Linda Smith and her neighbors, who have spent a year running drug dealers out of the District's Marshall Heights community, rolled out the welcome mat last night for a different kind of nocturnal caller: members of Congress.
As Smith and 30 other members of Marshall Heights's civilian antidrug patrol made their nightly rounds, they were joined by four Republican House members, who said they were showing support for neighborhood-based drug-fighting efforts, and two members of the U.S. Capitol Police, who were keeping an eye on the lawmakers.
For about an hour, politicians and residents walked the streets near Benning Road and H Street SE, keeping an eye peeled for drug sellers. Nothing happened. And that, everyone said proudly, was precisely the point.
"It's remarkable what's taken place in the last year," said the Rev. Peter Ortiz, a founding member of the Benning/Marshall Heights Neighborhood Coalition. "Things were so bad people were in fear for their lives. Now the neigborhood is a neighborhood again."
Rep. Robert Walker (Pa.), leader of the GOP delegation, said that when he first expressed interest in accompanying the patrol, "My staff said, 'Good luck.'
"But look at this," he said. "This is a community worth keeping. And it's great to see people making sure it gets kept."
Smith, the group's leader, said that her organization began nightly patrols a year ago this week. The idea was born after one of their neighbors, Rhonda Anthony, was killed by a stray bullet as she sat on her front porch in July 1989. The group does not confront drug dealers, but takes down license plate numbers and calls police. Now, they say, their neighborhood is largely drug-free.
Walker said a group of Republican House members studying the nation's drug problem decided to walk with Smith's group because they believe community action is a key to beating drugs. The other three lawmakers were Reps. Clay Shaw (Fla.) Duncan Hunter (Calif.) and Charles G. Douglas III (N.H.). "These folks feel strongly about their neighborhood and they have organized," Walker said. "As national representatives we're intrigued by what they're doing here. I think the rest of us can learn something from them."