Many far Southeast residents, disenchanted with perceived apathy and ineffectiveness on the part of government authorities to stem on the flow of drugs into their community, have resorted to fighting the war against drugs on their own. The fiercest battle is being waged by parents trying to protect their children from the constant exposure.
They now walk their children to school in the mornings hoping that once there, they will be safe from the lure of drug dealers as well as youngsters hanging out, smoking marijuana and dropping pills on their way to classes.
Fear prevents many residents from reporting known drug traffickers to police, or even acting out against them. Harsh reprisals are a constant fear. pWhen a home is firebombed after its tenant has taken a dramatic stand against drug dealing, a not-known occurrence, the news travels fast and leaves a lasting impression.
A woman in East Capitol Dwellings who confronted youths selling drugs in front of her home was firebombed two years ago. Keloid scars on the face and arms of her daugher, eight years old when the incident occurred, are a constant reminder to neighboring residents of the dangers of trying personally to change the environment.
Bill Atkins, president of the East Capitol Dwellings Residents Association, said most people in his part of town were not surprised when they read the recent story in The Washington Post about an 8-year-old heroin addict in the District. People who live in the midst of such intense drug activity are not shocked that such youngsters exist.
Atkins, a 31-year-old father of four, said, "drug addiction among youths has been around a long time. It's a fact that black kids are exposed to drugs -- and society knows it."
What does surprise Atkins and his neighbors is that there have been no reports that Jimmy has been found. "If the police can be so swift in catching somebody who's killed somebody on their force, why can't they find an 8-year-old boy?" It is a perplexing concern in a community where parents cannot adequately protect their children from drugs and believe that authorities do not really care.
Atkins and his wife, Dehavelin, say they have been afraid for years that the drug dealing and drug abuse on their neighborhood streets may some day destroy their two boys and two girls.They and other parents in the projects say they have told police and District public officials about the pressing drug problems in their world.
"No one seems to care," Atkins said. "I wonder if it's because there are poor people living here, or is it just because it's not in the administrators' front door of their own homes? Will there have to be more Jimmies, more little boys dying from [eating] pickles laced with PCP? Just how far out of hand will it have to get before we can get drugs off the streets and away from our kids?"
Three of Atkins' children attend Shadd Elementary School, where their mother works as a parent-partner. Atkins, a D.C. native, was himself a teen-age heroin addict in Northwest; he wanted to escape from reality, he says.
"I was in a world of fantasy. I had no problems. I didn't care about problems. I only thought about survival." He quit after his marriage, with his wife's help. He has been unemployed since suffering a back injury as a government mail clerk in 1972.
He has organized several protests against street-corner drug dealers, sent letter to Mayor Marion Barry -- he received an encouraging reply but no commitment of more programs or police -- and sought support from public housing administrators in anti-drug efforts. But all kinds of drugs -- from marijuana to PCP to heroin -- remain on school playgrounds and neighborhood streets.
Residents said the flow of drugs has gotten worse during the past few months as large quantities of very potent heroin have flooded the area.
"The police say they can't do anything about it because the drug dealers they arrest always make it back on the street the same day," a bitter Atkins said.
Public housing officials say there is nothing they can do about the situation and blame the public housing residents for the pervasive drug problems confronting them.
"We're doing all we can to fight the drug problem. The residents aren't doing all they could be doing," Joanne Stanford, deputy administrator of the D.C. Property Management Administration, complained. "Some of the residents -- because of their own non-action -- are long unemployed and on welfare and use drug dealing as a means of quick money which they don't have to report to the housing department. They use drugs primarily as an escape from realism."
Atkins said some of the sources of young drug dealers scattered throughout the streets of the isolated, village-like community have drawn guns on him and threatened his life for his "preaching" against drug abuse and "snitching" to the police.
Still, he continues to speak out because, he says, "I would feel less of a parent if I didn't do something.My kids aren't going to be Jimmies. Whatever I can do to keep the streets safe for them, I'm going to do it."
Atkins' sons have found needles "with blood in them" left by heroin addicts while they were playing basketball at Shadd Elementary. William, 11, told a reporter that one day at the playground, "I saw this man and this woman shooting dope in their arms and their legs."
Down the street from East Capitol Dwellings are the towering Capitol View apartments, where Kali Dempsey and her 3-year-old daughter, Imani, live. Dempsey, 28, has also spent the past few years fighting to rid her community of drug abuse. She sees a few positive results.
"I have seen what appears to be an increase of drug use by young kids. I know that it's nothing new," she said. "I was shocked that everybody was surprised. It would've been something to have printed all the stories on all the little Jimmies, wouldn't it?"
Dempsey, president of the Capitol View tenant association, has complained repeatedly about kids using and selling drugs in front of the building and on the large playground on the second-floor mezzanine.
"Management and security haven't done much about it. They're not properly managing the door. That's why so many drugs are getting into the building. Kids smoke herb in the stairway and I've had people knocking on my door at 3 o'clock at night looking for someone else."
One night last week a reporter walked past two security guards and entered an elevator in the low-rent apartment building, without checking in or being questioned.
By way of explanation, Lt. Jesse Pettaway, an apartment security guard, said, "We patrol the apartment pretty well. But, ever since the fire [in a 6th-floor apartment in July], the padlocks have been taken off all the exit doors. People not supposed to be in here get in easily."
Dempsey, who works as a freelance secretary and fund-raiser for small businesses, refuses to send her daughter to preschool outside the apartment building because of the prevalence of drugs in the area.
Dempsey spends much of her time trying to organize other residents against drugs. "It's a hard struggle to get parents and others to realize that if we don't fight it, nobody else is going to do anything. Most people are so busy with day-to-day survival, they think they don't have the time to unite and do something about the problem. Some think, 'Well, I'm okay, so I'm not going to worry about everybody else.'"
She said she sees many young people whom she believes are heroin addicts, "judging by their nodding, nose running, swollen hands and itching."
She has already begun warning her 3-year-old about drugs. At the same time, she questions why the drugs can't e stopped at the source. She suspects that improvements in U.S. foreign policy could halt the growing drug epidemic.
"The government has diplomatic ties with other countries' military," she said."You can't tell me the government can't control drugs coming into this country."
She then turned to the users. "Everybody needs outlets. Some use meditation or prayer or entertainment. But drugs are so prevalent in the black community that people find it easier to use them. It's a crutch. It's been a crutch for a long time."