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Gary Younge
Thousands are mourning a civic leader shot down in his prime

Since Davis was calling for a vote I didn't have, I didn't take much notice. Nor did I link the eloquent man who spoke against subway fare increases at a local meeting I had gone to in February with the man on the poster. Indeed, it was only when his face flashed up on the local news channel that I realised that Davis was a local hero who was rapidly becoming an national news story.

For it was Davis who had taken his erstwhile political rival, Othniel Askew, into the chambers of New York city council two weeks ago, telling a fellow councilman, "This is the guy who was once against me, but now he's with me." Less than an hour later, Askew, who it transpires had severe mental health problems, shot Davis several times on the balcony before being shot himself by a sharp-eyed policeman from the ground floor.

Bad news travels fast and within 45 minutes of confirmation that Davis had been killed, my neighbourhood was an emotional wreck. As I set out to his offices just two blocks away I bumped into a distraught neighbour who had met him a few times, praising his activism. The small area outside his office - which sits above my favourite local diner - was transformed into an instant shrine, with flowers, candles and small pictures and notes laid there, a small crowd assembling and police barriers to keep them back. Having just got over the media infestation following the Jayson Blair scandal - he lived in Fort Greene, too - journalists were back in a big way.

And this time there were no end of people who would talk. On the number 38 bus, which runs through his two districts, two elderly women kicked off the public mourning, which would carry on for more than a week, that very afternoon, asking anyone foolish enough to catch their eye when America would stop slaying black leaders in their prime.

Davis, it turns out, was something of a political phenomenon. His own story is compelling enough: a former policeman who joined up to set things right after he was allegedly beaten by two white officers, who went on to become a civic leader, starting the charity Love Yourself, Stop the Violence, a group dedicated to stopping violence in urban America.

But politically he was a maverick - a rare thing these days in New York city politics - who threatened to sue the speaker after he was removed from the council's cultural affairs committee for being one of three Democrats to vote against a 18.5% increase in property taxes. And his iconoclasm had a rare consequence too - a strong local following that transcended the traditional racial and religious boundaries of American politics. Thousands followed his casket from Bedford Stuyvesant to Crown Heights, where the brother of the Hasidic scholar Yankel Rosenbaum, murdered in black-Jewish clashes several years ago, was there to greet his family.

Sadly, though, it may be a while before Davis gets to truly rest in peace. The decision of his brother, Geoffrey Davis, to carry on his legacy and fight for the seat has raised eyebrows and hackles. Geoffrey has no political experience but does have a conviction for receiving stolen property - he has also been arrested for soliciting a prostitute and beating up his former girlfriend. Meanwhile Davis has been exhumed and reburied after his family found out that Askew's ashes had been placed at the same cemetery.

Eerily, the posters remain - but the teeth shine even brighter now, lit up by candles left by wellwishers all along on route 38.

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