On Saturday afternoons, deputy police chief Rodwell Catoe says, he and third district police officers often have to redouble their efforts to crack down on illegal drug traffickers around 14th and U streets NW.
But yesterday Catoe was smiling and many of his officers dancing in the street as the 14th and U Street Coalition held a rousing and spirited festival to celebrate community togetherness in the crime-ridden neighborhood.
"Yeah, I see a lot of familiar faces," said Catoe, referring to the drug addicts and dealers who usually congregate in the area on weekends. "But they are on good behavior today."
Yesterday's festival attracted about 700 people, including representatives of college sororities, tenant groups, a smattering of city politicians and hundreds of youths drawn by the pulsating rhythm-and-blues sounds of Mass Extinction, a local band.
D.C. police cordoned off the area to allow the crowd to dance in the street and sample the food of vendors doing a brisk business selling soft drinks and punch.
"Most people in this neighborhood do not participate in illegal activity," said Edna Frazier-Cromwell, chairwoman of the 14th and U Streets Coalition. "This event is not just a one-day excursion into the neighborhood.We want people to have a good time but at the same time we want them to get involved . . . to come out to help reclaim the neighborhood and make this a better community."
Marvin Rucker, 34, made doubly sure he'd have fun. He brought along his portable music box in case the live entertainment did not live up to his expectations.
"The music is great," said Rucker, as his portable player sat silently on the street. "I've lived in this neighborhood for years. At least I can say they are doing something good, especially for the kids."
One of yesterday's younger participants, Catrina Wells, 8, said the music was a little loud and interfered with her skating.
"I fell down once," she said, trying to skate to the music. "It's too loud."
While a number of local political candidates had tables set up at yesterday's festival, few showed up in person.
One who did, Sterling Tucker, former chairman of the D.C. City Council who is running for that office again this year, said he did not come to the festival to campaign.
"This neighborhood has been neglected for so long," said Tucker. "People need something to smile about. These people count whether they vote or not."
G. Edward Crider Jr., who said he has lived in the neighborhood for 15 years, said the festival "gives people a chance to let off frustration from a hard winter. When you come here most of the time it's pretty depressing. This has brought everybody together for a good time."