Outside the International Inn Hotel on Thomas Circle, the streets were unusually quiet last week. The hustlers and pimps who normally congregate there were nowhere to be found, leaving the area strangely serene in their absence.
Inside, they were the topic of discussion at a two-day seminar on crime, sponsored by the United Planning Organization.
"Yes, it's against the law, but we're having problems controlling prostitution in the district," said Inspector Charles Light of the morals division of the Metropolitan Police Department. "We make arrests, but then they're out on the street again as if nothing had ever happened."
Alfred E. Lewis, police reporter for The Washington Post, said, "I guess what you're saying is that you can't really legalize it but you can't enforce it without the cooperation of all branches of the criminal justice system."
Lilli Palmer of Change, Inc., added, "If we can't eliminate it, we've got to drive it out of our neighbourhoods into an area where it can be dealt with. Prostitution lowers the positive image of the community. We have to organize to get it out of our neighbourhoods."
These speakers led a panel discussion on victimless crime at the seminar, which was attended by about 250 representatives of more than 75 city and community organizations. The theme of the seminar was "Crime Prevention-It's the Community's Business."
"Everyone's always blaming everyone else for crime. We keep saying somebody ought to do something about it," said seminar organizer H. Albion Ferrell. "But that somebody is us. We have to do something about it, and we can do something about it."
The seminar consisted of a number of panel discussions on topics including abuse and neglect, crime in the schools, community and anti-crime awareness and the criminal justice system's effect on crime prevention. The gathering also heard from a number of distinguished speakers, including Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) and Gilbert G. Pompa, the newly appointed director of the Community Relations Service of the U.S. Department of Justice.
Convyers told the group, "We know that just putting more cops on the beat doesn't stop crime. Our youth have nothing to do. It's just a matter of time before they get into trouble just walking the streets . . . . To stop crime, we have to begin at home, in our own neighbourhoods."
Starting at home was one of the reasons for this conference, according to UPO Executive William L. Davis.
"We've got to start somewhere, and I say there's no better place to start than here and now," Davis said. "Urban America is right here in our midst. I believe we can turn it around."
For most who attended the conference, it was a chance to let off steam about an issue that struck close to home. Some were concerned parents, teachers and social workers; others were ex-convicts. They were all there because of a professed commitment to fight crime.
At the seminar's end, the group unanimously endorsed a resolution to form a crime-prevention task force. UPO's Frank Hollis, who introduced the resolution, explained, "Our concern was that there have been many anti-crime seminars in the District. They raise everyone's level of enthusiasm. and then everyone goes home and nothing gets done. With this task force, we can keep this momentum going and organize a citywide effort for crime prevention and education."
The task force will meet for the first time next week and is expected to include representatives from most of the organizations that attended the seminar, Hollis said.
"We can do it," he added. "We're going to reach out into the community and get on with the business of fighting crime."