Lelia Scott's grisly death three weeks ago shook Cardozo. The 76-year-old community leader devoted much of her time to attacking crime in her neighborhood. On Feb 20, she joined five other conscientious friends, all of them members of the 14th Street (NW) Anti-Crime Coordinating Committee, to attend a press conference at police headquarters downtown. The mayor was going to announce his 13-point Unified Program to Reduce Crime, and they wanted to be there.
Hours later, Scott died at the receiving end of a hammer. A compassionate woman who held two college degrees in social work, Scott had been a teacher and a social worker, a member of the NAACP. She enjoyed travel and had crisscrossed this country as well as Europe and the Far East. She had found a calling in community volunteerism. Attending meetings and press conferences was routine for her -- she was known for dressing comfortably in a plain dress and tennis shoes. The Feb. 20 press conference has special meaning for her, so she donned a pretty brown dress and matching shoes.
She knew that Mayor Marion Barry's new crime-prevention program included several projects that she and other unsung neighborhood heroes and heroines -- joined together in various civic groups -- had helped create and administer around town for years. Now the mayor was about to rally together the police department and other city government agencies as well as the business sector and private citizens for citywide implementation of those and other crime-control projects, and for solicitation of more community involvement where the projects were already in operation.
As the city officials spoke, Scott sat quietly, listening closely and smiling. On the way home in the van in which she and the others had gone to the meeting, she was still excited. On their way up 14th Street, en route to her home at 1310 Girard St. NW, she and the others talked about how proud they were to be part of the mayor's plan to fight crime and improve the quality of life in D.C. They spoke optimistically about the possibility that the plan would focus attention on the role individuals can play in controlling crime in their communities. Scott asked to be let out at the corner of 14th and Girard streets NW so she could walk home and enjoy the warm Friday afternoon sun and chat with her neighbors on the way.
As she got out of the van, Scott waved goodbye and once more told her friends how happy she would be to see them again at their next meeting. As they returned to their headquarters at 2901 14th st. NW, the 14th Street Project Area Committee (PAC) building, none could have guessed they would not see her alive again.
At approximately 2 a.m. Saturday, Scott was bludgeoned to death with a hammer, suffering fatal wounds to her skull. D.C. police detectives later arrested two men and a juvenile in connection with the slaying. One lived three doors down from Scott.The other two also lived in her neighborhood.
The morbid slaying has enraged the people who knew and worked closely with her in a community activities. They mean to fight back.
"Ms. Scott is a martyr who was killed in the war against crime," said Dick Jones, who co-chairs the anti-crime committee with Bob King of the 14th Street PAC office and had also fought the battle against crime with Scott since meeting her at a community meeting 10 years ago.
"I'm sure she was doing battle even as her attackers beat her to death. I'm sure she was telling them how senseless their actions were and, knowing her character, I'm positive that she was physcially resisting them and at the same time appealing to them, telling them how she could help them overcome whatever sort of hell they were in. Maybe if someone in her block has been more suspicious of those guys and called the police, her murder could have been prevented."
In memory of her example, the anti-crime committee is firing greater fervor into its activism and trying to get more people in the Cardozo area involved. As criminals throughout the city claim more robbery, burglary, assault and murder victims, and city officials continue to alert neighborhoods to various crime prevention methods, more private citizens are becoming conscious of how they can curb crime by getting personally involved in the crime-control effort.
Scott, Jones and King (who is accused of corrupt business transactions he allegedly conducted as the president of Change Inc., a group set up to help tenants resist displacement) were among a small group of citizens who founded the anti-crime committee last April and who spent the past 10 months meeting with public officials, police and judges and structuring a comprehensive crime-prevention plan -- focused both on crime and some of the social causes of crime -- which was announced at a press conference last week.
At that conference, Jones told city officials, who included Police Chief Burtell Jefferson and community representatives, "We're dealing with a very serious crime situation in this area -- from organized crime hitman murders to the brutalization of senior citizens."
The committee of about 50 people, many of whom are affliated with the larger and older church and civic groups in the area, aims to curb crime in the Shaw and Cardozo areas, which include the 14th Street riot corridor and other economically depressed city blocks where illegal activity thrives. The area is patrolled by both the 3rd and 4th District police.
According to police statistics for the final quarter of 1980, there were 2,822 to property, reported in the 3rd District and 2,157 in the 4th District.
"Things are definitely getting worse," Jones said after last week's press conference. "There've been four murders in our community in the last week. For the most part, our recommenditions have been taken right from the mayor's 13-point plan. So there should be immediate acceptance of it by all responsible people in the area -- from the police to businesses to private citizens.
Civic associations and block clubs all over Washington are launching new, crime-fighting activities and recruiting more neighbors for ongoing projects.
In far Northwest, Evelyn Gray, the newly elected president of the Brightwood Civic Association, has applied her skills as a retired personnel data officer at the Department of Commerce to crime control. Using a "decision logic table," for example, she had drawn up an emergency crime-prevention checklist, Operation Neighborhood Alert. The checklist has been disseminated throughout her community.
When there is a criminal suspect in the area, 4th District police notify Brightwood block captains, who then alert the people in their respective areas to be on watch and call the police if they see the suspect. Everyone is advised to get the telephone numbers for each one of his or her neighbors and be suspicious of anything out of the ordinary.
When someone does notice something unusual, he or she is to call the block captain.
Every nine minutes a crime is committed in Washington.