For at least a short time recently, the 1400 block of W Street NW was transformed into the quiet neighborhood street it once was. The change in the well-known drug corridor was an immediate, if temporary, result of a District Police drug sweep dubbed "C-Note Sevenfold."
Gone after the July 9 police operation were the constant tension and fear created by the usual horde of sidewalk drug hawkers calling out "Black Death," "Murder One" and similarly graphic brand names for heroin and other illegal drugs. In its place was calm, punctuated by the sounds of carefree children laughing and romping up and down the sidewalk.
"It's very seldom that the children would have the entire sidewalk to themselves," said one man who has lived on the block for five years.
"For me and my neighbors it was a good, secure feeling. I felt like singing, 'Free at last, free at last . . . ' "
But the freedom did not last. "The drug dealers are busy again," said the man, who asked that his name not be used. "It's like a commercial vendor's district. The children have to be careful again not to step on their toes because the dealers have reclaimed their turf."
Several other people who live and work in neighborhoods throughout the city that are plagued by illicit drug trafficking echoed his dismay.
They said that drug dealers were back about a day after D.C. police set up roadblocks, orchestrated undercover drug busts and arrested more than 400 people.
Still, many residents and businessmen said that the special police operation was not futile, though one businessman in the 300 block of Kennedy Street NW compared it to "giving someone a baby aspirin for an adult migraine headache."
Police officials last week said that there are about 30 locations in Washington where drugs are openly sold and that neighborhood discontent in those areas prompted the police to sweep through the areas nine days ago. "People want to live in a clean, drug-free environment. They have a right to that. We want to help them achieve that," said Lt. Hiram Brewton, a D.C. Police spokesman. Most of those jailed after the sweep have been released, officials said.
The owner and manager of a beauty salon near 14th and U streets NW was one of the people who criticized the police sweep.
"What good has it done?" she asked. "Several of my customers said that they were afraid to come to my shop because of the confusion the police created out here. Those people are right back out here selling drugs. They've got to survive, too, and this is the best way they know how. They don't have job training or education."
"I think the situation has improved somewhat," said a woman who lives in the 1200 block of Talbert Street SE, a few yards from a heroin "shooting gallery"--an abandoned apartment building where addicts often gather to take drugs. "Dealing is just a hard thing to stop, it seems. When the police come, the junkies and dealers move and find somewhere else. But they come right back. It's like roaches. You spray, and they're gone, and you kill a few. But, after awhile, they come right back."
"I don't think C-Note Sevenfold would have happened had not the community raised its voice and said we needed help," said Edna Frazier-Cromwell, president of the 14th and U Streets Coalition and the area's representative on the school board. "There have been block meetings, marches against drugs, community forums on drugs and phone calls to the police and the mayor, and there've been letters written saying that in this community an epidemic exists. Police must be viewed as just one method of dealing with it."
"We've launched a drug war in Shaw. The epidemic is acute here," said Ibrahim Mumin, who lives in a town house in the 600 block of Q Street Street NW with his wife and daughter and who is a member of several neighborhood organizations. "I, for one, am not going to live in my neighborhood oppressed, hiding behind the blinds and being afraid of the pushers. I have an 11-year-old daughter who has to walk through a crowd of drug dealers to get home," said Mumin, executive director of the Shaw Project Area Committee.
"There is a connection between what we neighbors are doing and what the police are doing," he added. "We need the police to keep the pressure on."
Dorothy Kidane, who lives in the 1400 block of U Street NW, agrees. "I think the police should try to do drug sweeps just a little more often. The police did have an impact. The drug dealers will get tired of running, get tired of someone moving them about, and hopefully drug traffic will cease at 14th and U."
Active in her neighborhood, Kidane is a member of the 14th and U Streets Coalition and serves on the board of the Parent Child Center, a daycare center located at 1325 W St. NW.
A mother of three, she said that she is committed to her "vision" that one day the streets will be permanently cleared of drug traffic. She was not always so hopeful. "I was pretrified when I moved here, but I had to live where I could afford to, and I was determined not to let the drugs run me away from here," she said. "These are my people out here on the corner. I have no fear of my own people.
"I don't like to see them get locked up for drugs. I wish there were more drug rehabiliatation programs available for them. I wish the government could keep the drugs from coming into the country."
One woman, a resident of the Condon Terrace public housing development in Southeast, said that she doubts that the young drug dealers whom she sees on her way to and from work everyday will leave the area anytime soon. "I saw the police make a few arrests last week," she said. "But that didn't stop the rest of them. They're making a living. You can't even rest sometimes with all the cars the come through here and the loud talking and sometimes gunshots."
The woman said she has adjusted to the ever-present drug dealers. "When I get off the bus and walk past those boys, they ask me if I want to buy some herb. I tell them, 'I don't need it, I drink coffee.' And I laugh and keep walking. If you don't bother them, they don't bother you. You don't go out there and try to interfere with them unless you want to get killed."
People whose neighborhoods have turned into open-air drug markets must continue to keep the pressure on, said Jerome Hall, 29, a Smithsonian Institution security guard who lives near the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and Talbert Street SE.
"When I was smaller, this was a very pleasant and quiet area," he said.
"The only excitement was an occasional fire engine going up the street. After I got out of the marines . . . years ago, I couldn't believe it. Thirty to 40 people were on the corner all the time. Life was miserable. In the last year police have cleared up the area a great deal. I hope it continues."