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Fliers Spotlight Capitol Hill's Baseball-and-Bullets Dichotomy

By Serge F. Kovaleski
Sunday, March 20, 2005; Page C04

Aflier advertising bulletproof vests that "give sure-fire protection throughout the District of Columbia" is taped to a lamppost near a Chinese carryout at 15th and C streets in Southeast Washington, where gaggles of drug dealers openly operate on the corner.

But these are no ordinary Kevlar vests. The leaflet touts them as the "Official Washington Nationals 'Safe at Home' bulletproof vests," costing $595 to $1,595, depending on the model and whether they are autographed by players.

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This is no ordinary sales pitch, either. It is satire, as created by Jim Myers, 63, a longtime neighborhood activist on Capitol Hill. The writer is using the flier to draw attention to violence in the area, including three shootings this month, one of them deadly.

Myers said he decided to use the Nationals in his brand of "lamppost satire" partly because "baseball is on people's minds" as the team gets ready to play its regular season home opener April 14 at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, several blocks from his rowhouse.

Referring to the locations of two shootings in the neighborhood, Myers's flier says, "Fans coming to RFK Stadium won't need to fear at 15th & C SE or 17th & Independence, where 'post-game fireworks' can mean Uzis and Glocks.

"D.C.'s been dying for baseball for too long!" the posting declares.

With the help of neighbors, Myers hung about 200 copies in Capitol Hill this month.

Myers, who has lived in his home for 15 years, said he started to satirize the crime situation in 1998 after years of residents complaining to police about open-air drug markets and gunfire -- and getting few results.

His first leaflet read, "The Crack Cocaine Dealers of Capitol Hill want to Rock Your World . . . We operate convenient, full-service outlets and guarantee no police hassles or interference. Stop by and talk to our sales associates . . . WE ACCEPT CASH OR STOLEN GOODS."

In an interview, Myers said, "It is frustrating to see the gatherings, the crap games and the obvious drug dealing day after day. There is a residual level of frustration that is there because you can't talk about a place forever.

"So I vent my spleen and frustration by making these posters, hoping it will focus attention on the underlying issue," he said.

Myers cautioned, however, that satire can be misunderstood.

"Half the people get it; half the people don't," he said. "But when a crazy idea like bulletproof vests seems almost plausible, you then have a measure of the predicament you are in."

Lately, he said, D.C. police have been more responsive to the community's concerns about crime and have stepped up patrols. "Sometimes I wanted to embarrass the police, but I don't want to do that anymore because they are working with us," he said.

Inspector Andy Solberg of the 1st Police District, which is responsible for policing Myers's neighborhood, said that he has not seen the fliers but that "they sound quite clever."

As for the police response to the recent spate of shootings, Solberg said: "We have been putting a lot more officers in the area, including redeployed officers, K-9 and tactical officers. We have also been setting up checkpoints" on the street.

John Brennan, a sergeant in the police department's major narcotics branch, also had not seen the leaflets but said Myers can be an asset to his community by heightening awareness about crime there.

"The more outspoken the fliers are, the more attention he gets," Brennan said.

He said the open-air drug markets in that part of Capitol Hill are less robust than years ago because of police enforcement and community involvement.

"Now, it's like Iraq: There are pockets of resistance that we eventually will be able to deal with," Brennan said.

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