They stand there in clumps, as many as 20 at a time. They drink. They shoot dice. They get high.
Once in a while, they rob people.
The police have been making arrests for 20 years, but they admit they haven't made much of a dent. Loitering and crime are standard occurrences on the corner of Foote Street and Division Avenue NE.
It all takes place openly.
Drive by, and one of the regulars -- typically an unemployed man in his 20s -- might raise his right hand and show you five fingers. He means he has marijuana for sale -- at $5 a bag.
Sometimes women standing on the corner will make unmistakable offers to passing drivers, waving and pointing at themselves.
"When people here talk about 'the corner,' we know they mean Foote Street," says Parker W. Bullock, a barber of Division Avenue for the last 24 years. "It's still the corner, if you get my meaning."
But one thing has changed. A man who used to be called the Black Kojak opened a business 100 feet from the Foote Street corner recently. He is burly, tell-it-like-it-is, former D.C. homicide squad detective sergeant Louis Richardson.
While Richardson hasn't come close to erasing crime in the neighborhood, or on the Foote Street corner, his fellow Division Avenue merchants -- and his customers -- see him and his business as a ray of hope.
The reason is Richardson's reputation. In a 20-year police career, half of it in homicide, Richardson, 42, helped crack some of the city's best publicized crimes, including the Freeway Phantom killings and the murder of the family of Hanafi Muslim leader Hamaas Abdul Khaalis.
"Louie is a tough customer," a former colleague assesses.
But, Richardson says, he has had a personal soft spot for Deanwood ever since he came to Washington from Chesapeake, Va., as a teen-ager.
"I walked my first beat up here," he recalls, "and I've gone to clubs and partied up here for years. It's an area I've always wanted to help." Fifteen months ago, he opened District Money Order Company in a storefront at 611 Division. For the last eight months, since he retired from the force, Richardson has been running the business full-time.
Behind an array of bulletproff glass and burglar alarms that would rival an armored car's, Richardson spends his days cashing welfare and payroll checks (for a 2 percent fee) and selling food stamps and money orders.
District Money Order is one of 16 businesses in the 600 block of Division. But it is only the second to open in this hilly, residential neighborhood near the Maryland line in the last five years. hAnd it is the first to cater almost exclusively to the speical needs of the area's large population of welfare recipients.
Most of them live in the 1,600-unit red brick Lincoln Heights public housing project which sits on a hill overlooking Division Avenue. Most of the Foote Street regulars live in Lincoln Heights, too.
"The Heights" is public housing near its worst -- broken windows, overcrowding, the smell of urine in hallways. Built shortly after World War II, it is the most recent major housing project built in Deanwood.
The rest of the community stands in stark contrast to Lincoln Heights. A quiet residential area, dotted with two-story wood frame houses, Deanwood is home to an army of civil servants, many of whom work for the District government.
Statistically, Deanwood comes close to being a typical Washington neighborhood. The average annual family income for the 77,000 people who live in the area bounded by Eastern Avenue, East Capitol Street and Minnesota Avenue is $16,000 -- about a solid GS-7 or GS-8, only a few dollars below the city median.
Deanwood residents tend to have roots in the area. Many of them live in homes built by their great-grandparents. The majority attend church regularly. They take great pride in nearby H. D. Woodson High School, the city's newest and tallest (at eight stories) high school. And they point out that Foote Street regulars and Woodson students are almost never the same people.
Richardson, however, does little business with either group. His target is the welfare population.
"Before, all the welfare mothers used to have to pay somebody $5 to drive them all the way down to H Street NE or Anacostia so they could cash their welfare checks," he says. "This is a service this community needed."
But because of the notorious Foote Street corner, it was a service the community was reluctant to use at first.
"Hey, it was simple," Richardson says. "They were afraid one of these bums out here was gonna beat them up side the head and take their money."
As he speaks, 66-year-old Sadie Gittings, one of his Lincoln Heights customers, nods agreement. "I didn't used to come here because I was afraid for my life," she says.
