National Landmark Damaged by Gunfire

Sam P.K. Collins | 1/8/2014, 3 p.m.
A stray bullet struck a panel on the Wall of Honor of the African American Civil War Memorial on Dec. ...
A bullet indentation is visible on the Wall of Honor at the African-American Civil War Memorial after shots were fired on U Street in Northwest in late December. Photo by Khalid Naji-Allah

Dedrick Wallace* knows little of what happened outside of his storefront but in his mind, as echoes of gunshots pierced the crisp night air, he realized a bullet could strike him at any moment.

Within seconds of hearing more than a dozen gunshots ringing in his ear, Wallace dropped to the floor and covered his head. When the commotion ended, he peeked through a window and watched as people took shelter in a store along a bustling Northwest corridor. He closed the curtains and resumed his daily tasks.

The Dec. 26 incident on U Street did not claim any lives according to police reports, but a stray bullet did strike a panel on the Wall of Honor of the nearby African American Civil War Memorial.

Wallace said he thinks there’s still cause for worry.

“[Last month’s incident] is hurting our heritage [and] our people,” said Wallace, 50, who works in a shop along the U Street corridor. “Someone could have gotten killed walking around here. All that has happened is a result of no one taking a stand to address the negativity in our community. You can repair a memorial but you can’t repair lives [that are taken],” said Wallace who lives in Northeast.

The circumstances surrounding the shooting are unclear. But published reports indicate that witnesses saw a group of young men gathering along U Street prior to the exchange of gunshots. They believe that the incident may have stemmed from the group’s unsuccessful attempt to enter a nearby masonic temple. Other witnesses who live near the monument said the shootout occurred between some youth hanging out around the plaza and others in a car on U Street. Police have made no arrests and the investigation is ongoing.

In spite of the chaos that unfolded that night, business went on as usual. Museum doors opened the next morning and board members conferred with other parties to examine the damage and replace a display panel.

“A preservation technician has to figure out how to repair the [panel] in a way that inflicts the least damage,” said Frank Smith, 71, director of the African American Civil War Memorial Museum. “Overtime, these things age and as they do, they take on [different forms]. [Repairing the memorial] is not as simple as it looks but it has to be done properly,” said Smith who lives in Northwest.

The African American Civil War Memorial, located on the eastern entrance of the U Street Metro Station in Northwest, honors the lives of more than 209,000 African-American soldiers and sailors who served the in the Union Army during the Civil War. Smith and Colin Powell, a retired four-star general in the U.S. Army, dedicated the memorial in 1998. It stands behind the Statue of Freedom and includes a walking area with curved panels inscribed with the names of the men who served in the war. The stray bullet from last month’s melee hit a small area where two panels meet.

Conversations between museum officials, the National Park Service and D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) in the days following the shootout centered on making immediate repairs. Graham sent an email on the U Street listserv less than two hours after authorities alerted him to the incident. He said that he would support efforts by the D.C. government to finance the repairs rather than have the issue get caught up in what is expected to be an upcoming budget battle in Congress.

“I don’t know how complicated the repair process will be but I would be an advocate for the D.C. government to step up and fix this,” said Graham, 68 and a Northwest resident. “I’m assured that it has only been minor damage and it should be fixed rather quickly.”

*Not his real name