A Street Corner Analysis of D.C. Crime

A memorial to 13-year-old Alonzo Robinson adorns a utility pole in the Trinidad neighborhood.
A memorial to 13-year-old Alonzo Robinson adorns a utility pole in the Trinidad neighborhood. (By Katherine Frey -- The Washington Post)
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By Courtland Milloy
Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Driving through the District's Trinidad neighborhood the other night, I stopped to chat with three young men who were hanging out not far from where 13-year-old Alonzo Robinson was shot to death early Saturday.

The corner boys, as they are sometimes called, are part of what is perhaps the most visibly anonymous demographic in the country. Young and black, feared and marginalized, they are the ones most likely to be viewed as a suspect in a crime and most likely to become the faceless victim of one.

Nevertheless, if you want to know what's behind the rash of homicides in Trinidad -- 24 so far this year -- and to get a different take on how to stop the killings, these are guys to go to, on their turf and on their terms.

"I keep a 'K' under my truck, just in case," Mike Smith, 19, told me, referring to an AK-47 assault rifle. His friends snickered. Whether Smith was joking or telling the truth, they wouldn't say. But when he added, "I've lost 10 homeboys so far," they nodded in solemn agreement.

It was almost 10 p.m. Monday, two hours before "killing time," as they call the midnight hour in Trinidad. "You don't want to be out here after midnight," said Bobby Johnson, 18. "You see young 'uns riding three, four deep, you know what's about to happen."

He called them young 'uns, meaning youngsters. But they are really young guns, shooters 17 and under.

Alonzo was killed about 2:25 a.m. while standing with a cousin at Queen and Holbrook streets NE. Earlier that morning, about 1, another 13-year-old boy and a man were wounded by gunfire from another passing car.

The way the corner boys see it, only a young 'un would be coldblooded enough to target a kid. Although no arrests have been made in either shooting, random, drive-by terror tactics have become the hallmark of the city's most ruthless teenage thugs.

D.C. officials have tried a variety of countermeasures: a beefed-up gang task force, crackdowns on car thieves, a curfew for teenagers, stepped-up truancy enforcement. The latest is a police checkpoint on a Trinidad street, requiring motorists to show ID or be turned away. But as soon as the blockade was lifted last time, the killings started again.

Making matters worse, police believe that several people know who killed Alonzo but refuse to come forward.

"If we continue to accept the rule of thumb that we should not stand up for our communities, then we should not complain" about crime, Amin Muslim, an aide to D.C. Council member Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7), said during an anti-violence rally in Trinidad last week.

The corner boys scoff at such scolding.

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