"This isn't a swimming pool," Loree H. Murray was saying. "It's a bathtub."
I was touring a neighborhood in Northeast Washington with some concerned residents the other day when we came upon the J.O. Wilson Recreation Center near Seventh and L streets. The center, which looks like a storage shed, was locked up, although many children were playing in the streets. And the so-called swimming pool, a three-foot-deep pit roughly the size of a carport, also was closed.
"How do they expect all the children in this neighborhood to go swimming in that little thing?" said Murray, who is president of the Near Northeast Citizens Against Crime and Drugs.
We had started our walk near Seventh and Orleans Place, the block that cocaine kingpin Rayful Edmond III used to control, and were tracing the path of a gunman who, in April, had chased his victims to J.O. Wilson Elementary School, located next to the recreation center.
Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) had been scheduled to hold a news conference that day about providing after-school snacks at the school, and some residents were hoping to show him why they refer to this section of the city between H Street and Florida Avenue as "Gilligan's Island," meaning the forgotten land. But he never showed up.
With a gunman on the loose and four adult gunshot victims in the vicinity -- including one man who had run into the school with a bullet wound to the arm and another who was slumped outside a school door with a bullet wound to the leg -- Williams quickly canceled his visit.
Now residents are hearing all about how great the District is functioning under the Williams administration. The city is said to be rebounding -- economically, politically and socially. The District's 6.8 percent jobless rate in April is the lowest since August 1990. And home sales are booming.
But you couldn't tell it by a stroll with Murray and her neighbors. Klatches of unemployed young black men hang out on street corners, day and night. Each school day, the custodians at J.O. Wilson, which is a very fine school, must scramble to clean up the playground, where prostitutes and junkies have left condoms and needles strewed about.
Within a half-mile, there are already more than 10 social service facilities -- including halfway houses, soup kitchens, homeless shelters, drug treatment centers and homes for people with mental disabilities. Plans are underway to bring in even more.
"We keep getting all of these social services dumped on us, but when you ask for basic city services, you get nothing," complained Sheila White, a resident of the neighborhood.
"I have a 17-year-old son who only wants the lights on the playground to be turned on at night," said Wanda Harris, an advisory neighborhood commissioner. "So I call the Department of Recreation, and they say it's school property; so I call D.C. public schools, and they tell me its recreation. So it's 'round and 'round we go. Meanwhile, the children are looking at all these new lights on their playground that nobody will turn on."
Politically and economically isolated, neighbors can only speculate about why they continue to be ignored, unless plans call for locating a trash dump somewhere in the city. Rumors persist.
"There is secret talk," said Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Marvin Fields, "about a plan to devalue all of our property, then buy it up real cheap and put a new baseball stadium out here."
What makes the neglect even more painful is that residents like Murray and Harris are the ones who helped the District hang on during its most dysfunctional years. They actually put their lives on the line to help put Edmond out of business. Edmond, called by prosecutors "The Babe Ruth of Crack Cocaine," controlled 60 percent of the District's cocaine trade, much of it coming from houses on Orleans Place.
Murray and her neighbors held protests in front of the crack houses, took pictures of the customers and constantly badgered the police to do more.
"It was hell around here," Murray recalled. "You couldn't get out of your door for having to step over the dead bodies. When we started our protests, we started getting threats. If we called police, we'd get a call back from the drug dealers saying they had contacts in the police department. Someone put a note on my door saying, `You've stopped our money. Now we're going to get you.' "
But the neighbors and undercover D.C. police officers got to Edmond first.
Since his arrest in 1994, residents have been begging city officials to invest in the neighborhood. They want the H Street business corridor developed and they want recreation programs that will help to fortify their children against enticements from the next Rayful Edmond that comes along.
"Whenever I call city hall and ask for better recreation facilities, the answer I get is, `Why don't you have a block party?' " Harris recalled.
Standing next to a door at J.O. Wilson Elementary where one of the gunshot victims had collapsed, Sheila White said, "We should all get down on our knees and thank God that it didn't happen 15 minutes later, when all of those children would have been coming out of that door."
On the other hand, maybe then the neighborhood would have received the attention that it deserves.
CAPTION: Wanda Harris, left, Marvin Fields, Sheila White and Loree H. Murray in front of the closed pool that Murray calls "a bathtub."