name you, I’m not going to point you out. I’m paying you millions of dollars. This makes me look bad, this makes the city look bad.’”
On March 2, Assistant Police Chief Diane Groomes told the Washington Post that the violence appeared to stem from acts of retaliation for the Peoples murder.
The name on everyone’s lips was Jeffrey Bright, who had reportedly been seen back in the area.
Again, it was time for many in the city to throw up their hands, wonder what was going wrong, and why it hadn’t been dealt with already, during some earlier discussion, after an earlier spate of incidents, in some earlier meeting. After all, hadn’t a crew truce been declared in Shaw? What was going on over at Lincoln-Westmoreland?
After the meeting at Scripture Cathedral, Moten agreed to have some of his workers start refocusing their attention on the complex again. This spring, members from his group, the Alliance, the Columbia Heights/Shaw Family Support Collaborative, and others met regularly. Moten knew people with existing connections at Lincoln-Westmoreland and with a crew from LeDroit Park. He says his associates did their work pro-bono “from the heart.”
The funding his group receives from the city doesn’t require its members to just show up every time there’s a shooting or beef anywhere in the city, he says. They’re paid to do specific programs, which don’t include logging endless hours trying to form relationships with crew members in Shaw, he says.
Evans has a more expansive view of the group’s mission: “Their job is to work throughout the city and Lincoln-Westmoreland would be one of those places.”
Moten’s not exactly pleased to hear that thinking. “I got a problem with that. For someone to say that’s what we supposed to be doing is an insult. People call us for everything,” he says.
In recent months, leaders at the Alliance of Concerned Men also renewed their efforts, regularly advising 7th Street crew members and counseling them not to retaliate when shootings occur in their area.
When the nonprofits aren’t there, they get an assist from the security guards at the Lincoln-Westmoreland complex. The guards come in at 5 p.m. and stay until 1 a.m., spending most of their time clearing the complex’s halls and stairwells of drug users, dealers, and others up to no good, says guard Stephen Becker, who worked at Lincoln-Westmoreland this spring but was recently transferred to a building downtown.
The group’s No. 1 priority, says Becker, isn’t catching addicts; it’s keeping people from loitering and getting into shootouts.
And the people threatening that kind of violence often aren’t residents. You tend to hear the same thing again and again about the shootings in Shaw: The trouble’s coming from outside the neighborhood. Some drug dealers might have a long-standing connection to Lincoln-Westmoreland: an old buddy, a relative, an associate who has chilled around there for years and knows how the place operates. Others might be tenants kicked out of the complex for illegal activities and forced to forge new relationships.
“I’ll put it like this,” says one resident, “basically, most of the women that live around here have kids.” To get a drug-selling spot in the complex, “you meet a female around here, you get to know her, bam: You got it, as long as you kick them a little cash.”
Since the beginning of the year, Ben Barringer has missed out on several major life events while he was in jail. Andrea gave birth to a son named Ben, who is now 3 months old. In early April, his girlfriend Myesha also had a baby, bringing his total number of children up to nine, by six different mothers.
On March 20, Barringer turned 23. That same day, his friend Jeffrey Bright’s name came before a Superior Court judge as part of a request for a warrant charging him with second-degree murder while armed. Detectives had compiled supporting evidence from four witnesses, which, combined with other court documents, presents a more vivid account of Deon Peoples’ death.
The night of the murder, Barringer was hanging out at Bright’s girlfriend’s house when he received a call from Bright saying he wanted to meet at 1512 7th St.
According to indictment documents, a witness saw Barringer, Bright, and another individual hovering outside the building for a few minutes prior to the murder. Barringer and Bright allegedly told a number of people standing outside of the building that they should leave. Inside the building, Bright walked by Peoples and up a stairwell, appearing to be negotiating a drug deal. Soon after, he returned downstairs and shot Peoples in the head with a 9 mm handgun. He continued to shoot him as he lay flat on the ground. According to one witness in the affidavit for his arrest, Bright was exacting revenge on Peoples for the New Year’s Eve 2006 shooting. According to prosecutors, Bright told one person that he had killed Peoples because “he was not going to let anyone shoot at him and get away with it.”
On May 6, Barringer and Bright were indicted on conspiracy and first-degree murder charges, among others. Court documents from both cases indicate that Barringer is a lead witness in the case against Bright.
As for a possible truce between 7th Street and LW crews, Moten says it already happened—in late April—though he’s short on details about who was involved and what was said.
“I’m not going to do a press conference. We’re not pressing the issue. It’s over between those particular youth,” he says.
Sources close to the LW crew members say they heard the beef was, indeed, over.
Moten says he arranged for five of the main LW members to get carpentry and cement masonry pre-apprenticeships through the D.C. Department of Employee Services. (The agency confirms that it has worked with Moten to place numerous people in various apprenticeships this spring.)
Of course, a 7th Street and LW cease-fire still may not affect Shaw’s crime levels. Within the last few weeks, there have been several other reported shootings near the turf of the 7th Street crew, including one on Tuesday, May 20, in the middle of the afternoon. Police were dispatched to a shooting on the 600 block of N Street and found shell casings scattered about the area. The recent resurgence of violence appears to be linked to a rekindled beef between the 5th and 7th Street gangs. But this group of beefers was not part of last year’s peace agreement, according to Alliance program director Eric Perry. “There are different age groups of kids that all have their own little cliques and crews,” says Perry.