Correction to This Article
A caption with a Sept. 23 Page One article incorrectly said DeOnte Rawlings lived in Highland Dwellings, a housing complex also known as Condon Terrace. DeOnte, 14, who was shot and killed at the complex last week by an off-duty police officer, lived nearby.

Slain Youth, Officer Were Neighbors Worlds Apart

A makeshift memorial for DeOnte Rawlings has sprung up in Condon Terrace.
A makeshift memorial for DeOnte Rawlings has sprung up in Condon Terrace. (By Kevin Clark -- The Washington Post)
By Robert E. Pierre
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 23, 2007

The D.C. police officer and the teenager he shot to death last week knew the corners and cuts in Washington Highlands well. They knew what time neighbors rise and sleep. Where teens hang out. Where the things that disappear from back yards are likely to show up.

This was home, where their parents still live, where they attended school. But when their paths crossed in an alley in the Highland Dwellings public housing complex, which most refer to as Condon Terrace, the 44-year-old man and the 14-year-old boy were coming from two places, a 90-second drive between them, a world apart.

James Haskel, an officer in the helicopter unit, lives in a gated townhouse community named after Walter E. Washington, the District's first modern mayor. There, accountants, teachers and other professionals are building equity in their homes, forming running clubs, secure in the knowledge that theirs is the kind of manicured place that cities on the rise covet.

A couple of blocks away, DeOnté Rawlings was in survival mode. He spent days and nights away from his father's home, running with a crowd of troubled youths in Condon Terrace, police and neighbors said. There, shootings occur regularly, and a decades-old reputation of having some of the city's meanest streets lingers. When he was killed, police said, DeOnté was armed and riding a minibike stolen from Haskel's home.

Their collision under the street lamps in an alley Monday night upended the lives of two families and left the city struggling with tough questions: How could the theft of a minibike lead to a shooting death? Was Haskel trigger-quick or just doing his job? Was DeOnté armed and dangerous or, as his family says, unarmed and in the wrong place?

The killing also raised the ire of Condon Terrace residents, many of whom harbor negative feelings toward the police. Some said officers don't respond when they're called; others said the police who do come often rifle through the pockets of youths and adults who haven't done anything wrong. Inside and outside the public housing community, residents and city leaders grapple with what to do to prevent such shootings in the future.

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) has held four news conferences after the shooting to assure residents that everyone, no matter their status, will be heard. Fenty said he will use his constituent service fund, money raised from private sources, to pay for DeOnté's funeral. Meanwhile, he's fighting against a history of mistrust and neglect and a widespread feeling among the city's poorest residents that their voices, even when heard, don't count.

"What difference is all this going to make?" asked one exasperated resident who, like most of her neighbors, declined to give her name.

* * *

Condon Terrace, a street two blocks long on the backside of Highland Dwellings, was a nickname police and residents used in the 1980s to designate one of the city's most dangerous sections. The nickname and the reputation stuck.

Once, filled with apartments, the area had a prime role in the city's drug trade, a drive-in for junkies, fast money for dealers.

Many residents refuse to give their names or even talk to outsiders, afraid that someone will think they are talking about individuals, about specific crimes -- a misstep that could get them killed. Guns are plentiful in the area. Some adults are afraid of teenagers.

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