IF SOUTHERN AVENUE and 57th Street were a baseball park, the vendors would be selling hot dogs and cold beer. Instead, they are yelling: "Get that wacky weed" (marijuana sprayed with PCP, an animal tranquilizer); "Nickles, nickle bags of heroin"; and "loose joints, loose joints, grab some smoke" (marijuana). The drug vendors stand on the corner and brazenly shout these enticements to lure passersby. In recent months, the drug trade at that intersection has taken on an even more dangerous quality as robberies of the drug peddlers, some involving shootouts, have increased, according to police. This scene has caused some distress to residents of the nearby East Capitol Dwellings, a public housing project. Although police say some of the dealers operate out of the housing project, the majority of the residents there fear for their children and themselves as a result of the brisk traffic in illegal drugs nearby.
The District police say they are unable to halt the open drug trade at the intersection because dealers are able to straddle the boundary between the District and Maryland. When a District policeman approaches, the dealers cross the street into Maryland; When a Maryland police officer -- usually from Prince George's County -- approaches, the drug dealers cross over into the District.The patrols of District and Prince George's County police are not coordinated to pass through the intersection simultaneously. The police do not share radio channels either, they say, so calls for assistance are slow. Consequently, the drug dealers are able to play hopscotch with the police.
Deputy Chief Theodore Carr, commander of the police district in which the Southern Avenue and 57th Street intersection is located, says that District and Maryland police do coordinate plans when they serve several warrants to known drug dealers. But Chief Carr says it is impractical, because of a lack of manpower, to coordinate hourly or daily patrols of the intersection with police officers from Maryland. A spokesman for the Prince George's County police gives the same explanation. Police officials say that, even if they were to add officers in the area and increase their coordination, drug dealers could not necessarily be caught and jailed. The police say the drug dealers keep a small amount of the drug on themselves and "stash" most of their stock in a nearby house or bush. The small amount ensures light punishment, if any, from the courts. Some people buying drugs also avoid policy by picking up drug dealers in their cars and doing business elsewhere.
It is important to note that the drug dealers' trick of crossing the District line to stay out of the hands of policemen is not isolated to one intersection. At Central and Southern avenues, drug dealers use the same trick to operate a thriving outdoor market for heroin.
Despite the ingenuity of drug dealers and despite problems with laws that would halt their activity, the open trafficking in drugs at major intersections cannot be allowed. It is a signal to young people that drug dealers can operate illegally without fear. It encourages the use of drugs by allowing easy access. Finally, the drug traffic is attracting more and more crime, endangering people who live in the area. It would be to the benefit of both District and Maryland residents if police were to increase their attention to those intersections and increase the cooperation between the departments. It may be possible for the forces to patrol the intersections together on a regular schedule and to add personel for such action.
Police officials may feel that they can't afford to invest manpower in stopping small-time drug dealers when they could be investing major drug connections. But it is just as important to life in this area that no drug dealer or user think that open drug markets are allowed to flourish. Police, possibly with help from the U.S. attorney's office, need to zero in on an ugly scene.