Casting a Wide Web for Robbers

Officer Kareem Pettigrue chats with local residents Marvin, left, and Maurice Ransom, both 9, in front of the LeDroit Park Market in Northwest.
Officer Kareem Pettigrue chats with local residents Marvin, left, and Maurice Ransom, both 9, in front of the LeDroit Park Market in Northwest. (By Marvin Joseph -- The Washington Post)
By Clarence Williams and Elissa Silverman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, August 1, 2007

The two masked robbers saunter into a corner market in LeDroit Park, each pointing a gun at the store clerk. The clerk runs behind the counter, but the thugs have him.

As one empties the cash register, the other holds the clerk against the floor, a knee and a handgun pressed into his back. The thief pistol-whips the clerk before standing up and kicking him. Then he walks out with his partner.

The incident, caught on the store's video camera, took a little more than four minutes at about 1 p.m. on an overcast and sultry Tuesday. And it's all there on YouTube.

LeDroit Park is fighting back.

"I want the mayor, council member and the police chief to see this video," Simon Mahteme, owner of LeDroit Park Market, tells the camera. "I'm tired of it. It's not human behavior. I'm trying to make an honest living."

The July 10 robbery was the latest of 10 break-ins and armed robberies since October at the market, considered the heart of the community. A customer, outraged by constant vandalism in the historic Northwest neighborhood, posted the footage on the popular video-sharing site in hopes that a viewer would identify the robbers.

Late last week, police charged a 17-year-old. They are not saying whether YouTube played a role, but the video got the attention of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier.

Fenty and Lanier, along with a sizable retinue of their deputies, listened last week as about 100 LeDroit Park residents demanded increased police presence. Fenty (D) said he had heard about the video clip on YouTube, and Lanier has seen it.

"If this is one way that more people will see a potential suspect that will identify him, then I think it has some redeeming value," Fenty said in an interview.

The community's crime-fighting campaign isn't over with the YouTube salvo: It has raised $4,500 to buy a video camera for the building's exterior, and residents and police are working together to connect it to the city's network of crime cameras.

Among the issues to be worked out: Who would own and maintain the camera? And although some residents want to use the camera to monitor the goings-on at the store, police say the tapes can be used only after a crime has been committed.

LeDroit Park, with its ornate Victorian houses and narrow streets, has a small-town feel. More than a half-century ago, the tiny neighborhood was home to Ralph Bunche, a Howard University professor who would later become the first African American to win the Nobel Peace Prize, and Duke Ellington, who lived there before rising to jazz greatness.

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