You talkin' about anxiety here, baby. ANXIETY," a 14th Street regular says of the atmosphere.
"It ain't no game up here now." He slams his fist into the linoleum-covered counter of the 14th Street chicken shack where he has reluctantly agreed to be interviewed. His eyes dart nervously about the room.
Behind the counter, a short, stout old woman rolls chicken wings in bread crumbs, and without looking up offers a muttered "Amen."
Outside, it's no better. A young man standing aimlessly on the corner of 14th and U backs away. "There's nothing I can tell you, and you sure can't take my picture," he says.
"Because when you all are gone, the police will be back to talk to me, if you know what I mean.
"You'll be sitting up there in your office, while me and my record are still out here in the cold."
In an area where residents, regulars and hangers-on say anti-police sentiment normally runs high, recent events have shifted feelings from bad to worse.
On and off the street no one wants to talk. They all have their demons. Something or someone to keep them from speaking up. For the drug people, it's the police and the dreaded bust. Business people see the slow death of their own struggling enterprises in the illicit street trade. And for the police -- Arthur P. Snyder is a stark reminder that the worst can happen on these cold streets.
Fear is the common thread that links everyone -- street people, businessmen and police -- connected with 14th and U streets NW. Here, tension hangs heavy in the air.
No one has forgotten that this is where life ebbed slowly from Police Officer Arthur P. Snyder as a crowd cheered. That three hellish days later Bruce Wazon Griffith, Snyder's accused killer, fell in a hail of police bullets 13 blocks to the east.
Inside the shops, pool halls and gathering places, away from the penetrating stares of the dozens of police officers outside, the air is volatile.
Her luminous hazel eyes kick into overdrive. Darting now to the left, now to the right. Penetrating, examining everything. Eyes front now, all senses on edge.
She is a police officer. Acutely aware of what's out here. She feels what she cannot see. Drugs. Hostility. Tension. Her eyes never stop moving. They flash up and to the right at a man in a raised doorway.
"Hey, baby," a beady-eyed man sporting a wide-brimmed hat shouts as she walks by. "What the hell you lookin' for up here anyway? Ants? Flies? Roaches?"
The eyes lock in on him. They tell him he is on the edge. One more word and he could go to jail.
A small crowd is gathering. Derisive laughter begins. Her male partner, who has been trailing behind, begins to move up.
"Yeah," another voice snickers, "let's give the little lady a roach."
Grim determination etched on her face, lips pursed, the police officer continues on her beat. Refusing to be intimidated.
Another jeer from the small crowd. The officer and her partner check out both the hassler and his ID.
You can still see where some of the old businesses were before the riots. Windowless, sometimes doorless storefronts. An item or two left on a random shelf. Almost as if someone had left in a hurry.
Next to one, a small deli remains. The woman behind the counter is asked if she thinks other businesses are likely to return to the area:
"Come back? What they gonna do, honey? Build on top of the junkies? I just hope don't anybody else leave.Especially the police."
The people in the 14th Street business community may not admire individual members of the D.C. plice force, but as an overall presence, the officers are enthusiastically welcomed. Without them, they say, they would have no business. Drug traffic along the corridor is usually so thick legitimate patrons take their business elsewhere.
"I have asked for extensive police protection," said the owner of one small shop, who, like most of his colleagues, asked to remain anonymous.
"Look out there. It's empty now, but before the officer was killed, they'd stand in front of the door 10 to 12 deep. Waving the stuff right out in the open. Passing it to kids. After a while, it got so that you were afraid to go out at night, afraid to come in in the morning."
Next door, store owner Sandy Stanbeck says his extablishment has been broken into twice recently. Police say both burglaries were drug-related, and, in both cases, police picked up suspects. The owner believes the number of incidents would be much higher if 14th Street pushers were not on official notice from the police that an allout war against drugs is on . . . Mayor Marion Barry's War on Heroin.
Stanbeck's Republic Market is reminiscent of an old-time general store. Rows of neatly stacked canned goods. Penny candy. Dog food, sodas, beer and Wild Irish Rose. Tucked behind the counter are a few bottles of Oil of Olay and one lone vial of perfume -- Cardin de Pierre Cardin. The white linoleum floor is spotless.
"I try to keep it shipshape here, to run it like I did in the old days," the middle-aged proprietor says. "But it's hard. I remember when there were so many of us here. One by one, they've all moved away.Top-flight places, I mean. Used to know the people who ran them all. But now . . ." He shakes his head.
"It's bad now," he finally finishes, "but it was worse before the police beefed things up. I hope they don't slack up now that they got the one who did the killing."
