Live from 14th Street NW last Saturday night -- the local strip where prostitutes and drugs were readily available:
The vice subculture is thriving, according to six reporters who spent Saturday night cruising the 20-block strip from 14th and K streets downtown up to the heavy marijuana and heroin traffic of 14th and Chapin streets.
However, where hundreds would have been roaming the strip at this time last year, there now are only a few dozen -- a result attributable to the police crackdown ordered by Mayor Marion Barry last summer, police, prostitutes and drug users all agree.
For years, 14th Street had been Washington's marketplace of vice, where drugs were purchased openly on the street, where prostitutes boldly ran out into traffic to ply their trade.
Homeowners and others who live along the street say that there is still a long way to go before the street regains the popularity as a viable center for commerce it enjoyed before the 1968 riots. Unemployed youths still hang out on corners all along the street, mingling with the prostitutes and con men, who cling to their turf despite the concentrated efforts of police to put them out of business.
On Saturday night, the six reporters were dispatched to various corners along 14th Street to observe developments during the course of a night.
They found the street to be like a river with its own mysterious undercurrents and a uniquely urban ebb and flow.
It was 11:20 p.m. when the six churchgoers from Alexandria -- three white women and three white men -- arrived at 14th and K streets NW, singing their praises to the Lord and telling the crowd to repent.
Less than 20 feet away, 12 prostitutes lined the sidewalk near a McDonald's.
"What does 14th Street need?" shouted Phil Sonders, the church group's leader. "Jesus," the five other replied. "Jesus, Jesus . . ."
The prostitutes continued to hawk their wares. "You want a date?" shouted a black-haired, stately woman in a short brown skirt with slits up to her thighs.
A man in a white car with Virginia license plates shook his head from side to side and drove off. The prostitute stepped back. "Why don't you people find another corner," she yelled to the church group.
Undaunted, Sonders led the group in a cheer.
"Give me a J," he screamed.
"J," they shouted back.
"Give me an E."
"Give me an S."
"Give me a U."
"Give me an S."
"What do you have?"
"What do you have?"
"What does 14th Street need?"
"What does 14th Street need?"
At 14th Street and Rhode Island Avenue, two women are putting handcuffs on a somber looking, mustachioed young man who did not realize the women he had just tried to solicit carried a police badge.
He said nothing as uniformed policemen arrived and carried him away. "Most of them don't say anything. They're too shocked," said one of the policewomen.
Moments after they are gone a cluster of women try to stop passing cars. "Eeeaaay," yells a hefty woman in a Navy coat, waving at would-be customers who glance at her and drive on.
She says she is 23 years old, but she looks 40. Deep red lipstick highlights her face. There are hazards in the business, she says, like customers who don't want to pay. There's a solution for that. She reaches into her tiny pocketbook and pulls out a folding knife with a four-inch blade. "It's called a buck," she said. "I can use it, too. I can be just as nasty as they can."
A woman police officer reflects on a year along the street: "Nothing is bizarre any more."
Farther up the street, a small, curly haired brunette with a forlorn expression is led from her basement apartment by police officers.
She had been hit over the head by a youth wielding a stick who had knocked on her door. Within minutes, the youth would strike around the corner -- bashing another victim before vanishing into the maze of streets and alleys on this Saturday night.
It is midnight. A human time bomb in the form of 300 restless, angry teenagers is about to go off at the Howard Theater on T Street near Georgia Avenue. The youths are surging forward, trying to press their way into a packed concert.
"Get back! Get back!" screams a special police officer as he paces widly in front of the crowd.
Sgt. Albert Skoloda calmly wades through the sea of noisy youths to talk with the special officer. "Last week he (the special officer) got hurt," Skoloda later says of the special officer. "They hit him in the chest with a brick. I didn't think he'd be back. He's all emotional."
Three men in blue pin-tripped suits walk down K Street, checking out the wares. They are stopped by a woman in red, skin-tight pants and a light-colored fur coat.
"How much?" one asks.
"How much can you afford?" she replies.
They stop and talk. She walks off with them and they hail a cab at Vermont and K streets NW.
"The miniumum is $40," Angie tells a reporter at 15th and L streets.
"What do you get for $40?" the reporter inquired.
"As little as possible."
Farther along, at 14th and Rhode Island, another prostitute stands in the harshness of the street lamps, which add 10 years to her face -- already expressionless and ashen from the cold. She has been standing there for two hous and nothing has happened to her.
"I only work on weekends," she says, thrusting her ungloved hands deeper into the pockets of a thin, cheap leather coat to ward off the 40-degree chill. "I got two kids at home who need me to look after them the rest of the time."
