Walking along 13th Street NW, Marie Simpkins, who is 80 years old, layered under the weight of a grocery bag as well as the fear that young [WORD ILLEGIBLE] would steal it before she reached home.
When someone called out for her to stop, she swiftened her stiff and shaky stride, and the veins in her neck became swollen.
"What you want? Huh?" she panted. What do you want?" she strained to see who was calling without turning her head. When a reporter finally caught up with her and identified himself, she sighed, "You're not going to rob me, are you?"
As it happened, a young man and woman walking toward her from the other direction might have been planning to do just that. When they realized the elderly woman was no longer alone, the young man angrily snapped his finger as he passed. "God damn," he cursed.
"Be cool, baby," his girlfriend was heard telling him. "Don't look 'em in the face."
The last time Marie Simpkins had gone shopping she had not been so lucky. Her fragile arms still bore the burns inflicted when she was dragged along a sidewalk while trying to keep her pocketbook from being snatched.
Slow, weak and poor, she had fallen prey to one of many unemployed youths known to roam the street in search of halpless people, At a time in her life when she desired only peace and quiet, Simpkins - like many others her age - can not find either.
She is one of an estimated 2,000 elderly Washington residents who have been victims of criminal acts so far this year."
These SOBs scare me," she said between gasps for breath and gulps of water after making her way home.
"You have to excuse me," she said between gasps for breath and gulps of water after making her way home.
"You have to excuse me," she continued. "I didn't always talk like this. It's just harder for me than ever these days. My daughter's child is out there stealing and robbing. My flesh and blood, but, Lord, I do not know these people. They act like animals."
In an effort to ease the burden of life for many of Washington's estimated 103,000 senior citizens, more than $500,000 in federal funds recently was awarded to two community groups here to establish protective escort services, citizen police patrols and seminars designed to make the elderly less vunerable to criminal attack.
The unusual program differs from many others funded by the federal Law Enforcement Assistance Administration because of its emphasis on crime prevention, job training and employment rather than the latest in crime fighting hardware that had become a hallmark of the LEAA grant.
Virginia Morris, director of one of community groups in far Northeast Washington that received $221,496 from the LEAA, said about 10,000 elderly residents live in her area on fixed incomes.
"We've found that many of the problems occur at the beginning of each month when the elderly are forced outdoors to cash their checks, get medical attention, pay their few bills and buy food. There are culprits who prey upon them. There are people who pretend to be cab drivers who pick them up and rob them."
Morris' ggroup the 6th District Citizens Crime Prevention Project, recently reported the findings of a survey conducted by City Council member Willie J. Hardy (D-Ward - 7) that showed that transportation to stores, banks and doctors' offices are major problems for the elderly.
"We have to impress upon the elderly the various safety devices that they need to protect themselves," Morris said. "Often, the elderly are ripped off by members of their own families. For example, if a youth in the family has a drug problem, the elderly person needs to be aware."
LEAA also awarded $249,912 to Ward One, Inc., a consortium of 91 community groups in Northwest Washington imcluding RAP, Inc., a controversial drug counseling program; the 14th Street Businessmen's Association; Mother Dear's Community Center; the Lutheran Social Services, and Change, Inc., another youth counseling center.
Gordon White, project director for Ward One, Inc., said the money would be spent an escort services as well as crime prevention programs and job training.
The project will last 18 months and is expected to generate about 100 jobs for young adults.
"It sounds good," Simpkins said after hearing about the plans. "Can I get a chauffeur and a guard?" she joked.
"Being afraid" she said, "that's worse than the crime. It's a crime itself. It eats at what little you have left, but you have to be careful around here."