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Watch Where You Walk, Mr. Obama

By Colbert I. King
Saturday, November 15, 2008

It's too late for President-elect Barack Obama and his family to stay away, but at least they are bringing the Secret Service with them.

Other D.C. residents aren't so lucky.

Take, for example, people living in the vicinity of Waterside Mall in Southwest, only a few minutes' drive from the White House. This week, P.J. Youngblood, facilities manager of Harbour Square near Waterside Mall, warned residents via e-mail to "please be careful."

Youngblood said a Harbour Square woman was brutally assaulted on Wednesday. "The crime was committed by three teenagers . . . around 5:00 p.m. on 6th Street between the Arena Stage and the View Apartments."

The assailants, he said, pinned the victim's arms back and beat and kicked her.

Youngblood added this ominous note: "I have spoken to the police, and they believe that the recent increase in youth crime is a current game that the kids are playing among themselves."

The victim, later interviewed by NBC4 television, said she was wearing diamond and gold jewelry and had a wallet and cash, and all the attackers took from her was the cellphone she was trying to use to call for help.

"It was clear they had no intention of robbing me," she said. "They clearly were waiting for someone to be there so they could do it."

Bodyguards notwithstanding, the new first family must be careful where they stroll.

Last month, 56-year-old Mark Kenneth Blank, arms filled with bags of groceries, was walking to his home near Waterside Mall. He never made it.

He was attacked and beaten. He died a week later from his injuries. Three youths, ages 13, 14 and 15, are in custody, charged with felony murder in the case.

Blank was one of five people accosted in that area in an eight-hour span.

A word to the incoming president: In the nation's capital today, even police officers aren't safe.

The same NBC4 story reported that last week a uniformed police officer approached a group of teenagers standing outside a drugstore near the Waterside Mall in the middle of the day and asked why they weren't in school. Police said the teens jumped the officer, stole his police radio and tried to steal his gun. Yesterday, Police Chief Cathy Lanier wrote in an e-mail to me: "The officer was off duty on his way home in his take-home, marked cruiser. He sees a group of kids fighting, he stops to break up the fight and is assaulted by two of the juveniles, who were arrested and charged with assaulting a police officer. The officer's radio was not stolen. The officer did state that during the struggle he felt that one of the juveniles was reaching for his service weapon."

Welcome to our world, Mr. President-elect: a city of national monuments, great museums and breathtaking vistas and home to PCP, crack and guns; a city where the center of federal authority shares the stage with nightly anarchy, babies having babies, and absentee fathers.

Welcome to a city highly selective in its racial consciousness: an African American majority swollen with pride at the coming of the nation's first black president -- yet unwilling to face up to, let alone do something about, the uncomfortable fact that most of the hurting and killing is caused by people who look like us.

While in Washington, here's hoping the new president and first lady visit our public schools so they can see what the first daughters are missing -- and drop by our courts to witness a generation of D.C. youths being recycled through the criminal justice system.

They are getting arrested at a mad clip: more than 3,122 this year, up 8 percent over 2007.

Lanier told me in a phone interview this week that the number of youth arrests is even higher if cases in which youths are charged as adults are included. And, she added, juvenile arrest figures don't include youths who commit minor offenses and are diverted to a special program that keeps them out of the juvenile justice system. Thus far in 2008, more than 800 have entered the diversion program, Lanier said.

That is if they aren't getting killed: a 15-year-old Thursday night; a 15-year-old last week.

President-elect Obama should also make it a point to observe District leaders go through the motions of seeming to care about the turmoil in our city's underbelly.

They don't care, of course. Otherwise, how do you explain leadership that:

· Considers it taboo to hold parents accountable for their children's misbehavior.

· Dreads the thought of asking hard questions about juvenile crime, dead youth offenders and the effectiveness of an $80 million Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services budget.

· Refuses to consider the possibility of links between fatherless poor families, undisciplined adolescents who stomp, steal and shoot, who kill and are killed, and touchy-feely youth rehabilitation "experts" whose lower lips quiver at the very idea of juvenile detention.

Well, this is the kind of place the next first family is coming to.

Maybe our next commander in chief should invite the 82nd Airborne Division to tag along.

kingc@washpost.com

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