Around Condon Terrace Circle in Far Southeast Washington, there have been these casualties over the last year:
John A. Johnson, 25, was shot in the shoulder.
Michael Bottoms, 23, was shot in the face and killed.
Leondas Chambliss, 16, was shot in the back and paralyzed.
Milton Dobbss, 18, was shot in the knee-caps.
Barbara Young, 20, was shot in the head and killed.
"We hear gunshots all times of day and night out here," said one woman, a retired domestic in late middle age who lives in one of the three-story walk-ups around Condon Terrace Circle. "People with guns run and hide between our homes like it's a Western movie or something."
Condon Terrace Circle is probably the most dangerous street in town, District police say. There have been hundreds of shootings, knifings, rapes and a bizarre series of "kneecappings" there in recent years.
Police say the violence is associated with the sale of mariguana within the, circle, which has become something of a drive-in for drugs since the mid-1670's. Salesmen in their late teens to mid-20's stake out their turf around the circle. In their jockeying for the better positions, there are often shootings.
The youths who work the circle battle to keep official authority out. All eight members of a special tactical squad sent in to clean up Condon Circle last year were injured in chases and fights with the teen-age drug peddlers.
The Highland Dwellings Tenants Council, includes many of the frightened, elderly women who live at Condon Terrace, has worked covertly to get something done about the problem. But fear of the youths and their "rules of the street" is such that the association rarely meets.
After members said they were afraid to attend meetings at night, the council started holding them at 10 a.m. on Saturdays, while the troublemakers were supposedly asleep. But the new time change did not prove popular with most residents.
The night still crackles with gunfire these days along Condon Terrace, and residents instinctively turn out the lights and command their children to hit the floor, the best survival technique they have come up with.
One elderly woman, who walks uneasily with the aid of a cane, once tried to chase marijuana peddlers from the stairwell outside her apartment door. She was not successful and, she said, she rarely ventures outdoors anymore.
"Whenever they see me, they chase me and throw things at me," the woman said late last week. "They do it because I'm old and on this stick. They smoke that stuff outside my door and when it comes into my apartment, it makes my eyes burn and makes my asthma act up."
Youths who grow up in Condon Terrace and drift into a world of drugs and jobless are intensely hostile and suspicious of all outsiders -- whether they are police or just a kid from the other side of the Anacostia River. Those who did not grow up here are labelled "no brands" and are automaticaly assumed to be robbers or police.
When a Washington Post photographer drove into the circle on Saturday, he was chased out by teeenagers hurling bricks and bottles at his car.
For a year now, "kneecapping" has been one of the forms of retaliation against both outsiders and those from within who threaten the order of the circle. Most shots have missed, but no one seems to know how or why the practice got started. The notorious Red Brigade in Italy has used that method to terrorize authorities there, but no one interviewed around Condon Terrace had ever heard of the Red Brigade.
When a special police tactical squad disbanded last May after five months at Condon Terrace, both police and some residents thought the area had been brought under control. The open drug selling around the circle did taper off for awhile. But police now say they believe it simply moved inside to apartments nearby. By year's end, however, open drug trade around the circle, and the violence it inevitably brings, had returned -- full bloom.
Two weeks ago, a day laborer on his way to work about 8 in the morning spotted the body of Earl Matthews, 30, sprawled between two cars parked just outside the circle.
Matthews, a "no brand" from 606 Emanuel Ct. NW, on the other side of the Anacostia River, had three bullets in his head. It was proof, if anybody still needed it, that Condon Terrace is still the baddest street in town.
"Don't go up there at night," Nan Huhn, a D.C. Corporation Counsel lawyer who handles cases of juveniles arrested at Condon Terrace, warned on Friday.
Said Lee Holdsworth, one of the eight detective assigned to the cirle squad, "We ought to be called the Anacostia County Sheriff's Office."
Holdsworth, like every other man on the squad, was injured while working cases in that area. Some sprained ankles chasing drug salesmen; others were hit with bricks.They, too, became casualties of Condon Terrace.
"The setup is ideal for the dopeys," said Detective E. A. Gateway. "We've had to resort to some unorthodox methods just to keep an eye on them."
Occassionally, police attempted to quietly block off Condon Terrace, then quickly send in an unmarked car filled with five or six undercover detectives who jump out and chase the youths into the arms of waiting policemen.
Most youths, however, simply disappeared into the apartment houses of friends, who were sometimes paid to keep a door unlocked. Some would pull out guns and fire at policemen from inside the buildings or shoot while escaping along a preplanned route.
"That was no fun," said Detective Dave Hayes, whose wrist is still sore from a fall he took dodging bullets on a chase through Condon Terrace. Hayes' unit became laughingly known among the youths as "The Jump Out Squad."
Condon Terrace Circle, a bare spot of land void of statues or park benches, is on a peak in a hilly region of the southeastern edge of the city that is known as the Washington Highlands. From some hills, it is possible to look west across the river and see the dome of the Capitol. Southern Avenue, which divides the city and Prince George's County, is a few blocks to the east.
The dark brown and buff beige colored apartment buildings of Condon Terrace are home for women trying to bring up children on a welfare check and families struggling on a domestic's or laborer's small salary. There are many unemployed youths.
Teen-agers who grow up here pay respect to a code of the streets. They divide the world sharply: There are the people who prevail and there are their victims -- the "thoroughs" and the "punks," in the language of Condon Terrace.
Children in the area go to three schools -- Simons Elementary, Hart Junior High and Ballow Senior High. They are situated around the circle in a loop-like formation. The child who finishes all three is said around the circle to have "made the loop." Few do.
