Each morning Chris steps outside her apartment and wonders if it will happen again. Will she be attacked? Will this be another day like the one when she was accosted at knifepoint in broad daylight, sitting in her car three blocks from the Capitol, in a neighborhood where congressmen live and town houses can cost $175,000 or more?
Abrahamn Yonteff, age 91, is afraid to leave his apartment complex unless he's with someone who can protect him from what he calls the "human animals that roam Washington streets." Yonteff, a retired mapmaker, was robbed near Thomas Circle one morning, while walking home from the store.
George Broadus isn't afraid. He'll carry a gun if he has to. It's hatred that has scarred Broadus, hatred for an armed robber police believe to be 18-year-old Elton Smith. Broadus, a tough-talking, 54-year-old ex-convict and recovering drug addict, was kicked and robbed one night inside the Northeast Washington tourist home that he manages. Smith denies taking part in the robbery.
Chris, Yonteff and Broadus are three of the more than 8,000 persons robbed in the Washington area during the past year. An ailing economy, unemployment and an increase in drug traffic here are being blamed for a recent and, police say, alarming jump in robberies. During July, August and September, robberies have more than doubled from what they were during the same three months the year before.
Black-on-white crime is a silent issue in Washington, contributing quietly but significantly, some feel, to frayed race relations in the nation's capital.
Yet for an increasing number of Washingtonians, crime itself has become the issue. The Dec. 5 slaying of Michael Halberstam, a white physician, by a burglar who police claim was Bernard C. Welch, a white escaped convict and career criminal, brought forth an enormous public concern on the part of blacks and whites about crime and handgun control.
And long before Halberstram's death outside his expensive Northwest Washington town house, many blacks throughout the city had become outraged by the increase in crime in the District of Columbia because in most cases they are the victims.
Police statistics indicate that last year alone, 60 percent of all robberies in Washington involved blacks robbing other blacks, while only 38 percent were instances of black-on-white crime. The population of Washington is 76 percent black.
Statistics may shock, but numbers can not convey the human side of robbery. The victims do that easily, for robbery is a terrifying crime.
It's not like a burglary, where the victim comes home and discovers his house ransacked, his privacy violated, his valuables gone. Robbery is face-to-face confrontation, and robbers can strike any time and anywhere, at anyone.
Chris, an executive secretary who has worked at the White House and for two U.S. senators, was an unsuspecting victim.
"It happened while I was sitting in my car, waiting for a friend who was buying some last-minute picnic supplies," says Chris. Suddenly, she recalls, a hand grabbed her arm. A knife blade flashed before her eyes -- its tip stopping near her left breast.
"Gimme your purse! Now!" a voice boomed.
"No," Chris said, replying so quickly that her own words surprised her. The man lifted the knife to her face.
"Don't cause trouble, lady, just hand over the wallet."
"All I could think about was how much trouble it would be losing my address book, getting new credit cards. I don't know why I wasn't more afraid," Chris remembers.
She bent down to get her purse and then suddenly lunged to the passenger side of her Fiat, stradding the gear shift knob, screaming as she pushed open the car door and tumbled outside.
Her attacker jumped inside the car, where the keys still dangled from the steering column. He escaped in her car.
"Look," Chris says, lifting her thin left hand. "I'm not the kind who shows emotion, but look at my hand trembling."
"It happens, sometimes every day," she continues. "How long -- how long am I going to be like that?"
She pauses, glances down at her gold chain necklace and begins rolling it between two fingers.
"I was so angry, " she says slowly. "Why did it happen to me? What gave that man the right to take my property? To do this to me?"
She became paranoid, she says. She quit riding the bus to work because she was afraid she might bump into her attacker, who was black. She is white.
"It seemed like every black on the bus was watching me," she says. "When I see blacks I'm afraid. I was in the grocery store and four or five black kids were running up and down the aisles. I know they were stealing stuff."
She stops suddenly, her face reddening. She runs her hand through here brown hair. In her mid-30s, Chris grew up in a small Pennsylvania town "where people don't even lock their doors at night."
"I didn't mean that like it sounded. I mean, it's just, well, I know there are a lot of good blacks, fine people, but he, he was black, you know. He was black."
The first hassle was changing the locks at her apartment. He had her keys so she replaced all the locks. It cost $62. Then the police interviews began.
"They kept talking about a man who had been robbing people in our area. The more they talked, the more the guy sounded like the man who attacked me. I was confused. Now, I can't remember what he looks like -- only what he wore."
She has a police drawing of him. Sometimes she looks at it, but not often.
"I want him caught and punished, but I don't want him caught because I'll have to go through it all again," she says. "It's so frustrating."
