Atlantic corrects post about D.C. funeral

The Atlantic | The Washington Post
When Abdul Ali initially wrote about Washington, D.C., music legend Chuck Brown’s wake, he portrayed it as a flashpoint between old and new D.C. Here’s how his piece began originally:

A little more than a month ago, thousands descended on Washington, D.C.’s Howard Theater to say goodbye to a legend. Chuck Brown, the guitarist who became synonymous with D.C.’s go-go music scene, had died at age 75. But while the assembled waited for the wake to begin, a man in a police jersey showed up and told the crowd to disband. The event quickly became political—a turf battle between the establishment and the fading, working-class, black population that calls go-go music its own.

The crowd didn’t budge. Instead, it got more vocal and agitated. “Wind me up, Chuck,” the masses roared (a common refrain shouted at Mr. Brown’s concerts). The clash may have looked to an onlooker like a rowdy showdown between go-go fans and the police, but it was also a lament from a community who over the past decade has witnessed repeated, flagrant reminders that their music isn’t welcome in the new vision of D.C.

There are a couple problems with this account, made clearer by the corrected version The Atlantic posted after Poynter inquired. Chief among them: The police asked the crowd to gather elsewhere because of a severe weather warning. Writing in Washington City Paper at the time, Sarah Godfrey described the scene:

Around 8 p.m., police began asking the large crowd gathered outside of the venue to disperse because of an impending storm. Vendors packed up their bootleg Chuck Brown t-shirts and fled, as did some of the people dancing and eating and catching up with old friends in front of the Howard. But the people in line to view the body of the Godfather of Go-Go refused to budge.

“No way will people leave,” said a Shaw resident who goes by Tweety Bird, when the police began asking people to head home. “This is a good tribute to a positive, humble man. It’s well-deserved. What’s some rain gonna do?”

Eventually, cops insisted, but some fans stayed put even when viewing was shut down. (Those who waited through the storm were allowed inside once the worst of the storm passed).

Reached by phone, Godfrey said the request to move the crowd “did take an ugly turn.” But given the D.C. Police Department’s fractious relations with go-go fans in the past, she said, the incident was “one of the rare instances of them being extremely respectful.”

D.C. police spokesperson Gwendolyn Crump says Ali’s original article is “an inaccurate portrayal of what happened and seems opinionated.” She continues, in an email:

From the Metropolitan Police Department’s perspective, our goal was to ensure that everyone attending this event could do safely. A thunderstorm was impacting the area, on May 29. We worked closely with the family and coordinated with the venue which temporarily closed as a safety precaution. When the storm subsided, the remaining mourners were allowed to pay their respects that night. Additionally, mourners had the opportunity to attend Chuck Brown’s funeral on May 31 at the Washington Convention Center.

Writing in the Washington Post, Chris Richards took exception to Ali’s account, too:

It’s unclear whether Ali is referring to the impromptu gathering outside of the Howard on the evening of May 16 or the official wake on May 29, but both events were reported to be largely, if not entirely, peaceful.

In the corrected version of the Atlantic story, Ali, who did not reply to my request for comment, appears to have gotten his account secondhand. Here’s the new lead:

A little more than a month ago, thousands descended on Washington, D.C.’s Howard Theater to say goodbye to a legend. Chuck Brown, the guitarist who became synonymous with D.C.’s go-go music scene, had died at age 75. But while the assembled waited in the rain to be let inside to view Brown’s body, an official-looking man—one person there said he was wearing a police jersey, while a Howard spokesperson said the man was a fire marshal—showed up and told the crowd to disband because of lightning.*

The crowd didn’t budge, recalled author Natalie Hopkinson, who was there with her two children. Instead, it got more vocal and agitated. “Wind me up, Chuck,” the masses roared (a common refrain shouted at Brown’s concerts.) Emotions were running high between go-go fans and authorities. After all, go-go’s Godfather had been laid to rest—following a decade of flagrant reminders that go-go music (or a big part of the population that listens to it, at least) isn’t welcome in the new vision of D.C.

Hopkinson already imbued Brown’s funeral with extra meaning outside Ali’s story, writing in a New York Times opinion piece called “Farewell to Chocolate City,” that “the music that Mr. Brown created was once ubiquitous here, but most newcomers today have never heard it.” Washington City Paper’s Steve Kiviat took exception to some of Hopkinson’s conclusions in reply to an earlier piece in The Washington Post linking go-go’s decline to gentrification.

Correction: This piece originally stated Kiviat’s
piece was replying to Hopkinson’s New York Times article.

We have made it easy to comment on posts, however we require civility and encourage full names to that end (first initial, last name is OK). Please read our guidelines here before commenting.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=656715835 Andrew Beaujon

    Thanks, Natalie. I’ve filed a correction about my Kiviat error, which should show up shortly. I’d love to hear how you feel the revised version of Ali’s piece reflects your experiences at the wake. I’m at abeaujon@poynter.org or 703-594-1103. 

  • http://twitter.com/Nattyrankins Natalie Hopkinson

    There is an error in this post. Kiviat’s piece did not respond to my New York Times piece, which came out last month. The date is clearly stamped…part of the problem is that the Atlantic piece has very similar arguments to a Washington Post Outlook piece I wrote in 2010. At the time, DC cops touted their surveillance of the go-go scene with impunity.  Since that Outlook piece, and the W. City Paper did many follow-ups, I don’t think police  would make the same mistake again, especially at Chuck’s wake.

    As I tweeted Chris Richards and told Abdul Ali privately,  the original Atlantic post looked nothing as I remembered the Chuck Brown wake. There was no police faceoff. There were tons of people there and even what looked like a TV news camera recording us in the crowd chanting “Wind me up, Chuck…open up the door!” But there was no violence and I don’t see how someone could draw the conclusion that there was a “police standoff”