Her companion, who also lives in "the projects," adds that she "never used to come down here at all. I'd get my daughter to drive me to Prince George's Plaza."
Louie Richardson says he "put out the word, baby.
"I told them on the corner this was a service for their mothers, their aunts and their grandmothers," he says. "I told them the first time one of them yanked on some old lady's purse on the street out here, they were going to see more cops than they'd ever seen before. And keep seeing 'em.
"I haven't had a bit of trouble," he concludes.
But crime still plagues the area.
Sheriff Liquors, at 626 Division, was burglarized of $1,500 worth of liquor and a shotgun just a couple of Sundays ago -- when thieves pried open a sidewalk grate in the middle of the afternoon.
A Holly Farms fried chicken carryout on nearby Nannie Helen Burroughs Avenue has been robbed at gunpoint six times in the last six months. The front window of Bullock's Barber Shop has been broken out so many times that Parker Bullock has been unable to obtain insurance for the last 11 years.
Their newest neighbor, Louie Richardson, wasn't known as the homicide squad's Black Kojak for nothing.
He not only shares Telly Savalas' baldness, his breadth across the middle and his affection for Sherlock Holmes-sytle hats, but like Kojak, Richardson became involved in community life while he was still a detective. Since retiring, he has become even more involved.
His is running a voter registration drive in his lobby, and says he has signed up 600 previously unregistered Deanwood residents. He is chairman of the Far East Community Credit Union, a paid job, and a board member of the local citizens association.
He says he has no plans now to become involved in politics, although he adds "but I might."
He says he isn't frightened by the Foote Streeters.
"I get the utmost respect from the people on the corner, my friend, for the simple reason that I used to walk a beat out here, and I locked a whole lot of them up at one time or another."
"The difference is that they know me. I didn't get in an air-conditioned scout car and drive away," he says. "I came back on my off time to try to talk to these kids, set some of them straight.
"And everybody out here, the good and the bad, knows I was fair. When I was on the force, I tried to be a humanitarian. I'll tell you what, I could go down to Lorton today and not have any fear of retaliation."
Richardson has backed up his threats to the Foote Street corner crowd in a highly visible and clever way -- by offering check-cashing services to police officers from the nearby Sixth District station. Most of the time, the officers arrive to cash their checks in uniforms and marked scout cars.
At the corner, the regulars scorn the police visits as "advertising." Most of them scorn Richardson, too. And most think he is still on the force. But in a way, they are impressed.
"You'd have to be stupid to be drinking when they come," said Skeeter, who refused to give his full name. A lot of drinking goes on otherwise.
"I'm scared of police," added Turner, who said his first name is "my business. Look what they did to the cat that shot that police up on 14th Street."
Richardson had his own troubles with the police department. "I didn't bite my tongue, not ever," he says. "I had very definite ideas about how things should be done. But being black, a lot of the white officials didn't want to hear it. I got in trouble more than once."
Three times, Richardson was investigated for misconduct. All three times he was exonerated. "But they get you in other ways," he said. "When you make sergeant, they usually have a ceremony for you. They sent me my certificate in the mail.
"But a detective is no better than his sources of information, and I wouldn't have made all those cases without being credible on the street.It's the same reason I believe in myself as a businessman.These people know a mile away if you aren't being straight with them -- and that goes double up on the corner."
Richadson emphasizes that he is interested in cleaning up the Foote Street corner not just for the sake of his business, but "because this community is full of beautiful people. It's been forgotten a long time.
"I'm determined to get it done here," Richardson said. "This neighborhood is a beautiful neighborhood. You only got a handful of SOBs here that don't want nothing and don't want nobody to have nothing, who'd steal the grass right out of the ground.
"We're going to show them the name of the game isn't cops and robbers. It's cops, robbers, judges and jails."
Sadie Gittings was briefer. "He's the best thing that's happened on this corner," she said of Richardson, "in a whole bunch of yesterdays."