Three hundred residents of the Clay Terrace and Lincoln Heights community in Northeast Washington marched through the 10-square block area yesterday to protest drug sales that police say have led to three deaths and 25 overdoses in the past month alone.
Chanting "We Shall Overcome" and carrying signs proclaiming "We Care," the marchers assembled at 53rd and Ames streets NE and, behind police cars that cleared traffic, wound through the area of public housing projects two blocks from the border with Prince George's County.
The area has long been known as a haven for drug pushers, particularly those selling marijuana, phencyclidine (PCP), and cocaine.
As recently as Wednesday, members of a church choir leaving the Hughes Memorial United Methodist Church, at 53rd and Ames, were accosted by pushers selling their wares, according to the Rev. Hal T. Henderson Sr., pastor of the church and a leader of the march.
Residents of the Maryland and Virginia as well as the District can often be seen double-parked along the tree-lined streets buying drugs, according to police, and fistfights and shootings sometimes occur among the pushers and their customers.
Spurred on by an epidemic of drug overdoses in the area Oct. 1, some 21 churches, aided by the police, organized the march with tenant councils and other neighborhood organizations.
"The community decided to take action on it ourselves. We have job banks and job training and treatment," Henderson said, referring to social services programs in conjunction with the city. "It's not just a demonstration."
District police have targeted the area for special enforcement efforts, including assignment of a 20-member task force that has led to 100 drug arrests in the last three weeks, according to Deputy Chief Isaac Fulwood, who is in charge of the 6th District where the area is located.
On the theory that an appearance of decay and neglect may contribute to an atmosphere that encourages drug use and sales, the police have coordinated the District government's efforts to spruce up the neighborhood.
Eighteen abandoned cars have been removed, defective street lamps replaced and abandoned housing boarded up, Fulwood said.
"The criminal element has to be made aware of the fact the community will not tolerate it," he said.
H.R. Crawford, a City Council member from Ward Seven, said at the march that the city is rehabilitating the Richardson, Lincoln Heights, and East Capitol housing projects located in the area and attempting to set up drug treatment and jobs programs.
"We recognize one march won't do it solve the drug problem ," Crawford said, noting that lack of jobs and poor housing conditions also need to be addressed.
Twenty minutes after the marchers had left 53rd Street, three apparent drug pushers were calling to a passerby.
"What do you want?" they chanted, much as grocers in a street market sell their wares. They offered marijuana at $5 a bag, PCP at $15.