Robert E. Pierre
Robert E. Pierre
The Root DC

Barry calls Ward 8 ‘ghetto’

Okay, so my council member, Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) has a bumper hanging off of his car and here’s what he told a Post reporter about it:

“It was a hit and run,” Barry said. When asked why he was still driving an obviously damaged vehicle, Barry snapped, “I am not talking about this car.”

Robert E. Pierre

Writes about politics and culture in once-a-week column and on the The Root DC Live blog.

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Barry said an unknown driver had hit his early one morning while it was parked near his home in Ward 8. Barry said he filed a police report.

“When you live in the ghetto, this happens,” said Barry, declining further comment.

His former spokeswoman, Natalie Williams, a candidate for president of the Ward 8 Democrats, issued a release that said: “ to draw an exclusive correlation between hit-and-run accidents and communities such as Ward 8 was unfortunate. Hit and run accidents occur in every Ward in our city – to and by all class and race of people.”

But she also seemed to defend her former boss’s use of the word ‘ghetto.’

Here’s what she wrote:
The word “ghetto”, which was originally coined and finds its roots in the European culture, speaks to the systematic disenfranchisement of people and the unequal treatment of those living in certain communities,” says Williams. “While our community is experiencing some really exciting growth and shows great promise in the near future, we still have the highest poverty rate in the city, the highest unemployment in the city, the highest illiteracy rate in the city, as well as many other health care and educational related disparities. We still have far too many families, children, adults and seniors in need of a safety net and government support in order to make it from day to day. We are disenfranchised. We continue to be mistreated and disrespected --- and that, ladies and gentlemen, in the true sense of which the word was originated is considered ‘the ghetto.’”

Okay, we get it. There is still plenty of work to do in our Ward. But it doesn’t help one bit for our elected leaders to use such flip language. I was burglarized when I lived on Capitol Hill and in Anacostia. Council member Barry is always talking about the new Ward 8 and all the things that are happening for the better. But his tone in this case could have come from an outsider who doesn’t know better. He does.

Here’s an excerpt of my first person account of living in there from 2007.

It seems just as apt today.

When I tell people in Washington I live in historic Anacostia, their eyebrows rise and they nervously ask: How is it? I can see the visions of mayhem -- shootings, police tape and crackheads -- dancing in their heads. As with other neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River, people reflexively think danger. I thought it, too

Back in the mid-1990s when I was a police reporter, I regularly rode along with undercover vice officers from the 7th Police District. We always ventured out at night, when the streetscape was shadowy, sometimes mysterious.

One night, not far from where I live now, the officers suspected a teen was driving a stolen car. When they made eye contact with him, the teen slowed the car and dove out. One officer ran after the still-moving vehicle, jumping into the driver’s seat before it crashed.

Three others, as I recall, chased the teen on foot. The lanky youth, not wearing a belt, kept tugging at his waist. Their weapons drawn, the police yelled at the teen to show his hands, to stop running. He didn’t. When they tackled him, his beltless jeans were at his knees and he was unarmed. The episode could easily have ended in tragedy but for the police and their restraint.

This is the Anacostia most people know, or hear about. It’s not inaccurate. It’s just not complete. There is character, history and community here, a discovery made daily by the mostly black professionals who have flocked here in recent years.

I wanted a place with a yard large enough to tinker in the garden and host barbecues where children could “go long” for the football as I did when I was a kid. I got what I wanted for less than $300,000, across the street from Cedar Hill, the former home of abolitionist Frederick Douglass, now a national historic site attracting visitors daily. But I got so much more. In southern Louisiana, we call it lagniappe (lan-yap), a little something extra that’s thrown in for good measure by the local grocer or the roadside vendors selling fresh shrimp, sweet potatoes or mustard greens.

For me, the extra was the carolers, the small church around the corner that sells “scratch-and-dent” furniture from national retailers and, of course, my newly adopted neighborhood hangout, Players Lounge in Congress Heights. It has reasonably priced drinks, good people and good music.

On Wednesdays, Zeke, the DJ, plays Johnnie Taylor, Z.Z. Hill and Mel Waiters. He even throws in some southwest Louisiana zydeco -- just like at home.

 
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