George Smith, Jack Nelson, Donald Thompson, Curtis Coles, Donald Britton and Herbert Williams don't like what is happening in their Chapin Street neighborhood. The streets and sidewalks are covered with trash. Rats have a field day. Drug dealers, hawking their wares, line the street.
Yesterday, Smith, Nelson, Thompson, Coles, Britton and Williams, referred to by Smith as the neighborhood's "ex-hoodlums," grabbed brooms, rakes, shovels and trash bags and joined about 35 others in a cleanup campaign in their Northwest Washington neighborhood. They cleaned four streets and threee alleys in four hours, filling 81 green, 20-gallon trash bags.
"We wanted to let the people know we would like to keep our streets clean," said Nelson, president of People in Action, which sponsored yesterday's cleanup. "We also wanted the sanitation department workers to know that they are not completely cleaning up Washington, D.C."
The cleanup crew included unemployed men and women in their 20s, Vietnam veterans, ex-Lorton, inmates and several children. They swept the 1400 blocks of Chapin, Euclid and Girard streets and the 2500 block of University Place. As they went along the streets, some neighbors watched from their porches.
"It's the cleanest Chapin Street has been in a long time," said one middle-aged man, seated on a stoop.
The group swept all the sidewalks and streets, except around the trashstrewn boarded buildings and vacant lots owned by the government. "It's up to them to keep their property clean," said George Smith, a former tractor-trailer driver.
Thompson, bare-chested, with pants rolled up and a red hat tilted to the side of his head, stood in a park on Girard Street after the cleanup. "It's a start," he said.
Thompson, who has been unemployed for two years, was designated cleanup chairman because he said he is "good in the street." When he first talked with neighbors about the campaign some asked if the group planned to do something about all the drug sales on the street. Thompson replied, "We can't clean up the street without the help of the police."
He said police have periodically made raids on the street, but they need an undercover officer to spend time there to see what is going on. He said the people in the area are not in the business of being "snitches" for the police.
Nelson said the group eventually hopes to rid the area of the drug peddlers.
"One day you will be able to write that drugs have dried up on Chapin Street," said Britton, a Vietnam veteran who grew up in the neighborhood.
Britton, who lives in another part of the city but frequents his old Chapin Street neighborhood, said he took part in the cleanup campaign because "I remember how it used to be and it was better than this. I want to help make it nice again."
Coles, who grew up in the neighborhood and who spent five years in prison, said the neighborhood has not been the same since the 1968 riots. "We are trying to clean up what people did 10 years ago. We were victims. I was just a kid when the riots went down. I didn't know what was happening. It was basically get what you can. I don't want another generation to end up victims like we were."