In his weekly series, reporter Robert Samuels explores the District, street corner by street corner.
No one here even wants to say the words. They all call it “the incident.”
Since the incident, there have been no visitors allowed in Tyler House, the 286-unit apartment building across from North Capitol and Patterson streets NE. Since the incident, three armed security officers have been telling people that they can’t even sit on the building’s steps. And since the incident, it has not been unusual to overhear a conversation like the one a teenager walking around is having on her cellphone, swearing she’ll be okay.
“I don’t see no guns,” she said. “I’m gonna keep walking.”
On Friday night, five people were shot a block away, near the seven-lane thoroughfare at New York Avenue and North Capitol Street. The weekend before, in the same spot, two others were shot. Seven people wounded in seven days.
At least one victim lives in Tyler House. The way the neighbors tell it, the victims didn’t cause trouble. They were regular people just like them, grazed by bullets anyway, walking to the same corner store where they all pick up groceries. They easily could have been shot too.
“And since the incident came upon us, it feels like everything’s changed,’’ said Marlon Terrell, a 55-year-old carpenter, as he returned to Tyler House after work. “At this time, you used to see a lot of people on the street.”
Now, the street corner is as silent as its people are unsettled.
Developers are trying to rebrand this corner as the northern edge of “NoMa,” a rapidly changing neighborhood north of Massachusetts Avenue, but the longtime residents never had any fancy name for it.
It’s the District’s flyover country, a corner that drivers speed past on their way to and from the Maryland suburbs. Most won’t even notice the sign for Patterson Street, which pokes up just above a tunnel and is now overshadowed in the bright, under-construction glare of a mammoth mixed-use development.
This corner has long seen its share of blight. Terrell pointed across the street, where prostitutes still occasionally strut. Then he pointed up North Capitol, where dealers sell dope. And sometimes, people do get shot.
But rarely has the number of wounded been so large or the victims seemed so random.
“I’m scared for my child to go outside and play anymore. They are not doing enough to clean up the drugs,’’ a 50-year-old woman in dreadlocks said as she walked with three generations of women. Like many, she would not give her name. “Things here are just too crazy.”
On this night, no children are playing on Tyler House’s jungle gym. No one is dribbling on a basketball court; the backboards have been stripped of their hoops. A police car cruises by and the teenagers leaning on a car go their separate ways; the smell of marijuana still hangs in their air.
A sport-utility vehicle packed with plastic bags stops in front of the apartment building. The driver isn’t from here. She came from Maryland with a rattling shopping cart of groceries for her grandmother, who is now too afraid to leave the house.
Every few minutes, the corner is completely barren. There’s no chatter between young lovers or talk about the Redskins, no handshakes or hugs or whispers of the latest goings on. Just the sound of revving engines going home and ambulances passing by.
“It is never this quiet,’’ another woman said as she waited for a friend to pick her up. “Never.”
The building’s security guards — brawny, in thick, bulletproof vests that say “POLICE” — circled the corner. The week after a major crime, the head guard says, there is usually calm. But they must continue to make their presence known to deter any possible retaliation.
“We got a crackdown going on here or something?’’ the woman said to the police officer, laughing as if to lighten the mood. The guard paid her no attention. His presence was no joke.
To read previous stories in the series, go to washingtonpost.com/local.