Almost precisely a year ago, 400 angry neighbors crowded into a meeting room of the Saint Paul and Augustine Church to rally around their erupting neighborhood. Venting their rage at police and city officials, they charged that their area had become a drug-engulfed battleground, where shootouts and gun-drawn chases were becoming all too common.
It had been a tumultuous wnter in the 14th and U streets NW area.
The February 11 shooting of D.C. Police Officer Arthur P. Snyder, followed three days later by the death of his accused killer, Bruce Wazon Griffith, had twisted the mayor's "War on Herion" into a nightmare of daily confrontations.
Citizens feared the clashes between the police and the dealers openly trading their wares on 14th Street NW. Yet they wanted to unite against the junkies invading their historic and once fashionable neighborhood.
The 14the and U Coalition, as the group decided to call itself, met again last Thursday to mark its first anniversary. But as members celebrated in the same St. Augustine room at 1421 V. St. NW, they had nothing but applause for their speakers, among them Deputy Police Chief Rodwell M. Catoe, commander of the Third Police District.
"In six months we've made over 500 arrests for narcotics, just in the 14th and U streets area," said Catoe. "We've taken $70,000 worth of drugs off the streets. Maybe it doesn't show up because the crowds move from one place to the other, but it shows that we're trying."
Though the name of their organization was an ever-present reminder of the suffering in their communnity, the mood of the 130 people attending the party was radically different from that of a year ago. As they downed cookies, cake, soda and political speeches, they reveled in congratulatory messages from Mayor Marion Barry, Housing Director Robert L. Moore, City Council Chairman Arrington Dixon and City Council members David A. Clarke (D-Ward 1), Betty Ann Kane (D-At large) and Deputy Chief Catoe.
They had begun, the residents said, to replace grief with optimism. They had hope that change might come to the neighborhod.
". . . He's done something," said Claudia Henderson, one of the many applauding Catoe. "I started working at the Parent Child Center (at 14th and W streets NW) in December and getting to my office was like walking through a maze of junkies. It's changed in five months, it really has."
"This year there was a sense that the community was participating and having some control over what was going to happen here," said Edna Frazier-Cromwell, chairwoman of the coalition and an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner in the 14th and U streets area.
"There is a new attitude, a feeling that, 'Yes, we can do something about drugs and crime,' and 'Yes, it's going to be difficult . . . but ultimately we will be the ones to determine what goes on here," Frazier-Cromwell added.
The Coalition is composed of groups as diverse as the Logan Circle Block Association, the Secretariat for Black Catholics, the Wakefield Tenants' Association, block councils, ANC Commissions and local business owners. They organized committees to study and testify about anti-crime measures in the city council. They presently are pressing for additions to "Operation Burbank," police surveillance vans which record criminal activities, which residents credit with bringing about major reductions in visible drug traffic.
In an effort to stave off displacement of long-term homeowners, the Coalition has applied for federal funding to develop a large tract of Shaw property bounded by 11th and 12th streets and V and W streets NW. The hope is to build both subsidized and market value housing in cooperation with a private developer. Though they did not receive the funding for that project, they were successful in obtaining a coveted Urban Development Action Grant for $160,000, only the third such grant ever given to a District group. It will supplement $400,000 in private funds from Perpetual American Bank and the Fund for an Open Society and will allow the Coalition to provide low-cost housing rehabilitation loans to long-term area homeowners.
"We want to be the 911 for this area," said Coalition member Luis Grillo.
Though the turnout at last Thursday's meeting was significantly smaller than last year's, most of those who attended called the meeting a success.
"It was great," said dJoseph Jorgens, one of 15 members of the Coalition's governing board. "It's important to show officials that it wasn't just a flash in the pan that happened last year. We showed that there's a community group that's going to keep on raising hell."
Others, however, rmembered the fights that remain to be won.
Last year's meeting "was charged with a great deal of anxiety over people shooting people and who may get caught in the cross fire," recalled the Rev. Raymond B. Kemp, a founder and board member of the 14th and U Coalition, and pastor of Saint Paul and Augustine Church.
"There was a Dodge City mentality that was very much a part of our life withthe shooting of Officer Snyder and Griffith.
"We didn't have that kind of anxiety," said Kemp of last Week's meeting, "though I never fail to remind people that there's still a lot of shooting and killing going on."