William and Leona Tucker are afraid to visit their neighbors at night, work in their front yard during the day or sit on the steps of their neatly kept home near Sixth and S streets NW in Washington's Shaw neighborhood.
Leona Tucker keeps the shades drawn on her front windows and often she sits toward the back of the room to keep from seeing what goes on outside.
But it was still easy for a visitor to see drug dealers pretending to fix an old car as they waited for customers to buy the illegal drug phencyclidine (PCP). Suddenly five police cars swooped in and officers jumped out and arrested several of the men. They confiscated drugs and shotgun shells.
"We don't call the police," said Leona Tucker, after the police left and the commotion died down. "They the dealers will kill us." Her husband, a retired assistant crane operator, leans on his cane and says, "We're scared. I've seen them arrested and three hours later they are back here. Same ones all the time."
The Tuckers and many of their neighbors are afraid of the growing drug traffic they say is taking over their neighborhood and making them prisoners inside their homes. They bolt their doors and draw the blinds against what has become a community of strangers.
Since Christmas Eve, three young men have been slain in the Tuckers' neighborhood in what police say is a turf war over control of the block and its growing and lucrative drug business. Only two of the killings have been solved. According to police, within the last year or so more PCP has been sold on this block than any other in the city. The short block of Sixth Street between S Street and Florida Avenue NW has become Washington's marketplace for the hallucinogenic drug.
For about 12 hours each day starting with the afternoon rush hour, young PCP dealers line the street on both sides and cater to the even younger customers who drive or walk through the block.
PCP, sold on Sixth Street as "Lovely" and "Loveboat," is sprinkled on marijuana and usually sells for $15 for the equivalent of two to three cigarettes. The drug is wrapped in tinfoil; a packet is referred to as a "tin." Drug authorities and police consider PCP dangerous because it can produce violent behavior in some users and there is no antidote for an overdose.
With the illegal drug trade has come more than crowded sidewalks, litter on the streets and noisy raids by the police. Wary residents have in a way become victims as well.
Mrs. Evans, one of the Tuckers' neighbors, is a big, powerful, take-charge kind of woman. All of her eight children grew up on Sixth Street, playing in the parking lot next door where she could watch them. There were baseball teams, football teams and nights spent camping in sleeping bags under the city lights and Evans' watchful eyes.
But now Evans, who asked that her first name not be used, says her grown children worry about her safety and she keeps the doors closed and curtains drawn. Several months ago, she added iron gates to her doors as well.
Evans, who takes great pride in her house and front yard, said she is unwilling to tell the strangers leaning against her fence to move on because, "I may get a bullet in the mouth."
Her block, where the dealers do most of their business, is near two junior high schools: Shaw, at 10th Street and Rhode Island Avenue NW, and Garnet-Patterson, at 10th and U streets NW. It is a block of two-story brick row houses and small apartment buildings surrounded daily by the delicious smell of bread baking at the nearby Wonder Bread Bakery.
It is a block of moving curtains, where residents, fearful of the drug traffic, know you are at the door before you knock.
No one knows why the PCP drug trade came to this block of Sixth Street. Some speculate that it is a natural marketplace because of the regular bus route on Florida Avenue and several vacant buildings that dealers use to escape police.
Police said it is a popular block because one of the big-time PCP dealers lived on Sixth Street until his arrest in January.
A former PCP user and dealer, now a resident at the privately run drug rehabilation facility called Second Genesis, said he sold PCP on several blocks in the city but that Sixth and S was the hot spot.
"You go over there at rush hour and you can sell $3,000 to $4,000 on any weekday," said the young man, who asked not to be identified. "Even with the police there, it is still hot . . . . Those little packets fly out of there all the time."
Police Lt. Ron Harvey, head of the 3rd Police District's drug enforcement squad, said police make arrests on Sixth Street almost daily.
"PCP is a relatively new problem for us, but it may well be the most dangerous," said Harvey, whose officers also deal with the heroin, marijuana and pill trade in inner-city neighborhoods. They say they see more youngsters using PCP than ever before. "With PCP, and the violent behavior that goes with it, we have to worry about injuries to officers as well as the young people who use it injuring themselves," he said.
"It took years for the heroin trade to grow up in this area," Harvey said. "With PCP, we are seeing a rapid growth in just a period of months. PCP is more available. You can make it in your own kitchen. Heroin has to come from somewhere overseas."
Drug experts say that PCP can be made by anyone with a high school course in chemistry. However, the mixture can be explosive if not handled properly and the PCP gives off a distinct ether odor which makes it difficult to conceal.
In the last several years, police have discovered and destroyed a number of PCP "labs" in Prince George's County. Now, according to Harvey, labs are springing up in Southeast Washington. "The stuff on Sixth Street is not out of PG. It is either from Southeast or somewhere closer. The trade is held within a little group," he said.
On any night of the week, but particularly on Friday and Saturday nights, young men wearing down jackets and jeans offer curbside service to the steady stream of cars that slowly cruise the block. There are pedestrian customers as well, who sidle up to one of the several men lounging against a front yard fence. The dealer looks quickly around him, walks to a parked car or a nearby bush, pulls out a "tin" and sells it for $15. The customer often opens the "tin" and smells it before leaving.
When the police charge in on such a scene with lights flashing, tires squealing and guns drawn, the block empties. A few arrests are made, some PCP confiscated and the police leave. Within minutes the remaining dealers drift back to their favorite spots and business continues as usual.
City Council member John Wilson, (D-Ward 2), whose ward includes this part of Sixth Street as well as other blocks of active drug dealing, says he is angry and depressed about the continuing drug problems in his ward.
"It is as unfair as hell to be under siege by people from outside your neighborhood. They control the neighborhood and you don't," he said. "I am absolutely depressed about the whole thing."
In response to the situation, Wilson says he will reintroduce a vagrancy law and also a revision of the Youth Offender Act so that juveniles charged with murder and drug dealing will be charged as adults.
Residents of the block are not the only ones to suffer from this invasion of strangers. Horace Wynn, owner of The Pig 'N' Pit at Sixth and Florida, who has been serving his North Carolina barbeque at the same location since 1947, said his business is down because customers are afraid to walk through the drug-dealing crowds to his restaurant. Wynn, like others on the block, says he does not call police because he fears retaliation from dealers.
Meanwhile, Evans says she wonders whether her neighbors will hold their annual summer picnic this year. In the past the picnic was held at a parking lot in her block. However, two of the three slayings on the block were committed on the same parking lot.
"Everyone comes and brings a dish," she said. "Lots of hot dogs and beans. But no whiskey. Last summer we had it on the parking lot on August 7th. Last year we ended it at nightfall. If we have one this year, we'll all bring a .45."