More than 250 people marched through the heart of Arlington's most active drug market last night, warning drug dealers that citizen patrols will be used to try to drive them from the Nauck community.

Marchers from the historically black South Arlington neighborhood, joined by several local politicians, sang "We Shall Overcome" and chanted anti-drug slogans as they made their way past what they described as several crack houses before stopping in Green Valley, an area in the heart of Nauck where bustling, 24-hour crack cocaine and heroin markets operate.

"We've come here because we're sick of the poison that is destroying our community," the Rev. Richard Green, a Nauck resident, told the crowd at a rally after the march.

Then, in an assertion directed at drug dealers who frequent the area, Green said, "If you think that when we're gone {tonight} it's all over, think again."

Nauck residents are trying to tap community pride to combat a drug marketplace that has some of them afraid to walk the streets of the area where their families have lived for generations.

"It's a tragedy, what's happened here," said Joan Cooper, 48, a lifetime Nauck resident. "Drugs rule part of our neighborhood, and we let it happen by being too complacent."

Similar marches have occurred before in Nauck, most recently in 1988, but residents say this time the situation is different.

They say years of finding stoned strangers in their yards, seeing neighborhood children being recruited into the drug trade and watching their community deteriorate have worn their patience thin.

Although some still fear retaliation by those involved in drugs, many previously inactive residents say they now are willing to fight back against drug dealers through citizen patrols and other tactics.

"There's always a fear, but a lot of people here have had enough of this," said Green, 57, a lifetime Nauck resident whose parents also live there.

Green, a former teacher, said one of the most disheartening aspects of Nauck's drug problem is the involvement of children with drug dealers at 24th and Shirlington roads, known in the neighborhood as "The Corner."

"I've seen kids I've taught out on The Corner," Green said. "These are kids with good parents, from churchgoing families. It just shows you how deep this has cut into the community."

Organizers of last night's march made a special effort to include youths in their campaign, having Redskins football player Fred Stokes speak at the rally and having a local teenage dance group perform.

"We have to reach the children," said resident Shirley Chestnut, who said she is seeing some encouraging signs among Nauck's youth.

"We have some children who grew up around drugs and don't know right from wrong," Chestnut said. "But there are some whose parents are into {drugs} and know it's wrong. I know of some kids who beg their parents not to go" to The Corner.

Many residents also hope Nauck's battle against drugs unites longtime black residents with the increasing number of whites who in recent years have moved into new town houses on the outer edges of the community.

"We've gotten a chilly reception from some {blacks}, but others have been great," said Ted Singer, who is white and has lived in the area for about two months. "But something like {the drug issue} could bring a lot of people together, because it's one thing everyone agrees on."

Nauck's anti-drug efforts also have worsened tensions between residents and several Green Valley businesses, whose establishments are hangouts for those involved in the drug trade.

One business owner acknowledged that he doesn't like the idea of indirectly profiting from the drug trade through doing business with dealers, but said he has little choice if he wants to remain open.

"A lot of the {residents} don't come down here anymore," said the business owner, who asked not to be identified. "If I didn't sell to {drug} dealers, I wouldn't have many customers."

Arlington police stepped up anti-drug patrols of the area four years ago, when crack's popularity began to expand what had been a small-scale heroin and marijuana market.

As a result, drug-related arrests in Green Valley have risen steadily in recent years. At the current rate, the number of drug arrests there this year will nearly double the 326 reported in 1988.

Police say about half the 637 drug-related arrests in Arlington this year have been made near The Corner.

One recent afternoon at The Corner, a dozen men and five women gathered in small groups as several cars, a few of them with Maryland and D.C. license plates, passed by.

Occasionally, one of the cars would stop and one of the men would lean over to talk with the driver. In a matter of seconds, money and small items would be exchanged and the car would drive away.

"For a lot of people {selling drugs} is the only way to make it," said one man near The Corner who called himself "T." "It's a cold world for people down here . . . . They've got to get by, so they do it."

It's a scene Joan Cooper would like to eliminate.

"One day before I die, I want to hear people say Nauck and Green Valley and think of a nice neighborhood, not of drugs," Cooper said. "It's a matter of pride."