Tuesday night, in the bleaching glare of television floodlights, the crowd of 50 Stanton Park residents outside the proposed minimum security jail on 9th Street NE had whites in the center and blacks on the fringe.
When the microphones came on, most of the speakers were white. And that, according to many in this gentrifying neighborhood, reflects a tension between older black residents whose neighborhood is being priced out from under them and the '80s wave of largely young white professionals who can afford the prices.
"We're all together on this issue," said one older black woman, "but they're cheerleading and we're just supposed to spell out the letters. White makes right."
"On the surface, the whole thing works, blacks and whites both coming together to protect the community," said Curt Ashburn, one of several residents who have expressed concern about the disproportionate number of whites involved in the protests against the proposed jail.
"But when you listen to who's saying what to whom, it's the white professionals. It's not consciously a racial thing, it's economic -- but it works out the same way."
Whites involved in the protest are trying to be sensitive to the racial issue.
"When we sat down to figure out who would be listed as plaintiffs, we wanted to make sure we had a cross-section of the neighborhood," Susan Forbes, one of the six residents who have filed suit to stop the city, told an Advisory Neighborhood Commission meeting Wednesday night. "We wanted somebody with young children . . . a senior citizen, a tenant, a property owner . . . and we took care of the racial thing."
The Stanton Park neighborhood, a swath of Capitol Hill bounded by G Street, Massachusetts Avenue, 2nd and 9th streets NE, has been slowly attracting whites for many years but is still considered on the frontier of gentrification.
Ten years ago, conventional real estate wisdom had it that whites wouldn't buy property north of East Capitol Street; five years ago, Maryland Avenue was the Maginot Line, and nowadays the boundary is considered to run along H Street.
The area around the proposed jail facility, which was formerly used as a police precinct house, shows the paradoxical signs of transition: From the corner of 9th and F, one can see long lines of newly painted town houses with bishop's-mitre turrets and peeling Pentecostal churches with plywood window fillers, smell the acrid reek of construction workers soldering wire mesh into the jail windows and hear the desolate echo of basketballs as some unemployed teen-age boys kill the afternoon.
"The blocks between G and H have been real hard to break," according to a real estate broker who specializes in Hill properties. "If the jail goes in, I won't be able to see anything there."
And in recent months, in the wake of the murder of Catherine Fuller in a garage near the corner of 8th and H streets, some white residents have been even more conscious of the frontier.
Part of the reason that the protest seems too white in a neighborhood that is still at least two-thirds black may be age.
"A lot of the older blacks who own property in that neighborhood have been there since the 1940s," the broker said. "If you're 70, 75 years old and you've been beaten before, maybe you don't feel it's worth fighting the process. Somebody who's just put down $150,000 is not going to roll over."
But gentrification, in altering the population, has retooled the neighborhood's style of protest.
While the older black residents see Mayor Marion Barry as the personification of the city government, and accuse him specifically of "violating the community," the white residents see the issue in more institutional terms. They talk about the corrections officials, the District's lawyers, the damage to property values and the "restoration" of the neighborhood."
The different approaches became apparent at the ANC meeting Wednesday night. Forbes told the primarily white crowd of 50 that attorney and witness fees for the week would probably total $20,000. Few of the whites seemed surprised.
But 68-year-old Woodrow Mack, a longtime resident, erupted into the aisle. "If you're spending a million dollars, you talking to the wrong people!" he shouted.
A few minutes later, Ward 6 Council member Nadine Winter announced that she had just come from seeing Mayor Barry.
"That's one-on-one politics, all right," said Ashburn, "and who knows, it may have worked as well as all the law briefs."