by Miles White
The Baltimore Afro American
November 3, 1980
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A Washington community activist who was outspoken in trying to stop the displacement of poor blacks and other minorities from the inner city was slain last week in an execution-style shooting that some are speculating was a politically motivated assassination.
Yolanda Ward, 22, of the 1358 Levis St., N.E. was shot once in the head on Nov. 2 as she and three male friends she was escorting walked from a party near the 2800 block of Gainesville St., S.E.
Police have arrested two of four men being sought in the killing, which they say resulted from an apparent robbery. Arrested last Monday and charged with first degree murder and murder in commission of a robbery were William E. Tate, 23. of the 1100 block of Chicago St., S.E., and Sylvester Harrison, 37, of 2315 25th St., S.E.
Tate was charged and released while Harrison, a former mental patient, was held on a $5,000 bond. Police would not say what led to the arrests or whether or not witnesses had positively identified the two as the ones who participated in the killing.
Ward and the three men, who were visiting from New Jersey where they attended school, were returning from a Halloween party when they were approached by four men, two of them armed with .357 Magnum pistols.
Witnesses said there was "no panic" or scuffle throughout the incident. The killers searched and robbed the men but did not make any attempt to rob Ward. Instead they spread her over the hood of a parked car, put one of the Magnums up to her head and pulled the trigger while the three students looked on in shock.
Nkenge Toure, director of Community Education for the D.C. Housing Coalition, on which Ward served as a co-chairwoman, said she believes Ward's death was related to the fight over the displacement issue.
Ward was actively opposing a "spacial centralization" plan supposedly outlined in government documents obtained by the group earlier this year.
Toure said that War had received calls telling her that the housing issue was "bigger" than she, and that she should forget it. It was not long afterwards, Toure said, that Ward began getting threats, including attempts to break into her apartment.
"Housing is a big issue in this city," Toure said. "There's a lot of money and power involved ... I don't care what anybody else says, that was not a simple robbery."
The coalition plans to push for its own independent investigation into the shooting and said it will issue a "detailed analysis" of it soon. A police spokesman said Tuesday that "all our information indicates it was a robbery." But persons who knew and worked closely with Ward aren't buying that.
James Garrett, Ward's co-worker on the coalition and a former instructor of Ward's at Howard University, where she was on a leave of absence, said Ward began receiving phone threats and harassment soon after she began working to stop the program in the city. "Whoever threatened her didn't know her personally, but they knew her work," Garrett said.
Toure said that the persons who were working along similar lines in other cities were also harassed, including one in Philadelphia who was shot at and another in Houston who was beaten up. "It's not an isolated situation," she said, "it's impossible (for the shooting) to be a coincidence."
Memorial services for Ward will be held Thursday at Howard University's Rankin Chapel and on the following Sunday at Calvary United Methodist Church.
"She was very serious, very principled," Garrett said. "She was just a brilliant, brilliant woman."