WASHINGTON (FinalCall.com) – Members of the large Ethiopian community here–both Muslims and Christians–breathed a sigh of relief just days before Christmas when the D.C. medical examiner’s office finally ruled that the death of Ali Ahmed Mohammed, after a savage beating outside a nightclub Oct. 15, was in fact a homicide.
“Well right now I think everybody just took a big breath,” Andrew Laurence, an Ethiopian community leader, told The Final Call. Mr. Laurence had organized demonstrations against the DC9 Club when it sought to have its liquor license restored when the medical examiner’s report was issued Dec. 22.
“When they heard the word ‘homicide’ they felt much better about the results of the medical examiner’s report. The fact that we still are totally bewildered how there could be no report about a physical beating and marks and things on his body, that they couldn’t tell us that there was a physical beating, we’re still perplexed about that,” Mr. Laurence continued.
When used by forensic pathologists, the word “homicide” means that the actions of another person contributed to a victim’s death. The determination of whether another person’s actions were criminal, however, is up to authorities in the U.S. Attorney’s Office to decide.
Immediately after Mr. Mohammed was allegedly chased and beaten in front of several eyewitnesses by the club owner and four employees–all of whom are White–there was widespread outrage all over the city. Police Chief Cathy Lanier openly condemned the incident, calling it a “savage” case of “vigilante justice.”
The five men were initially charged with murder, but the counts were reduced to aggravated assault, before those charges were dismissed altogether when the medical examiner’s office could not immediately determine the cause and manner of Mr. Mohammed’s death. Those developments sparked protest rallies in the Ethiopian community, and one demonstration led by Muslims.
“The rally was called for family members and supporters of Ali Ahmed Mohammed, to express our outrage for the dismissal of the charges against the people who we know were responsible for the death of Ali,” attorney Talib Karim, convener of the Muslim Democratic Caucus of D.C., told The Final Call in an earlier interview.
“Ali didn’t mysteriously die at the hospital. He didn’t self-inflict the wounds that he suffered. The reports about him being beaten and brutalized by five members of the restaurant staff–DC9–including the owner, were reported by third party witnesses. Police were on the scene. It’s clear in our mind about what happened.
“We are outraged because of justice not being served,” Mr. Karim continued. “We saw what happened just over this past weekend with 104 people being arrested, not only protesting, but being arrested, because of what happened to Oscar Grant,” he said, referring to the light sentence meted out to the transit police officer convicted of the subway platform murder of an unarmed and handcuffed Black man in the San Francisco Bay Area.
“It’s another example of justice not being served for people of color and for Muslims. We believe that it’s time now that we stand up, and that we take a stand,” Mr. Karim said.
The Oct. 15 incident occurred when Mr. Mohammed allegedly threw a brick through a window of the DC9 Club where rock and roll music is featured, and where 99 percent of the customers are White, this after Mr. Mohammed was said to have been denied entrance into the club. He was then allegedly chased and beaten by the club owner and four employees, in front of several shocked eyewitnesses.
The club is located in a quickly gentrifying neighborhood in Washington’s “U Street Corridor,” which was once known as the nation’s “Black Broadway.” The legendary Howard Theater, the Lincoln Theatre, the Bohemian Caverns, are landmarks, along with Masonic halls, where performances, dances, and cabarets featuring the nation’s best known Black jazz and R&B entertainers took place, all within a three block range of the DC9 Club’s location.
In recent years the blocks adjacent to Ninth and U Streets have become known as “Little Ethiopia,” because of the influx of dozens of restaurants, clubs and markets catering to Washington’s large Ethiopian population.
Following the dismissal of all criminal charges against the club employees, the D.C. Alcohol Beverage Control Board considered, and eventually restored, the club’s liquor license, pending a Jan. 19 review, and provided there are no new criminal charges brought against the owner and staff members.
The club owner however apparently owns a total of 20 nightclubs in Washington, employing dozens of off-duty police officers as security guards and has “good connections with the city,” according to Mr. Laurence.
White supporters of the club blamed the victim, saying that “he was Muslim, and he was going to get a bomb,” Mr. Laurence said of White complaints.
“People are just fed up” when the club reopened, Mr. Laurence said. He pointed out that two Black-owned clubs in the neighborhood were permanently closed in recent years after deaths involving patrons and not club employees occurred in or near the establishments.
“We have the sympathy of the community, entirely,” he said. The people “are hearing injustice going on and they’re sympathetic to our cause.”
There was a great deal of frustration pent up before the medical examiner’s ruling, according to Mr. Laurence. “These young guys, when we were down at City Hall, they were yelling ‘If the mayor doesn’t come out, we’re going in. We’re ready to die.’
“The young men were yelling: ‘There but by the grace of God goes I,’ and they’re actually waking up and getting conscious of what’s going on in the street, yelling ‘Arrest me. Arrest me.’ These kids have already decided, they might not even come out anymore for protests,” let alone for the “long road” of the peaceful civil rights movement tactics, added Mr. Laurence, fearing that some of the youth might resort to retaliation.
The tension has apparently eased. “We finally have the final medical examiner’s report which includes the autopsy and the cause of death and the manner of death. According to the U.S. attorney, that was very definitive information as to whether they would go forward with charges against the gentlemen involved,” Mr. Laurence said.
“I still right now am hoping that the fact that it does say ‘homicide’ as the manner of death, we will be able to pursue some criminal charges, although there is non-criminal homicide. I’m still a little worried about whether we’re going to be able to get charges brought again in this case, but I am happy that at least the word homicide has been included. It’s more than I thought we would have.
“This unfortunately is not a clear-cut medical examiner report in terms of criminal responsibility for the death of Ali, because they list various causes dealing with his heart, and exertion, and toxicology issues with his body and mental state. ‘Excited delirium’ is the term they used. I looked it up yesterday and it appears it is not even necessarily accepted throughout the medical community and has been used as a cover-up for police brutality,” Mr. Laurence said.
“But the fact that they did say homicide, a lot of people feel like things are going to be more on Ali’s side. The next hearing by Jan. 19 for the liquor license, that they may again, take it away if criminal charges are brought forward. So right now there is a little break in the community, where we’re waiting to see what happens next.
“Again, I’m not totally convinced that criminal charges will be brought back, and even if they are that they’ll be substantial and defendable. I’m being a little more cautious than the community. I think the community is breathing a sigh of relief right now,” Mr. Laurence said.