No shooting, no beatings, no drug dealing, no violence of any kind from now until Easter: A call for that two-week moratorium emerged from an emotional farewell funeral ceremony for Taijhon Washington, the 17-year old who was killed in gun violence on the evening of March 24 near Butler and Lilac streets near the Lincoln-Bassett School in Newhallville.
Wednesday morning 300 mourners across the generations gathered for the funeral at the Beulah Heights First Pentecostal Church on Orchard Street.
As they entered the sanctuary they passed an original, refurbished 18th-century horse-drawn country hearse that awaited to take Taijhon to his grave at Beaverdale Memorial Park
Many of the mourners, like his cousin Michael Carey (pictured), wore T-shirts, buttons, and other obituary wear reading “Rock Da Heavens, Sleepy” and"Sleep up, Bro! Heaven Couldn’t Wait for You.”
That’s “because who didn’t enjoy looking into his dreamy eyes which explains why he was given the nickname ‘Sleepy,’” read the printed obituary that white-gloved ushers handed out in the thronged sanctuary.
The funeral was especially poignant for the family because two of Taijhon’s cousins, Dallas Boomer and Thomas “TJ” Mozell, with whom he had been close, were also shot to death in New Haven.
Mourners viewed Taijhon’s open casket, surrounded by white and green flowers. As they then heard the exasperation, especially from the ministers, at the persistence of black-on-black street violence that caused Taijhon’s death, the atmosphere in the church grew progressively more energized.
By the time the service ended the ministers had said they were all tired of presiding at such events. The hour had arrived to turn the corner on what presiding Bishop Theodore Brooks called a “full-blown crisis.”
That’s where the call for the moratorium came in and for the community itself to solve the problem in its own midst.
“We have here a young man killed not by a Zimmerman, but by somebody who looks like him!” declared Bishop Brooks’ son, Pastor Darryl Brooks, invoking the Trayvon Martin case. “We can’t go on about ‘stand your ground’ laws in Florida when we don’t stand up [here] in New Haven. We need to stand up and say enough is enough.”
Then his father threw down the gauntlet: “You don’t have to run the streets. You want to run with a gang? I got a gang for you. My gang is so bad, he can raise the dead.”
The invitation to come to church was accompanied by the appeal for the moratorium until Easter: “Two weeks of peace. No shooting, no violence, no beating, no selling of drugs.”
Then he paused as the sanctuary grew silent beneath the slanting white canopied ceiling and the four large video monitors that carried Bishop Brooks’ image. “Can I get no drinking as well?” he remarked.
With the tension broken by his joke, Brooks, along with Howard K. Hill, whose company was managing the day’s funeral arrangements, offered an invitation for all the young black men in the audience to meet at the church on Friday at 3 p.m. to continue the dialogue, and the moratorium.
Outside, Michael Carey was still grieving for Taijohn. “I watched him grow up. He’d just started Job Corps,” Carey said. “To see this happen is ridiculous.”
He said he was heartened by seeing so many young men in the church. But, he added, “They have to want to change.”
Riverside Academy social worker Raynetta Woods (pictured with student Bryce Goldson) called the idea of a two-week moratorium a good one: “Many kids are impulsive after this [the shooting]. The call is for peace, to be quiet, to think” before they act, for example, in vengeance.
Woods and colleague Donna Greene said they attended the funeral at the request of their principal, Wanda Gibbs. Gibbs, unable to be present, asked them to attend “to take care of her kids.”
Woods said that although she did not know Taijhon, many of her kids did. About 20 of them, like sophomore Bryce Goldson, were at the funeral. Woods went out of her way to hug each one of them as they emerged, often with wet eyes, from the sanctuary.
Taijhon’s casket was loaded onto the country hearse, and the cortege of automobiles began to line up behind.
The horses, wearing black funereal plumes, stepped out onto Orchard Street and began to walk smartly the two-mile journey to the cemetery.
Officer Jillian Knox, who has been working closely with the bereaved family, said, simply, that the investigation into his murder is ongoing.