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Checkpoints Resume After Spate of Violence

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By Michael Birnbaum, Paul Duggan and Valerie Strauss
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, July 20, 2008

D.C. police yesterday resumed controversial checkpoints in the troubled Northeast Washington neighborhood of Trinidad after a series of overnight shootings and stabbings across the District left at least 11 people wounded and two dead, including a 13-year-old boy from out of town who was visiting relatives.

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In announcing the checkpoints, police said they were searching for three suspects in the Trinidad attacks and a gold 2002 Dodge Intrepid that was allegedly used in at least one of the incidents.

The violence, on a brutally hot summer night that frayed tempers and kept people out on the street late, unfolded over an eight-hour span that ended at 3:30 yesterday morning.

In Trinidad alone, at least six people were shot in separate incidents. Police working at one shooting scene could hear gunshots being fired elsewhere, Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said at news conference.

Late yesterday, investigators appeared to be sorting out the details of the incidents, offering differing numbers of victims at several of the shootings.

"I just think it's tragic," said ShaDonna Stevenson, a mother of six in Trinidad. "You've got too much violence going on in this neighborhood. I just really hope that it gets better. Because if it doesn't, a lot of the little kids you see out here playing today, you're not even going to get to see them grow up."

The latest incidents were disturbingly similar to an earlier spate of violence in and around Trinidad that occurred over a nine-hour span from May 30-31 and left seven men dead. Five of the killings are unsolved.

Trinidad's streets were quiet yesterday. Residents mostly stayed inside or on their porches as the sun beat down and police cars, out in force, patrolled the neighborhood. A red bag marked "biological hazard" sat on the street where the young boy was killed, left there, according to residents, by emergency medical units that had been working hours before.

Lanier announced at a news conference that officers were putting up checkpoints just east of Gallaudet University and bordered by Trinidad and Florida avenues, and Mount Olivet and Bladensburg roads. The checkpoints were to be operated until 7 p.m. July 24. In placards around the neighborhood, however, police said the western boundary was West Virginia Avenue, not Trinidad Avenue.

Police had established checkpoints for six days starting June 7 -- questioning people about why they were entering the neighborhood -- after the previous surge of violence. There were no killings in Trinidad while the checkpoints were in place, prompting city and police officials to declare them a successful tool in tamping down violence. But some residents complained that they were intrusive, and the nonprofit Partnership for Civil Justice sued and asked U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon on July 9 to block the use of checkpoints, while the case worked its way through the courts.

Lanier, who was accompanied at the news conference by City Administrator Dan Tangherlini with Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) out of town, defended the checkpoints yesterday as legal and a useful police tool. "Until a judge orders me to stop, I'm going to do everything I can to protect the people in Trinidad," Lanier said.

The two fatalities occurred in separate shootings.

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