Woodley Park mulls Zoo, African-American Day shootings

WASHINGTON (WUSA9) -- Two recent shootings around the National Zoo -- one that left two people injured on Easter Monday -- are raising concerns.

The other shooting happened a week earlier, but left no one injured. No arrests have been made in either shooting.

Wednesday, the Woodley Park community met with police and city leaders to discuss the shootings, safety, and the annual African-American Family Day at the zoo, which has become a place for youth to commit crimes in recent years.

When shots were fired outside the National Zoo on Easter Monday, Blessed Chuksorji-Keefe was walking to her Woodley Park home.

"When I heard the gunshots I had to run for cover," said Chuksorji-Keefe.

As did hundreds, if not thousands, of others at the zoo Monday.

The chaos in the aftermath of the shooting, that left one man shot in the hand and another in the arm, complicated matters for police.

"There were a ton of people there and a ton of police. It's completley within the realm of possibility that this happened and they weren't caught," said Peter Schwartz, nearby when shots were fired.

Schwarts, a Woodley Park resident who was at Wednesday's community meeting, said the police presence on Monday was noticeable.

Officers were there in big numbers after they said they saw chatter on social media prior to the Monday about D.C. youth wanting to fight and settle scores.

The Metropolitan Police Department also acknowledged that they're well aware of the recent violence associated with African-American Day at the zoo, including a fight and stabbing in 2011 and a shooting in 2000 that left seven people injured.

Chuksorji-Keefe lives in Woodley Park with her husband and two children because, she said, of the relative safety. But, she added, African-American Day has become one day to be concerned about.

"I'd like to be able to walk passed the zoo on the Monday after Easter and not worry about being stabbed or being shot," said a frustrated Chuksorji-Keefe.

National Zoo Director Dennis Kelly said Wednesday that it's back to the drawing board as they'll now look for new ways to keep the area safe while keeping the character of the zoo.

At Wednesday's meeting, several residents suggested body, bag and metal checks at the zoo entrances.

"Every other Smithsonian and every other museum does bag searches and body checks, and body checks for metal," admitted Kelly, adding that, while such security measures could take away from the zoo's open feel, will be considered.

"Our legacy has been to be open. We're open - we're open from 6:00 in the morning until 8:00 at night. We may have to rethink that. We may have to rethink everything," said Kelly.

Another suggestion Wednesday was to do away with the annual African-American Day at the zoo all together.

"This holiday has a very dubious and shameful history," said Chuksorji-Keefe.

That history, explained Chuksorji-Keefe, is more than 100-years-old and was created for African-Americans who were not allowed to attend the annual White House Easter Egg Roll.

Years later, African-American Day is still enjoyed by many, but the recent history has been hijacked by violence as youth have used the day to commit crimes around the zoo and settle beefs from other neighborhoods.

Chuksorji-Keefe, an African-American, supports canceling the annual event at the zoo.

"It's a relic," she said.

The rest of the community was mixed on that suggestion, with more neighbors wanting to keep it because, as they put it at Wednesday's meeting, it would "send a bad message to the rest of the city" to simply do away with it.

"I don't feel safe and I never feel like this but on a very specific day, on this particular day," said Chuksorji-Keefe.

Community activist Ron Moten insisted that the problem is much deeper than this one day. He said those going to the zoo and committing crimes are not there for the event.

"They're not here to look at animals, they're here to socialize, just like they'd do at the club or whatever," said Moten. "This is a city-wide problem and we cant just worry about what's happening at the zoo, we have to worry about what's happening around the city."

What's happening, he added, is that city has stopped engaging troubled youth in troubled neighborhoods and those youth are taking trouble to every other neighborhood.

Neighborhoods like Woodley Park, where Chuksorji-Keefe lives. She said, "I'm angry that my neighborhood doesn't feel safe."


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