But last week, Washington seemed friendly when he called the Strip hoping to help out this meat patty with its latest column.
It's cool, we thought. We like Washington's comic art, which features well-drawn black superheroes fighting racism and other modern villains.
We had questions about one of his strips, though.
Featured on his Web site, www.omega7.com, the comic in question tells how Washington himself was largely behind the movement that made Precious Doe such an important news story in 2001. Washington was the one who convinced the media to pay more attention to the grisly murder, and, his strip implies, he was the one who decided that a memorial should be erected in Hibbs Park, across the street from where the little girl's body was found. The comic also includes the panel shown on this page, with Washington's version of what television executives say about him behind his back -- that he's a "suck head activist nigger" who gets too much face time on local broadcasts. Washington, you see, likes to give himself a lot of credit for all sorts of things.
So it was kind of surprising to hear him insisting on the telephone that, in fact, he had not been the person behind the elaborate memorial in Hibbs Park.
Sure, he explained, he'd started things off by delivering flowers to the site and by suggesting that the area could become, in his words, some kind of "mock memorial." But others did the rest, he says.
"[Mayor pro tem] Alvin Brooks put the structure out there," he says, referring to a tentlike carport that's decorated with dozens of stuffed animals and other mementos. "And they put up an eternal light, but it only lasted two or three months. Nobody thought the thing would last three years," Washington says.
His lack of enthusiasm was understandable, especially since he'd gotten wind that the Strip was asking around the neighborhood about the memorial at 59th Street and Kensington, which at this point is about as dignified as a roadside pet burial.
Mock memorial, indeed.
Dozens of tacky stuffed animals hang in various states of decay on the ugly temporary structure. Printed material is hard to read behind the grimy plastic holders that keep it in place, and something -- perhaps a candle once in a glass votive holder -- has melted into a burnt mess of charred wood and grass at the front end of the display.
And that's after it's had a good cleaning.
"The only time they fix it up is when the press is coming down," says Cynthia Canady, who lives a few doors from the eyesore. "They were down there this week cleaning. It was a total disaster last week."
Canady was referring to a tidying-up that the Precious Doe Committee, along with the city's Parks Department, gave the memorial before last week's anniversary events.
"We're all tired of it. It looks bad. It's an eyesore," adds Venita Clark, who also lives down the block. "It should have been taken down after there was a proper burial." Precious Doe rests in Memorial Park Cemetery, but the temporary shrine in Hibbs Park remains.
"They go out and clean it up just before something comes up in the news," says another local, Earnestine Lyle. "You should have seen it this winter. Those stuffed animals are old and dirty Right now it looks like a grave site. And we're sick of it."
Washington, who knows a thing or two about keeping up media appearances (see Prairie Dogg, page 49), sounded nervous that the Strip had read his comic and associated him with the run-down pseudo-monument. "Two weeks ago, it all looked very raggedy and wet," he says. "You can see that the Parks Department just cut the grass where the cameras will be." He's right -- most of the park is still overgrown, but a small parcel around the memorial has been neatly mowed.
He and Canady were quick to blame the Precious Doe Committee for the memorial's sad state. Media man Washington says that the committee, which is dedicated to keeping the little girl's case in the news, in fact has other motives. "They're always putting up signs about the Precious Doe Committee on the memorial," he says, implying that the committee is more about self-aggrandizement than about the young victim. "I don't need the death of a child to validate my existence. And I think some of these groups are doing that."
Ouch. Canady, meanwhile, says she complained about the memorial more than a year ago, before she left the Precious Doe Committee in frustration. At the time, she says, committee cochairwoman Marcie Williams told her the thing was staying.
Williams is unapologetic about the memorial's longevity, regardless of what the folks who live near it say.
"The memorial is a way to fight crime," she says, explaining that criminals who see the thing might be reminded not to commit similar acts.
The Strip wasn't sure how the bad taste of the decaying monument would scare off other child-killers, but whatever.
Williams says the Precious Doe Committee works very hard to keep the thing from falling apart. "Alonzo Washington doesn't maintain it. We maintain it. Most of the money comes from our own pockets," she says. "We've done nothing but things to help the community down there."
"Cynthia has a way of blowing things out of proportion," adds Precious Doe Committee cochairwoman Annette Johnson. "The memorial does not get cleaned up only for press time. We still try to meet there every other Saturday. And during that time, we try to get some bears out and put in new ones. People who live there dump trash there, and we pick it up."
Still, Johnson sounds more sympathetic to the neighborhood than her counterpart. "If it's time for the memorial to come down, then it should come down. They have to live in that neighborhood. I don't."
Johnson says the committee tried to raise money for a permanent memorial at the site -- something along the lines of a tasteful stone monument. But plans with Community Builders of Kansas City came to a standstill when she left that organization and the money amounted to only about $500.
Canady says that when she complained to the Parks Department about the memorial, she was referred to City Council members Alvin Brooks and Terry Riley. Both politicians tell the Strip that they're willing to remove the memorial if neighbors are sick of it.
"We're open to sitting down and talking. If the community wants, we can just take that down and plant a tree or something. It is an eyesore," Riley acknowledges.
Canady was glad to hear it. But she worries that others still obsess about the ratty display while the story fades for the rest of the city. "Everyone is moving on but them and their tent," she says. "And it's time to move on."