Throughout the day, strangers tiptoe cautiously into the thicket of trees across the street from Albert Pickett's brick row house on Division Avenue in the Northeast Washington neighborhood of Deanwood-Burrville.

"They're down there like flies, shooting those drugs," the 62-year-old man said from his front porch on a recent scorching afternoon. "If I come home late from work, I can't even find a parking place."

His street is often lined with cars bearing suburban tags, as strangers stop in the neighborhood to purchase drugs. On this particular day, three police cars and a patrol wagon zoom to the edge of a small park just outside the woods. Before the officers have their feet on the ground, a voice yells a warning through the woods: "Police! Get out! Get out!" A second later, about 30 men and women, young and middle-aged, scatter from the woods.

"When I first moved here, it was so nice and peaceful," said Pickett, who has lived in the community 20 years. "My wife got robbed 50 feet from our front door. I caught one of them junkies in my car. I would have shot him, but my wife yelled, I looked back, and he jumped out and ran."

Today, the District government will hold its second annual "Drug-Free D.C. Day" a block from Pickett's house at Division and Nannie Helen Burroughs avenues NE. Sponsored by the D.C. Commission of Public Health, the rally is part of the city's effort to gain community support for its fight against drug abuse.

Last year's rally at 14th and W streets NW drew about 800 people and featured an appearance by former boxing champion Muhammad Ali. Expected at this year's rally, which runs from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m., are Jesse L. Jackson, recording artists Kool & The Gang, Midnight Star, former New Edition member Bobby Brown and local go-go king Chuck Brown.

The block where the rally is being held is a small-business district that includes a beauty salon, a liquor store, a Chinese food carryout and a restaurant. The drug traffic is a wart on a community that is home to proud, hard-working people, many of whom are longtime residents. They are people who spend evenings trimming the grass, patching fences or sitting on their porches.

Opinions on the rally vary. Although some residents welcome it, others think the event is a waste of time. "It will let residents know someone else cares about drugs being in their neighborhood," said Nero Potts, 32, a medical clerk who has lived on Division Avenue for most of his life.

But Pickett's daughter Arlett said, "A rally is not going to stop them from doing what they're doing, and we already know there's a drug problem. I see them when I'm on my way to work at 6:30 in the morning, and on Sunday when we're getting ready for church they're right out there on the corner."

Kenneth Jones, a spokesman for the Department of Human Services, said the rally is not expected to solve anything, but "any effort that reinforces the awareness of the public about the problem of drugs is useful. Obviously, we have a significant treatment program . . . but part of the drug effort has to be prevention, keeping people aware, letting them know where we are and letting them know we have to work together."

Public Health Commissioner Reed V. Tuckson, who created the "Drug-Free" day, said, "The festive mood we want to create is to show that life is a celebration when you are drug free."

At 6th District headquarters, Deputy Chief Jimmy L. Wilson said "high visibility and an undercover operation" have reduced drug traffic on Division Avenue. "We've heard a rumor that the drugs are coming back, but we've taken efforts to see that doesn't happen," he said.

Advisory Neighborhood Commission Chairwoman Mary Gaffney agrees that the street is quieter. "Once upon a time we weren't able to walk or drive up and down that street," she said. "It was like a funeral every evening, so many gatherings. Getting rid of drugs is a long process, and if the police don't continue to monitor it, {the drug traffic} will come back."

Meanwhile, each day Pickett eyes the activity on the street, in the park and across from him in the woods. "They're the rally," he said. "They'll probably sell more drugs than ever."