About 18 months ago I wrote about how crime was rampant in my near-Northeast neighborhood -- and about my frustration in trying to get D.C. police to do something about it ["Policing Our Streets Because the City Won't," Close to Home, March 21, 2004].
Since then I have developed a strategy for getting the District to respond to a problem. I've found that it takes a small group of neighbors and just one or two empathetic officials.
Last year I called the office of D.C. Council member Sharon Ambrose (D-Ward 6) to request a neighborhood meeting about crime around Ludlow-Taylor Elementary School. It took months to schedule the meeting, but many of my neighbors attended along with city officials, including D.C. Administrator Robert C. Bobb, Peter Jones from the mayor's office, Ambrose, then-1st District Cmdr. Thomas McGuire of the D.C. police, school board member Tommy Wells and Ludlow-Taylor Principal Wardell Hollis. Members of a local drug gang, Murder Inc., also appeared at the meeting.
My husband and I and several neighbors chose not to attend because drug dealers had pointed us out as troublemakers for our efforts to curb their activities.
From the safety of our window, we saw gang members taking pictures of our neighbors who were entering the school building to attend the meeting. We were told the meeting ended with a promise from the elected officials for a 30-day follow-up "neighborhood progress" meeting. That meeting never took place.
Meanwhile, a small group of neighbors and a school official met regularly to come up with a plan for dealing with a gang whose leaders just had been convicted of multiple counts of murder and drug racketeering after a trial that ran from 1989 to 1999 -- the longest criminal trial in the city's history. But Murder Inc. is still in business.
We are not without small victories, however. The prostitution and drug dealing that once occurred in the school's parking lot have abated since Wells worked with neighbors to convince the school principal to lock the lot at night. What police once called "the drive-through drugstore" at Seventh and G streets NE appears to have closed or moved to Seventh and H streets NE. At least the drug thugs no longer sit defiantly on the wall in front of Ludlow-Taylor. We've learned to measure progress in half-block increments.
Our group has been involved in all sorts of behind-the-scenes activities after finding that many of the large-scale neighborhood meetings were often little more than gripe sessions, full of finger-pointing and empty promises.
We've met with local and federal officials from agencies that like to use acronyms. We've told our story over and over, and we've begged for someone to help or care.
As a result of our persistence, we've seen the demise of a long-standing crack house, watched evictions in houses full of drug dealers and a stream of housing stock returned to its former grandeur.
I had become almost giddy about our progress until I met with a woman who lives a half-block away -- where the gang has now set up shop. It appears that our work has just begun.
-- Melissa Marcello