Denise Nelson nervously stood up before hundreds of city residents and community leaders yesterday and pleaded with them to save her two younger brothers who deal drugs on the streets of Southeast Washington.

"I already have two brothers in the penitentiary at Lorton now who have either used drugs or had some dealing with drugs," said Nelson, 25. "I want to get my {other} two brothers off the streets. Something needs to be done. I'm trying to help them. I need all of your help."

Nelson was one of about two dozen people who spoke out in frustration and anger at a standing-room-only town meeting yesterday at Martin Luther King Memorial Library at 901 G St. NW. Nearly 350 residents, politicians, community leaders and schoolchildren filled the library lobby for a three-hour heated forum on "Children Killing Children over Drugs."

The Washington area, particularly the District, has been gripped by a drug epidemic that has increasingly involved young people.

The town meeting became especially tense at one point when Police Chief Maurice T. Turner Jr. said that illegal drugs were not just a police problem -- a remark that followed several speeches by politicians who blamed the drug problem on others. Moderator Bev Smith, a talk show host at WRC radio, had heard enough.

"We're all being BS'ed right out of our minds here," said Smith to a loud round of applause. "Here's the game -- the legislators make the laws. The laws aren't strong enough to hurt the {drug dealers}. The legislators pass the budgets. The budgets aren't big enough to do the job.

"The legislators say it's the police," Smith continued. "The legislators say it's the mayor. The mayor says it's the police. The police say it's the mayor. And you all say it's us. We're sick and tired of it."

"We're sick and tired of it," the crowd loudly yelled back in unison.

Several officials from D.C. and Prince George's, Montgomery and Fairfax counties made statements at the meeting. But many of them had left by the time the residents they represent reached the microphone.

"You know, the terrible thing is that politicians come and they say what they have to say and then they're gone," said Smith. "They ought to be sitting here. They take up all the time, and they do all the talking and then they don't sit here and listen -- from the mayor to the rest of them -- when something important has to be said."

Almost all city officials had left by the time Rachael Jackson and Sharon Mayes, two registered nurses in the emergency room at D.C. General Hospital, rose to speak.

"We are tired of seeing young black men and women die and having to wrap their bodies up to send them to the morgue and then having to go to their parents or relatives and explain it to them," said Mayes.

City officials also missed hearing the words of ex-convict Ron Yarbrough, who said he once robbed banks but is now a vocational development specialist.

"We have to stop calling on the government to fight our problem," said Yarbrough. "We have to learn to respect each other. Young people don't respect life. The only things they want are a gold chain around their necks and a BMW."

Speaker after speaker urged parents to become more vigilant with their children. As funeral music played in the background, a roll call of children who have recently been gunned down was read. Finis Green-Bey, a prisoner at Lorton Reformatory's minimum-security facility, called the forum that was being broadcast on WRC radio to say that the destruction of the family is the root of the drug problem.

Green-Bey, who is serving a 10-year sentence for armed robbery, said he started using heroin because of peer pressure when he was a teen-ager and pushed drugs to support his habit.

"I didn't have a sense of direction," said Green-Bey. "I didn't have any positive role models. It has to do with our economic and social problems. It has to do with the family structure."

"Most of the fathers are out of jobs or in the penitentiary," said Green-Bey. "The mothers are trying to do their best to support families. They become despondent and have low self-esteem and are not able to nurture {their} children with the proper spiritual and mental guidance."

Barbara Merriweather, whose son Kendall was gunned down two months ago by two youths who tried to steal his radio, echoed Green-Bey's thoughts. "Get involved with your children," Merriweather said. "Talk to them about their day." Merriweather recently started a group, CRY (Citizens Re-Directing Youth), for mothers of youths who have been killed.

"Parents have to stop being hypocritical," said Alicia P. Jackson, of the YWCA. "We see girls whose parents do drugs. One mother wanted her daughter to split with her in buying boat," a term for PCP, Jackson said.

"It's not only in D.C.," said Sandie Jackson, substance abuse coordinator for the Fairfax Community Services Board. "It's going on in the suburbs too. There was a child in Fairfax County that was arrested for shoplifting at age 6 who started smoking marijuana at age 7."

Akisha Turner, 10, of Southeast said that she is sometimes scared to go to school because "men in cars go by and wave bags of drugs."

"They stand on the corner and they have gold chains like the mayor said," Akisha said. "Building new jails won't help -- that will make the problem worse. Show them that you love them, and they'll probably pick up their act."

Other suggestions to solve the drug problem were offered. Police Chief Turner said that the laws governing juveniles have to be strengthened. "Adults have gone out and recruited juveniles to distribute the drugs," said Turner. "And little or nothing is done to them. They don't go to jail."

Mayor Marion Barry called drugs "a community problem" and chastised city residents for fighting District plans to place drug treatment centers in three neighborhoods over the past 18 months. But he rejected calls to bring in the National Guard to control neighborhoods in the city's most drug-infested areas.

Moderator Smith urged police to go after the bigger drug dealers instead of focusing on the street pushers. "Why can't you get at the big guys? Who's blocking it? How many times have you arrested the man with the airplane, the man with the boat?"

But many of the speakers at the meeting, such as Anthony Butler, a psychologist at Lorton Reformatory, had no answer to the city's increasingly violent drug epidemic.

"Is it so big that you just don't know what to do?" Smith asked after Butler talked about vague programs to help solve drug problems.

"I really don't," Butler replied.