Down the street, at the entrance to an alley sealed off at either end by police cars, stands Raymond Pena Jr., a tall, affable, boyish-looking police officer.
"You'll always hear pros and cons about the police," he says laconically.
Then slowly the finely chisled features and voice harden. He is remembering the moment he heard fellow officer Arthur Snyder had been shot.
His tone is official as he says the police will be unrelenting in their efforts to clean up the 14th Street corridor.The voice trails off.
"People laughed. They laughed at the officer who was shot. I thought . . . it could have been me. Any of us."
He takes a quick inventory. Scanning the street scene; each of the squad cars. Good. They're all there. Accounted for.
"Folks think the pressure will be off since we apprehended the suspect. But it's not like that. The game is over. This is for real."
His shoulder twitches. Been doing that since the shooting, he says.
The 14th Street cops aren't out for revenge, he continues. "They want to act like professionals. But everything has its limits.
"I'm Puerto Rican. I come from New York. These people aren't no different from me when I was growing up, but now, they've got to know whay my role is.
"I'm only 22 and I'm not planning to die for nobody . . . This is a nightmare thing. You dream about it . . . can't stop thinking about it. You come in to work and your buddy's down. With people laughling. Wouldn't nobody lift a finger to help you. I . . don't know what to say."
He has said more than he meant to.
Not far from the spot where Snyder was shot, street vendors hawk a variety of the mundane -- hats, scarves, gloves. One peddler, known as "Hat Man," lives in the 14th Street storefront behind the spot where his stand is neatly arranged and closely watched.
He has watched it all through mesh-covered windows for the past few days. To sit in his darkened room for an hour, as neighborhood figures drift in and out and the pungent aroma of barbecue fills the air, is to be in the heart of the 14th Street corridor.
"I guess you could say that I got the ghetto version of an Old Country salon," the articulate veteran of 60s strife says wryly. Everyone who comes in has something to say about the goings-on. To a person, they are unified in their dislike of the police in general, and Arthur Snyder in particular.
"I don't have nothin' to say about it except this," a young woman interjects in staccato tones. "That sucker got what he deserved."
Stories about Snyder are widely told by people who live in the neighborhood. Some say he indiscriminately roughed people up. Others tell worse tales, but tales that cannot be proven.
"He was so cold-blooded. You know," one onlooker offered. "He'd stop people for stupid things. Spitting on the street, jaywalking, carrying a ragged driver's license. . . smalltime s-- like that. Then he'd go back and brag about it.
"He'd be up there following people's mothers, old ladies. Stopping then, patting them down, going through they shopping bags. Got so you couldn't step outside the house to get a cup of coffee or a paper without a hassle.
"Everybody down here don't mess with drugs, but you gonna start telling a person that he can't hang in his own neighborhood? That BULL --. Brothers and sisters ain't gonna STAND for it."
A man in his late 20s steps into Hat Man's room to pay for a gray knit cap he's selected from the table outside. He stays listening, then adds.
A lot of us are sorry that we mess with drugs, but for those who do, well, we gotta have someplace to go -- GOD-DAM. The police situation up here is getting really outrageous. They act like it's guerrilla warfare."
The conversation has fired up a junkie who has drifted in and slid silently to the back of the room.
"You don't come talkin' about cleaning up no place where people was born and raised. These niggers ain't gonna stand for it. You see that corner out there? It's like your living room, baby. It's these people's CORNER. It's their life. It's these brothers' and sisters' life, they home. This is all we know."
At the Third District's V Street station, known everywhere as 3-D, sadness is fused with anger and resentment.
They knew Art Snyder well. Their feelings vary, but the consensus is he was a good police officer. They admired him even when they didn't like him.
"You had to hand it to him," officer Joseph Vanderbloemen says, "he sure could haul those junkies in off the street. He hated drugs. Hated anything connected with drugs. So every time he busted one, it was like he felt as if he'd done this public service."
"I didn't always agree with the way he did things," said another who asked not to be identified. "He was tough. He could be hardheaded. But he knew his job. Knew how to kick ass within the boundaries of the law. That's what you've got to know to do a good job out there."
The 3-D officers say those who feared Snyder did so with good reason. Only those with "no respect for the law," Captain Richard Simmons said, had anything to worry about.
"Unfortunately," he added, "those are the type of people who mostly made up Snyder's beat."
"Those people down there have no regard for the law, for authority of any kind," Simmons said. "And Art was one of those who demanded a proper respect for his authority."
He attacked his work with a zest which was highly regarded, even by those incapable of duplicating it.