"I'm just so afraid for myself and my children," said one woman in her 50s who has two junior high school age children. "But it's not the type of fear that makes you feel like running. It's being afraid that your child will get swept up in all of this.
"Most of the youngsters involved live in the area.It's mainly their parents' fault because they let the kids sell dope, then ask them for some of the money. It just seems to be a feather in the kids' cap to say they sell dope off the circle."
Willie Mae Hunter and her daughter and five boys have lived around the circle for 15 years. Her oldest son made it out. He joined the Army. Mrs. Hunter took her two youngest children, a girl, 14, and a boy, 10, out of public school and enrolled them in a nearby Catholic school in hopes that they would stay out of trouble.
She has been less successful with the three middle boys. All three of them dropped out of Ballou High before graduating.
One of the three robbed a bank and is now serving time at a prison in Kentucky. The other two, Willie, 22, and Mike, 17, known by neighbors as "Poogey" and "Eel," drifted into the world of dope and violence on Condon Circle.
They were still teen-agers when they exchanged their Daisy Bullseye BB shooters for chrome-plated handguns with teak wood grips and went looking for a piece of the circle pie.
Now they are both in D.C. jail, awaiting sentencing for the murder of Michael Bottoms, one of five persons killed around the circle.
"i would just like to say that it seems like there are parts of Washington where more things happen than in others," Mrs. Hunter said. "I wish I was back in the country because that's where I was raised. It's just too difficult to raise children these days.
"Some people are easily led," she continued. "In an area like this, you have to be real strong to fight it. You need a real strong constitution."
Rows of rectangular apartment houses ripple down from Condon Circle in ever-widening concentric circles separatged by alleys and a maze of well-worn footpaths. In the shadows of night, space and time change, and Condon Terrace becomes a different world. From the circle, a marijuana seller can see clearly any car approaching from either entrance to the area.
A bitter wind whips through Condon Circle and the lips of the drug peddlers turn white from the cold. They operate in pairs nowadays -- one to hold the drugs, the other to hold the money and usually a gun.
"It's a tough life," said one young man. Call him Bill. In his mid-20s he had been trained as a plasterer and an electrician, but has spent the last 10 years on the circle, fighting off upstart teen-agers looking for a spot on his turf, and robbers who drive in from other parts of town.
"I've been beat up. Just the other night this kid comes up to me and puts a gun in my face. They always trying to test you. See if you're 'thorough'," Bill said. "Mainly, what I enjoy about it is being of service to somebody. A guy drives up and says, 'All I got is a $5, man.' I say, 'No sweat. I can help you.' 'Now that makes me feel good."
Later that night, in his modest apartment, decorated with discount designer furniture, Bill spoon-fed his baby daughter while attempting to calculate his earnings for the week.
"Let's see, I guess I make about $20 a day. If I really hustled I could turn $50. But this is not what I really want to do. I want a real job, but you know how it goes. You can't get in the unions. I want to be an electrician. That's what I learned. But my boys who have tried, too, tell me that's the most racist union of them all."
Back out on the circle, Bill coolly stood his ground. His partner, who had shied away from interviews, took his lookout position near the entrance to the circle and signaled to Bill that the coast was clear.
Other youths continued to hawk their goods at other points around the circle. Working with the confidence of Dale Carnegie graduates, they stepped in front of moving cars, singing their refrain, "Gold, gold. Got that gold," referring to a particularly hard to come by, high-quality brand of marijuana known as Acapulco Gold.
"Some people out here sell plain old leaves from their backyard," Bill was saying when a long, Lincoln Continental squeezed into the circle, and for no obvious reason, came to a halt at his stand. A power controlled, tinted window glided a quarter of the way down.
"Anything happening?" a young woman seated on the passenger side asked Bill. He stared off in space, not inside the car. "I got nickles, dimes. Anything you want," he said politely.
A $10 bill was thrust at him and from his pockets he pulled out two tiny manila envelopes. "Enjoy," he told the woman as the car rolled away.
When the next car pulled into the circle, it was headed off by another pair of youths, who were promising a better deal.
"Get more for your money," one youth yelled into the passenger side of the car. His partner was working the driver, "We got the fattest bags. Get your fat bags right here."
Bill casually took a seat on the curb and pretended to ignore the youths who, in the jargon of Condon Terrace, were "blocking up the hole" by heading off traffic.
"I can look in their eyes and see they don't have no heart," Bill said confidently. "They just think they're bad, but I know they won't mess with me." He made a fist with the bandaged hand that was smashed when he was attacked by youths wielding baseball bats a few nights before.
"It does get dangerous out here, yeah," Bill said. "The circle gets too crowded and it sparks off. But you just have to keep your eyes open. That's my game: watching and waiting. The way I figure, if you do it long enough, something's got to give."
Meanwhile, Bill says his name is on a list of day laborers to be called by area contractors when work is available. Lately, however, he finds himself heading for the circle more than a regular job.
"I like to work," Bill said. "And I'll take it where I find it. I tell my supplier that I'm not taking no flat bags to sell up there on the circle or else the competition will make me look like a fool. I have a standard of excellence, too," he said, kissing the tips of his thumb and forefinger as if he were an Italian chef. I want to be known as THE fat bag man." CAPTION: Picture 1. Condon Terrace Circle: At night, drug peddlers take over this street, working in pairs, and usually armed with guns. "We hear gunshots all times of day and night out here," one woman said.
By James A. Parcell -- The Washington Post; Map. no caption, The Washington Post; Picture 2, Youths on Condon Terrace move up the street when they see a newspaper photographer approaching them.
By James A. Parcell -- The Washington Post