She looks evenly into a stranger's eyes and says she would not be shocked , 10 years from now, if one of her children was standing on the same corner. "No, if she had to do it for her family it wouldn't brother me. Home is what's important."
On the same corner, a bus bound for Maryland pulls up and Deborah runs into the intersection, screaming for the driver to stop. The doors open as she waves to him.
"Hey, sweetie, when?"
He hold up two fingers.
"Two? Two-thirty," she yells back.
The traffic light is green but she is oblivious to the fact. The driver nods, the doors close and he drives off into the night.
"He'll be back at 2:30, Deborah says, smoothing the legs of her stretch pants.
Friday nights the local "clubs" along 14th street are jumping, people boogying, having parties. It's hectic, police Sgt. Alfred Mays says. But tonight, Saturday, they remember "they have to get up and go to church in the morning."
So tonight the streets are simmering, on low.
At 14th street and Rhode Island Ave. NE ladies of the night in skintight pants and skirts watch as two undercover policewomen handcuff a "john" they have arrested.
Up along the strip, the older prostitutes -- "the strugglers" -- dance against the chill air. Last among the uptown group are the "he-shes," homosexual hustlers in women's clothing who stare expectantly at the steam of passing cars.
The 14th Street clubs -- Warren's Dixies, Flame -- are buzzing with customers. On U Street, between 14th and 15th the green-and-white neon sign of the Republic illuminates the drug crowd and neighborhood regulars who line the street and stairway to the club. Inside the greasy spoon bar reeking of insecticide, a crowd of people sit watching television and sipping drinks.
The police statistics for Saturday night and early Sunday reflect the street's activities: 10 arrested. The charges, soliciting prostitution, keeping and selling liquor without a license, simple assault, pedestrian violations. Two Baltimore men, five from Northwest Washington, two from Southeast, one from Northwest.
Under, a streetlamp on Chapin Street, just off 14th , the curb-side pharmacy is open for business. Although the District of Columbia has assigned Police Special Operations Division units to patrol the area in a show of force they hope will cut down on drug traffic there, it continues to flourish nearly full-tilt.
Users and hangers-on laze on porch stoops, dealers work the streets, hopping in front of cars to sell marijuana, heroin and speed. Often traffic halts on the narrow, hilly street, while little glassine envelopes are passed through car windows in return for cash.
One man, in his early 20s, takes a hit from a joint and explains through bloodshot eyes:
"You can get what you need here, man," he says, "and the police can't do nothing about it . . . If they lock me up they know I'll be back on the street in a few hours. And if they go and lock me up they have to lock up the other 50 dealers out here on the block. It's too much work for them so they just leave us be."
It is 14th and Rhode Island and the hours are dragging. None of the girls has gone off for more than three "dates." They're angry. Business is slow, they say, because of the female police decoys who arrest prospective customers.
A blue van pulls up and Sharon, one of the prostitutes, calls out, "hey, sweetie," and races down the street. Seconds later, Sharon comes back frowning and laughing all at once.
"I almost got in the car with a cop," she shrieks. The big question now is why she wasn't arrested.
"He said he had $10 and I said, 'Well, let me get in.' He said, 'You wouldn't want to get in,' and showed me his revolver and his ID. Well, I had to laugh, A cop."
They giggle like school girls.
"Well," Sharon says philosophically "At least he was nice about it."
Sgt. Skoloda cruises along U Street. At the corner of 14th, a strung-out addict weaves dangerously on his feet while trying to put on a brown wool glove. Halfway through the painstaking exercise he pulls off the glove and begins again.
The cruiser turns onto 44th street and is hailed by a pedestrain at Chapin.
"Hey, if a dude pulls a gun on you can you file a complaint?" a man asks.
"Well, this dude pulled a gun on me."
In an apartment building at Girard and 14th streets, Skoloda confronts the suspect and four other people inside a first-floor apartment. A back-up officer is taking a statement outside on the street.
"I ain't got no gun. He went out there and told that lie."
As the conversation progresses the residents of the apartment get louder and the officer speaks more calmly.
"The only thing he was trying to do is protect his apartment. If you can't protect your apartment you can't do nothing," one resident said.
The officer advised the suspect to turn the gun over to the police. Later he told the complainant that he could not search the apartment without a search warrant.
"Let's just forget it. Pretend like it's a dream," the man said, his voice brimming with anger. "There's no justice up here. But I know the next time a dude pulls a gun on me there's going to be some [trouble]."
One thing is clear from a drive along the Strip on a Saturday night. The number of drug people and prostitutes -- in the hundreds until last summer -- can now be counted in the dozens. Along many blocks, there is little street life. At 10:30 p.m. 14th and T is deserted at all four corners. Once, it bustled with drug dealers and junkies.