Police recovered her car a week after it was taken. It had been abandoned after a high-speech chase that followed the robbery of a Safeway store. Chris is still paying car repair bills.
"I washed and vacuumed that car over and over," she says."But it's not the same. The day he pulled that knife on me there was a case in the back seat with beer, food and my bathing suit. All that stuff was gone except for the bathing suit. He had stuck it in the trunk. I threw it away.
"Who knows what he had done to it." The Prisoner
"Us old people," says Abraham Yonteff, jabbing a wrinkled, stubby finger in the air as he talks, "we're duck soup. Whenever anyone wants to assault us, they just walk up and demand our money. What's an old man to do?"
Yonteff has been robbed four times. The last time he was walking to his apartment at 1301 Vermont Avenue NW, when two men stepped in front of him and demanded his billfold. Before he could hand it over, one of the men hit Yonteff. He fell, breaking his shoulder. They took his wallet while Yonteff lay sobbing on the sidewalk unable to move.
After that attack, Yonteff's family moved him to the once stately Roosevelt for Senior Citizens on 16th Street NW, just south of Meridian Hill Park.
"I used to have a routine. I could walk to the Safeway and shop.I could eat with my friends at Sholl's," Yonteff says. "But here, everywhere I look, old people, old people who are dying, people outside the scope of living.
"Those men, those robbers, they took more than my few dollars. They took my life. They made me a prisoner." The Avenger
"An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth," growls George Broadus, making a fist with his huge right hand. "I'd like to hurt those dudes who did this."
When he first saw them standing on the porch of the tourist home he manages, Broadus was suspicious. Why would two men, without any women, want to pay $7 for two hours in a room upstairs?
"They said the girls were coming," recalls Broadus. "When I shut the door behind them, they put a gun in my face."
"This is a stick-up, old man! Hit the floor!" he recalled the gunman demanding.
They tied Broadus with a cord they cut from his television and alarm clock. "Where's your gun, man?"
"Police took it away a few months ago," Broadus replied. The gunman kicked him.
"Lying mother ------."
They stuck a dirty towel in his mouth and threw a blanket over him. A few minutes later, Broadus heard a shot and a scream. Something heavy hit him. Then silence. Broadus got the cord off his hands and slowly peeked from behind the blanket. The body of his best friend, who had just happened to stop by during the robbery, was next to him.
Broadus wiped the vomit and blood from his friend's mouth so he could breathe and began looking for something to stop the bleeding. That's when he saw his buddy's girlfriend sitting on the floor in the corner naked from the waist down. She was in shock. They had tried to rape her, but failed.
Broadus started for the pay phone near the front door and then stopped. They had taken his cash. He didn't have 15 cents to make a phone call. Rushing to the kitchen, he held a rag under the ice cold water. He put the rag on the woman's face and shook her. Only when he moved the cold rag toward her legs did she respond.
"You got to take care of your man," Broadus stammered, ordering her to pull on her denim jeans. "You got to flag someone down outside. Get help," he said, pushing her toward the door.
Four cars on Eastern Avenue wouldn't stop. The fifth one did. The driver called the police.
His friend lived.
Broadus understands his attacker. "I can tell you why he did it, you dig. Hell, man, I know why. I've been on the streets all my life," he says. He speaks slowly, perched on a couch with a torn cover in a dingy room.
"The reason kids turn to crime is racism, racism that started 400 years ago but that we is still paying for right now," says Broadus. "When whites started putting down blacks they created a duo-society. That's what we got now. It ain't right, but that's the way it is."
Broadus himself turned to crime 29 years ago, dealing in drugs, getting busted and ultimately spending 20 years in jail. There were no jobs for young blacks then, he says, as there are few jobs now. He has been out of jail for eight years, is fighting off his heroin habit with the help of methadone and trying to eke out a living. He understands people like his attacker because he's been there.
"But just 'cause I understand," booms Broadus, waving his arms, "it don't mean I forgive. They're monsters, man."
"Look around here. Anybody who's got eyes knows this place ain't doing well. They done killed my business.
"Before, I was just making it, trying to keep straight. Now, everyone's afraid to come here. I see them at the store and they say, 'Hey man, you got a bad place. People die at your place.I can't come there no more.' I ain't paid my rent last month and I ain't paying it this month and I ain't got no heating oil in my fuel tank."
Drained of his sympathy by life's realities, Broadus is left, like many crime victims, bewildered, searching for an answer and finding only a personal solution.
"I hadn't done nothing to those guys, but they kicked me and shot my friends." Broadus shakes his head.
"I know whey they did me," says Broadus. "They figured an ex-con, he won't call the police. Who they gonna believe? A man with my record?"
"That ain't right, man, hitting folks who is down, ain't right at all. Next time, I'm gonna get me a gun."