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On Friday, prosecutors announced they were dropping aggravated assault charges against DC9 nightclub co-owner Bill Spieler and former club employees Darryl Carter, Evan Preller, Reginald Phillips, and Arthur Zaloga. Today, on a chilly morning, the family, friends, and supporters of Ali Ahmed Mohammed gathered in force to protest that decision. The livid crowd, many of them seemingly from the Ethiopian community Mohammed belonged to, demanded answers and justice for the deceased 27-year-old, who was chased by Spieler, Carter, Phillips, Preller, and Zaloga after he smashed a brick through a DC9 window. Sometime later he was dead. Exactly why still isn’t clear.

Chanting, the crowd marched to the U.S. Attorney’s office, the Superior Court building, the Justice Department, and then the Wilson Building. The chants that rang out were numerous. They included “This is not a race thing. This is not a religious thing. This is a justice thing,” as well as “Stop the cover up, we want justice,” and “Ali was a healthy man.”

One of the protesters, Mohammed’s cousin, Nunu Wako, told reporters, “We will never rest until we get justice.” Later on, Wako held up a sign that displayed a photograph of a blood-spattered crosswalk that was taken the day her relative died. “Whose blood is this?” the sign asked.

Originally, cops and prosecutors contended that the five DC9 men once scheduled to have a preliminary hearing today were guilty of murder. Cops said a witness told them the men punched and stomped Mohammed for vandalizing the club. The charges were eventually downgraded to aggravated assault, though, and have now been dropped all together.

That would seem to indicate the men are innocent, but the U.S. Attorney’s office called Mohammed’s death “tragic,” and has implied that it will file the charges again if more evidence is available. Defense attorneys for the men, however, have suggested the dropping of charges is tantamount to exoneration.

One thing is for sure: Tensions around what may or may not have happened to Mohammed are unlikely to fade anytime soon.

Photo by Rend Smith