Early evening, but just a handful of men, some with newspapers folded underarm, others buying snacks from the soul food takeout were on the street. A few more milled about on the side of Rocket Cleaners, across from the liquor store at Martin Luther King Avenue and Talbert Street SE.
No junkies are on the corner this time, not with the undercover men on the scene and more and more uniforms showing up.
The block belonged to the police this evening.
Talbert Street is a 2 1/2 block deadend where police say heroin-related crime has mushroomed since the crackdown at 14th and U streets NW began in earnest. Unfamiliar faces have joined the regulars congregated at the boarded up side door of Galloway's Liquor Store and across the street, around the corner from Mayes Carolina Carryout. Police say, more heroin is bought and sold here than anywhere else in Anacostia.
Seventh district police, the Seventh District Citizens Advisory Council and other community groups held a demonstration there last Thursday to kick off their own war on the evil needle.
The demonstration was supposed to begin with a parade from the Barry Farms projects to Talbert Street, but many of the concerned neighbors backed out at the last minute. According to Frank Copeland, the precinct's community relations officer, they were afraid drug traffickers would see them marching along with the police.
The stepped-up drug activity has brought in an increased in arrests of all kinds in the immediate area, including for such misdemeanors as public drinking and public urination. Some regulars on the clock are complaining about police harassment.
But the police point to the numbers; since May there have been 14 norcotics arrests on the corner; during the same time last year there were three.
Recently, a crowd of about 60 gathered in a horseshoe facing the dusty sidewalk in back of Galloway's Liquor for a bit of "guerrilla theater," written by Officer Copeland and acted out by kids aspiring to a career in law enforcement, which played out the life and death of a teen-age junkie. Copeland narrated.
The play began with a boyish-looking 16-year-old snatching a pocketbook from a young woman on the block and making off into the crowd -- "Ladies don't carry all that money with you on the street," Copeland warned.
The "thief" then made a sheepish buy from anotehr youngster and cracked a big smile as he walked away with his ersatz smack. The street-wise teen-agers in the crowd get a laugh out of this.
The juvenile junkie shares his dope with a sleepy-looking girl on Galloway's stoop, and the crowd pays quiet attention to the real syringe and other paraphernalia. The two "junkies" slip smiling into a serious nod, then suddenly gasp and fall dead in the dust.
A funeral procession complete with a Cadillac hearse, uniformed attendant and casket, followed.
One bearded young black male spectator who had stood with his arms folded a respectful distance from the action, said people should be aware that everyone who uses the block as a meeting place isn't selling or on drugs, and they resent the constant intrusion of the police.
Niggers come here to meet their friends," he said. "It's just everyday life."
Copeland's near-sermon narration was almost over when the crowd was distracted by yells from the side of the Anacostia Neighborhood Museum, just down the block. Three or four undercover policemen, backed up by helmeted motorcycle and uniformed officers, led four men from the grassy driveway in handcuffs as two squad cars swiftly appeared to take them to the Seventh District station.
A paddywagon with its lights flashing and back door swinging open blocked traffic on Martin Luther King Avenue as the crowd surrounded the squad cars. Some yelled to the crowd, "See, that's what it's realy like." t
The men in handcuffs were among eight, charged with public drinking and misdemeanors, whom police removed from near the corner during the play.
Helen Allen, chairman of the Seventh District Citizens Advisory Council, her back to the small melee, shrugged and turned to the community effort to clean up the corner.
"We are working so hard, being so visible," she said, "that the crime is moving to other area." A man leaned in between her and a reporter and cautioned, "Don't hurt the innocent for the wrongdoers."
As the demonstration ended, the block was returned to the people who know it best.
On Galloway's stoop, a haggard man in a red wool cap put his chin to his palm and his elbow to his knee, flicking the busted white sneakers on his feet. He mumbled something to a large women in a faded pink blouse and black stretch pants, her sandaled toes playing in the dirt. They never lifted their heads.