During the noontime recess at Saints Paul and Augustine Catholic school, girls in plaid skirts and knee socks and boys in neat, navy blue sweaters stream out onto V Street NW, which has been closed to traffic to become a daily playground.
Just up the block, at the corner of 14th and V streets NW, about 20 young men mingle in front of Eaton's Barber Shop and Willie's Restaurant, advertising good stuff in code words like "747" -- which is heroin -- to passers-by, and exchanging merchandise for dollars from the windows of cars that double-park for a quick score.
High noon at 14th and V streets in a study in contrasts: the innocent, well-groomed schoolchildren running in circles in a game of tag; and just a few yards away, the seedy underside of the drug trade in the nation's capital where daylight police busts and high-speed chases through the streets are commonplace, according to those who live here.
Theirs is a kind of peaceful coexistence, the 14th Street pushers and the schoolchildren. The monitor of this territorial division of city streets is a dark blue police trailer truck, propped up on its front supporting legs. Attached to the trailer by a wire is a small, round dish-like device that sits atop a camera tripod. That is the police department's surveillance system, called "Operation Burbank" in the neighborhood, electronically recording the sordid activities on Washington's most infamous corner.
In the beginning, the police surveillance was regarded with skepticism by local residents. But now, even cynics like the Rev. Raymond Kemp, pastor of Saints Paul and Augustine, believe that "Burbank" has significantly cut down on drug dealing on the corner during the hours when police "snatch teams" are there to make swift arrests.
"The gathering is noticeably thinner," Kemp said. "It's half of what it used to be. Somebody like me who's raised a lot of hell about police and prosecutors is relatively mollified." The area residents are lobbying for two additional police vans.
"The number of children in this area and the impact of all the illegal trafficking just don't mix," said Edna Frazier-Cromwell, chairperson of the 14th and U Street Coalition, a 1-year-old group, marking its anniversary tonight, that has pledged to clean up one of the city's meanest streets.
Frazier-Cromwell, who is white, said that the broad-based coalition is trying to organize the older, settled churchgoing residents of the 14th Street community into fighting this onslaught from the drug trade. But it is a never-ending and sometimes seemingly futile battle.
To Frazier, the key to ridding the area of drug traffic is development -- breaking ground for the subway system's long-delayed Green line, building a cooperative apartment building and office space on the site of an old industrial plant, and watching the slow process of gentrification take its course as more and more white "pioneers" begin moving farther east from Dupont Circle and farther west from Logan Circle.
But many area residents fear that such remedies may for them be the final solution. They feel threatened by the coming of the Green line, citing the unsettling of the Brookland neighborhood when the subway opened a station there. Many of the homeowners and smaller businesses fear the rising taxes and land values that always come with development. And some older residents see themselves being displaced and left homeless by wealthier whites moving in, as happened on Capitol Hill and other areas of Washington.
"There's already been a lot of displacement," said Sarah Collins, one of the Caroline Street's white residents for the past six years. "I'm in a block now that's about 60 percent young white professionals who just moved in in the last six years. Some of those houses used to be owned by older black people who were probably offered a lot of money to sell out."
Collins said that as the transition continues, "It's definitely going to be a cleaner, nicer place to live, but it's going to be a more homogenous, whiter neighborhood. And there's a lot of black history in this neighborhood."
"Some folks feel that the junkies are the protection against displacement," Kemp said. "The line of junkies is keeping big development bucks out of here. Look at the tax assessments west and east of 14th Street. It's a very real fear. That tension is there."
The 14th and U Street Coalition hopes to gain control of the displacement problem, Frazier-Cromwell said, so residents will not be afraid to encourage development as an alternative to the drug pushing. To this end, they already have secured $560,000 in a combination of private financing and an Urban Development Action Grant (UDAG) to help longtime residents rehabilitate their homes, according to Diane Williams, the coalition's volunteer staff member.
Meanwhile, the daily ritual at 14th and V streets continues -- the children coming out to play, and the unconcerned pushers crowded around the corner dealing their goods.
"Some of the kids have grown up seeing their neighbors or even their family members participating in it," said Collins, acknowledging that any remedy is likely to be far off, not immediate. "The kids will grow up thinking it's just another way of life."