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Making a Crime Of Kid Stuff On the Metro

By Marc Fisher
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 18, 2000; Page B01

All hail the Metro police! For in this capital of the free world, in this autumn of political indecision, there is not one french fry marring the escalators or the platform or the rail cars of our cherished transit system, no, not one.

At least, there weren't any yesterday at the Tenleytown-AU station on the Red Line, scene of the french fries fracas in which 12-year-old Ansche Hedgepeth was arrested, handcuffed and taken in for consuming said snack material while she was a guest in our beloved train system.

No fries, no candy bars, no Starbucks. Just one plastic bottle of blue Fruitopia, being swigged in the open, on the platform, by a ninth-grader heading home from Wilson High School (he didn't care if I used his name, but just to hype the drama, I won't give it up even if they toss me in jail, too).

At 3:15 each weekday afternoon, hundreds of kids from Wilson, Deal Junior High and St. Ann's Academy stream into the Metro station. Some of them are loud. Some of them hang out on the plaza above the station, slouching against the pay phones, smoking and talking. Some of them push one another in the way that teenagers have since the dawn of time. Most file quietly onto the escalators, without adult supervision or police assistance.

Yet the Metro police in their wisdom assigned a dozen undercover officers to conduct a week-long crackdown on that scourge of modern society, illicit snacking. This is proudly called "zero tolerance," the euphemism government agencies use to say, "We are too dim to trust ourselves to make any judgment calls."

Predictably, kids who use the Tenley station do not think much of the crackdown or the way in which young Ansche was treated.

"It's a waste of taxpayer money," says Wilson senior Anthony Mills, who admits he was sipping a Frappuccino on the platform when Ansche was nabbed. " 'Uh-oh, he's eating fries, he's a threat to society'? Come on. If people are eating, police should just say, 'Leave.' "

"If they want to keep the trains clean, fine, but just take your food away," says senior Michelle Davis. "Now that girl's going to have to say she's been arrested when she goes for a job. Way too harsh."

"None of this is necessary," says Lennon Duggan, a junior. "We have high crime rates and they're going after little kids for drinking a Pepsi? It's stupid: They dress undercover, but we know who they are. They're the guys with their chests all puffed out from their bulletproof vests."

Students know why the police presence has increased. They hear neighborhood adults complain about rowdiness at the station.

And it is true: Six boys stand on the plaza arguing about just how foul okra is.

"What the [bleep] is that pus that comes out of those okras?" one young man shouts, and his pals cackle at considerably higher volume than, say, a trainload of office workers murmuring over their newspapers.

But students say--and school officials confirm--that the only crimes here of late were a couple of fights in the alley behind Fresh Fields.

Nonetheless, kids say they are targeted by police who look the other way or gently chide adults violating the ban on food or drink. "The police are never down here when students aren't commuting," says Raleigh Marshall, a senior who rides the train home. "I've never seen them arrest an adult who's eating. Sure, there are rowdy kids--it's Friday and school's over--but they're not destructive."

The station clears in less than 15 minutes. Two trains easily handle the flow of students. On board, there's more noise.

"Hey, man, it smells like Jerome in here," one boy shouts, winning an excellent round of laughs. Kids make fun of the train announcer's script. A few boys exchange punches, laughing all the while.

Back up on Wisconsin Avenue, at Cafe Med, where Ansche bought the offending fries, business is swell. "That was a little harsh, what they did to that girl," says owner Nick Marmaras. "Maybe they should have had her clean up the place if she ate down there, but this--too much."

The phone's been jangling all day. "A lady calls to order," Marmaras says, "and she says, 'I'd like to have some of your famous fries.' " He beams. "Famous."

E-mail: marcfisher@washpost.com 

© 2000 The Washington Post Company