"I liked him because he always tried to challenge himself," one officer recalled. "He always wanted one more bust before he could call it a night. Me, I've never been into a body count like that, but he had a way of doing it that turned it into good police work."
"Have you ever been in a war zone?" Vanderbloemen asks, interrupting the conversation.
"Well, working on 14th Street is worse, because you never know what to expect or where it's going to come from. But Snyder could handle it. Sometimes, it was as if he could handle everything at once. A hell of a good cop."
They speak of him almost reverently now. The careful teacher. The guy who'd teach a rookie cop to always watch his back. And a suspect's hands. The one who'd observe a suspect carefully before apprehending him. Who never let the concept of probable cause slip from his mind.
They also talk about Snyder the Hot Dog. The Lone Ranger. The Cowboy.
"He was a hustler. Hardheaded," said one. "But he was so good on the streets."
To a person, they vehemently deny that Snyder used brutality as an arrest technique. And, Simmons added, police have no record of any of the charges leveled by the people on 14th Street.
"There's a lot of apprehension" in the neighborhood these days, Hat Man says. Everybody, he says, believed that when the police found Griffith, They'd kill him.
"It's been looking like an armed camp up here," he says. "People are scared to cross the street. Everybody's trying to go about his business as if nothing happened, but with police on every corner and all up and down the middle of the block . . .
"I know and you know what black people have to do to live up here. You got to write a few numbers, sell a little dope, run a little whiskey. Sometimes, the women have to sell their bodies. But just because of that, it doesn't write them out of the Constitution."
Out in the squad car, one hour drifts slowly into the next. Traffic calls.
Business checks at 14th Street establishments where the clientele exit almost en masse as the police arrive.
1:15 a.m. The squad car is in rapid pursuit. Adrenaline rushing. Siren wailing, lights flashing. A cup of hot coffee spills over the front seat of the car. It takes just under two minutes for 11 police cars to race to the corner of 17th Street and New Hampshire Avenue NW. They surrounded a car thought to have been seen leaving the scene of a robbery. At the very least, the driver ran two red lights.
Too much back-up here. The officer returns to the car, breathing heavily.He slides behind the steering wheel, rubbing his eyes.
2:30 a.m. Squad cars converge on 14th and U where several young men are spotted. They are asked, then searched for their IDs. "What did we do?," they protest as an officer advises them to "be cool" before they are read their Miranda rights and stuffed into he cruisers. A young woman who jaywalked when her boyfriend was stopped is also handcuffed and led away.
Back in the car, the officer clasps his hands to either side of his head. Breathing hard again, he closes his eyes. It is several minutes before he drives away. Even the prisoner is silent.
At the precinct station, one of the jaywalkers brags that he is awaiting trial for a rape charge.
"Yeah, I got a big one, a felony pending," he says, handing over $5 to cover his jaywalking ticket, "but you know what?," he is leaning against the wall, grinning, "I'm gonna beat it. I'm gonna laugh all the way out of court."
In the back room, another of the jaywalkers, a 19-year-old, feigns a heart attack. Paramedics are summoned.
"I've seen everything," says the desk sergeant, unfazed. "Nothing would surprise me now."
"What's the heart condition?" one police officer asks a paramedic.
"Bull," is the one-word reply.
They pack up what looks like an entire hospital's worth of gear and leave.
4:05 Police are called to 14th and Q streets, where an apparent robbery victim has received a deep cut on the neck. He is screaming, blood flowing like burgundy from the open wound. The first officer on the scene quickly compresses the wound and whisks the victim, who looks as if his jugular vein may have been cut, to Washington Hospital Center -- breaking departmental regulations about transporting injured persons in the police car. There, once cleaned and anesthetized, the victim's injuries are less serious than first thought.
The officers question him about the person who did the cutting. Why was he at 14th and Q at four in the morning? How did this happen?
The police suspect that a woman may be involved. They also suspect that his ego will not let him admit this.
He tells four stories. Each one is different.
He is lost.
He was looking for a club.
Someone just threw a brick through the window of his car, dragged him out and beat him.
No, he doesn't know what they looked like, except they were black. And one was wearing a grey coat. And they were men.
With death less imminent, he is suddenly hostile.
Two doctors walk by. What would have happened if it had been the jugular? If the officer had followed regulations and waited for an ambulance?
"He'd be dead,"
The patrolman begins to fill out a detailed report.
"Goddam," the victim mutters sullenly, turning his face to the wall, away from the policeman and the brother. Too many questions. It seems to take forever to complete the paperwork.
Heading out into the cold, the policeman zips his jacket, puts on his cap. The man he rescued hadn't bothered to say thanks.
It is 5 a.m.