Family, friends and supporters of 27-year-old Ali Ahmed Mohammed staged an hours-long protest and march Monday after the District’s U.S. Attorney dropped all charges against the five men who were accused in Mohammed’s death.
More than 100 people gathered shortly after 10 a.m. at Judiciary Square before marching down Pennsylvania Avenue, stopping briefly outside the U.S. Department of Justice and finally gathering on the steps of the John A. Wilson Building, D.C.’s city hall. D.C. police escorted the marchers and closed off part of the street in front of city hall while chants of “We demand justice!” and “No justice, no peace!” rang out across Freedom Plaza.
The amount of anger and frustration among the protesters was at times overwhelming. After addressing the vocal crowd in Amharic, his native language, Mohammed’s father, Ahmed Goltchu Mohammed, became too emotional and had to be escorted away by the family’s attorney. The protest then continued for at least another hour. “We have to work with the system,” the elder Mohammed urged the crowd to remember.
“We’re confident that there will a thorough investigation and we will determine how Ali died,” says Billy Martin, who is representing the family.
At issue for those gathered was a deep concern that the case might have been dismissed for good. In a statement released Friday accompanying the court filing explaining why the charges had been dropped, however, U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen made plain that the investigation is ongoing, and that charges could be re-filed after an autopsy report and any additional evidence becomes available.
“We need answers, and we want to know why the U.S. Attorney made this decision,” says Ibtihaal Bilaal of D.C., who is not Ethiopian but says she supports the community.
“The main thing is that right now, they are free from the charges. That is unbelievable,” says Fatuma Bedane, another protester who’s known Mohammed for years and describes him as “almost family.”
Five men who worked at the DC9 nightclub, one co-owner and four employees, were initially arrested for second-degree murder in the case, but those charges were later reduced to aggravated assault and have since been dismissed, at least for now. Police said they had chased, tackled and beaten Mohammed after he threw one or two bricks through the front window of the bar. Mohammed died a short time later at Howard University Hospital. D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier described the incident as a “brutal” beating and a case of “vigilante justice.”
Politicians inside the Wilson Building appeared to be unprepared to deal with the protest. Ward 8 D.C. Councilmember Marion Barry did come out to address the crowd briefly, and Council Chairman-elect Kwame Brown was more or less forced to come to the megaphone as he was on his way out of the building. A dozen or so protesters had just entered city hall when they ran into Brown and convinced him to speak to the crowd.
“No matter who you are, no matter where you live, when someone loses their life, that’s a problem,” Brown said, after telling the crowd that he had been following the situation. “I call for a full investigation.”