The war for Logan Circle went on yesterday, without interruption.
Twenty-four hours earlier, a D.C. Superior Court judge had sentenced Michele Griffith to a year in jail in a prostitution case. More often, judges have only imposed fines or very short jail terms for prostitution convictions. Assistant U. S. Attorney James N. Owens, who prosecuted the case this week, was joined by an active group of Logan Circle residents in hailing the harsh sentence as a sharp blow to what they see as the curse of the neighborhood.
But by noon yesterday, women in jogging shorts and halter tops were already beginning to congregate on street corners along 13th Street, 14th Street and Vermont Avenue near the circle. They beckoned to the wide-eyed male drivers of passing cars. Some of the prostitutes did little to advertise themselves, explaining that they were awaiting regular customers.
The prostitutes, most of whom said they knew about Michele Griffith's hard luck, went about their business as if nothing had happened. The neighborhood activists, convinced that they have at last found an effective weapon, vowed to continue their fight.
Scenes from a zone where battles of a long-running war are fought every day:
"I don't ever rob any of my customers," the woman said. "I have a face that people don't forget."
Indeed she does: Striking dark skin, a big scar running down her right cheek and another slicing through her left eyebrow, and enormous green eyes that looked like a cat's. She was wearing bright blue pants and a form-fitting long-sleeved black knit top, and she was standing along 13th Street NW just north of Logan Circle, winking and waving at the traffic. She identified herself as "Marlene Johnson," but left the clear impression that the name was an alias.
She said she knew Michele Griffith, knew that she had been arrested 25 times before, mostly on prostitution charges.
"After 25 cases, she should have expected to get a year, or something," Marlene said. "I figure, if you dance to the music, you got to pay the piper. It could have been worse than that."
If it had been a young woman with only two or three arrests to be hit with the one-year sentence, Marlene said, she would have felt worse about it.
She said she is in her 30s and has been a prostitute for 16 years, the first 10 in her home town of Pittsburgh and the rest on the streets around Logan Circle. Her body is thin, sallow, a drug user's body. She said she has been a heroin addict for most of her time on the streets, but is now on methadone. "I'm trying to get my act together, but it's slow, it's hard," she said.
Marlene had bitter words for the neighborhood residents who are trying to get her to leave, and denied that her presence in the area and that of other prostitutes creates problems.
"That's a lie," she snapped. "You saw me standing here. Was I bothering anybody? I work here every afternoon. I have regular 'dates' and I don't bother anybody."
Like many other prostitutes interviewed yesterday, Marlene said she knows who Barbara Rothenberg is. "I feel like she's a young old maid," she said. "You know, a lot of square young women tell us they wish they had the nerve to come out here and do what we are doing."
Barbara Rothenberg, red-haired and feisty, is the neighborhood activist most publicly identified with the fight to rid Logan Circle of the prostitutes. She lives right on the circle, in a 15-room house that for the last eight years she has been restoring to its 1883 splendor.
Rothenberg and the other residents who are working with her against prostitution are excited about two new tactics they have come upon. The first is to affix Day-Glo-pink stickers on the cars of the prostitutes' customers that say: "DISEASE WARNING: Occupants of this vehicle have been seen in the company of street ladies along 14th St."
The other tactic, which they take more seriously, is called allocution. Prosecutors have agreed to let the neighbors make formal appearances at sentencing hearings for repeat prostitute offenders, and plead for severe sentences.
"I think this is one of the keys," said Rothenberg, a real estate agent and entrepreneur. "The police have been saying for years that this town is wide open for this kind of street-corner prostiutution because they get $25 fines. That's not a fine, it's a license fee.
"We're fighting for turf, that's what it is to me," Rothenberg said. "We're fighting for the streets. We'll do anything that's legal."
Said Joan Brooks, a landscape designer who lives on Vermont Avenue: "We think judges will be sympathetic when they face citizens who say we cannot live this way, we will not live this way and it's your job to give us some help. Here I am, a married woman over 40, and I have men staring at me when I walk down the street. I can't wear running shorts on the street."
She said she regularly finds used condoms near her car behind her house.
Rothenberg and Brooks both emphasized that their effort involves both black and white residents -- and indeed, both blacks and whites have participated in the allocution program. But that's not how Pam, a 28-year-old prostitute who was wearing a bright orange Danskin as she stood on 13th Street yesterday, sees things.
"To be truthful, there are a lot of whites moving down here," she said. "That lady Rothenberg is buying property all around here. She has her real estate signs up all around here. I think that's the reason she's raising so much hell."
Pam is as different from a streetwise prostitute like Marlene as she is from the respectable residents who want her off the streets. There are no scars on Pam's face, no heroin tracks in her arms. Aside from unsightly stretch marks on her limbs, she appears as plump and healthy as a farmer's daughter.
She said she had heard of Michele Griffith's sentence. "I think it's bad," Pam said. "Your body is your body, right? If they can put you in jail for doing something like this, that's really messed up."
Pam said she does not work every day as a prostitute, but whenever she needs to, to support her year-old son. She said she makes about 500 tax-free dollars a week -- far more than she took home from other jobs she tried, like cooking and being a maid.
She said she will continue to ply her trade, despite the sentence given Griffith. "I might be next, I don't know. I don't plan on doing this all my life. But the money is good. What can I say?"
Not all blacks in the neighborhood are as firmly committed to the effort to drive the prostitutes out as those who have joined the allocution effort. Some, like Odell Wray, see the fight against the prostitutes as just another indication of how much the neighborhood has changed over the years.
"See that park?" he asked, pointing to the circle itself, once cut by 13th Street but now reclaimed as green space. "It was ruined, before. Look at it now. There are more policemen now. Before the white people moved in, we didn't have that. I guess it's just a general improvement of the neighborhood.
"But the prostitutes never did anything to me. Everybody knows how to avoid the prostitutes, even the kids around here. It's too bad that the whites don't understand that prostitutes are prostitutes. They've been around since King Solomon's day. They're going to have a hard time getting rid of them."