Tarika Brown, 11, twirling her baton as she walked from her house on S Street NW, to her cousin's house, stopped suddenly.
"See," she said, pointing with the toe of one tennis shoe to a bloody hypodermic needle. "Needles are everywhere. Sometimes they are on the playground. My cousin started to pick one up, but I told her to put it down because it might be poisonous.
"Yesterday, I saw a bunch of pills on the ground and I stopped just to crush them up," she said.
Although the 900 block of S Street NW in Shaw, where Tarika lives, is a street lined with well-kept row houses and tiny, neat yards, it is a few blocks from 7th and T streets, a notorious corner where junkies and drug dealers meet daily.
Sometimes, while Tarika and her friends sleep at night, the addicts move to the small city playground on her block. Under cover of darkness they tie their arms tight with belts, fill syringes with new purchases of heroin and inject the dope into their veins.
In their haste to leave, the junkies toss their needles and drop their pills in the sand where Tarika and her friends will play the next day.
For the children in Shaw the walk to school, to the playground, to the corner store, means seeing addicts nodding on corners, witnessing drug sales or stepping across the debris of drug-infested lives.
"Sometimes junkies be sticking their needles in the water fountain . . . to get the blood out. Sometimes they chase us with their needles," said Antoine Barner, 8, between basketball games at Harrison playground. The playground, at 13th and V streets NW, is near another well-known drug corner, 14th and W streets.
"The people on 14th Street are trying to sell dope," he explained. "All they're doing is trying to get money. Two of my uncles were doing it. They're in jail now. They have been in jail a long, long time.
"Sometimes people put sugar in the dope," he continued. "Sometimes they put flour in it. We find a whole bunch of needles all the time over there behind the blue wall." He pointed to a wall surrounding the former Children's Hospital, now a dilapidated vacant brick building across the street from the playground where he and his friends play each afternoon.
Shaw, a neighborhood just north of downtown that has some of the city's toughest streets, once was the home of most of black Washington. Doctors, teachers and other professionals lived near hangouts frequented by junkies and prostitutes, yet the two communities seldom bothered each other.
The 1968 riots, some of which occurred in the center of Shaw, accelerated middle-class flight to other parts of the city and the suburbs. Families that have remained and gentrifying newcomers struggle to survive in a neighborhood ravaged by street crime. The drug traffic, once subtle and underground, thrives openly. Instead of eliminating the drug culture, residents say, police simply move the junkies and pushers from one corner to another.
No one seems to know the long-term effects of such an environment on children. But parents, teachers and counselors in Shaw say they bombard their children with antidrug information in an attempt to steer them from what they see.
"We're producing potential addicts," warned Ron Clark, director of Rap Inc., a drug education and rehabilitation program in Shaw.
"Children learn through imitating the behavior of adults," he said. "We've had . . . people tell us of kids tying something on the arm of a doll and trying to stick a pencil in the doll's arm. The information we have is that these children are more likely to become involved in drugs . . . .
"They know what drugs are and some of the language, words like 'nodding.' They are totally aware of what goes on. What you end up with is adults who have already been predisposed to a drug environment."
But the parents, teachers and children of Shaw disagree with Clark. They say the children are less likely to become addicts because they are forced to stare the drug horror in the face.
"They can see the results in some of their families and in the apartments where they live," said John B. Sparrow, principal at Harrison Elementary School, 13th and V streets NW, where Antoine goes to school. "They are totally against drugs."
Echoing his words, Tyronetta Penny, 8, said from her swing at Harrison, "I saw a lady one day and she was talking to an imaginary friend. I knew she was taking drugs and I knew not to mess with it."
"I don't like dope people," said Shawn Lesene, 9, sitting on a playground bench nearby. "Once a guy tried to stick me while I was here. We run up the trees and get on the roof when they do that. As soon as they leave, we jump down."
For parents, many of whom are single mothers, the watchword is vigilance. "I don't allow Antoine to walk past that corner at 14th and W, no kinda way," said his mother Alfreda Manigan. "To get to the other side he has to walk down 13th Street to V and out V to 14th -- and then with an older person."
"People ask me why I don't move. That's not the question. To me the question is, why isn't the community better than it is?" she said.
"It really is harder to raise children here," said Annie Lee Duckett, the mother of Artiz "Duck" Duckett, 11. "I tell Artiz to be careful. I tell him to always let me or his older sister know where he is. But you can't follow your children around 24 hours a day."
At Cleveland Elementary School, 8th and T streets NW, one block from the drug market at 7th and T streets, antidrug programs are held twice a month. The new principal, Earle Bannister, said he has found "children enjoy the programs on drugs because it gives them a chance to talk about something they know.
"They are more knowledgeable than I am on the preparation of drugs, where to get it, and who to buy it from," said Bannister. "I thought the drug dealer had to come in a Seville and hand out drugs to people to sell. The children knew that people who came to deal drugs came on bicycles. I asked, 'Why?' They said, 'Because they can go down alleys quick and they can get off and run if they have to.' "
He added, "These children are less vulnerable -- in some ways -- than a child from the suburbs. They've learned to negotiate the streets . . . .
"They don't respond to strangers," he said. "I go down the street and honk my horn at them and they don't respond unless I call them by name.
"Our goal is to see that the kids don't look at the drug dealer as a cool, hip person who wears the latest clothes."
David Branch, until recently the playground supervisor at Harrison, was one of the children's protectors.
"I don't allow any of the corner people on the grounds," he said. He had the high bushes at the playground trimmed and the panels in front of bathroom doors removed because they provided hiding places for junkies and pushers.
"It's the ones not from the neighborhood that come because they don't know the rules" about staying off the playground, Branch said. He went to work at another playground recently because he was "too old and tired" to contend with Harrison.
"I've caught them shooting up on the playground," he said. "Monday mornings and summers is when we have a needle problem. We pick up a dozen or two dozen needles daily . . . . Most of them come on the grounds because they need water.
"These kids see all of this," said Branch. "They know more than most adults. It's everyday life for them."
Shaw residents hope that city-sponsored redevelopment will help remove the drug dealers. But construction of the city's $38 million municipal center at 14th and U streets, once the city's best-known drug corner, has simply moved the trafficking to other corners nearby.
The city recently agreed to help finance a deal under which developer Jeffrey Cohen is supposed to redevelop the old Children's Hospital site and five other properties he formerly owned in Shaw.
To some residents, the new city building and the development plans are like pieces of fruit dangled in front of hungry people too weak to reach for it.
"Most of us are hoarse from talking about this," said J. Tony Jones, chairman of the drug and crime committee of the Advisory Neighborhood Commission that encompasses much of Shaw. "We have seen it all . . . a 13-year-old arrested for holding drugs, younger kids on Big Wheels being trampled by drug dealers running from police."
While community leaders have for years sought help in combatting the drugs and street crime around them, change, if it does come, it will be the result of cold, hard economics.
"I have a problem when a building takes place over residents who have cried and screamed for at least six years," said Jones. "To see a brick building come up and make things different when people have suffered for years, hurts. It really hurts."
Meanwhile, Donnell Wyder, 11, a Cleveland Elementary sixth grader, threads his way through the drug traffickers.
"I try to walk around them," said Donnell, referring to the junkies and pushers near his house on S Street NW. "I don't know if they'll try to attack me or what . . . . It's the way they look at you.
"When we're playing, we see the dope dealers running and we go to the other side of the street. They leave a lot of their trash behind -- dirty needles and packages. I want them out of my neighborhood, because they're messing it up."