1800 block of Corcoran Street NW 7:25 p.m. -- Man threatens to kill a woman, then robs her; 14th and R streets NW, 3 a.m. Man with a rifle robs a cabdriver.
I am walking home alone, heading west on M Street to my apartment at 14th and Corcoran streets at 2 a.m. A crowd of people, including several transvestites, is massing ahead of me. Two men are prepared to fight and the crowd wants blood. A fat man dressed as a woman yells: "This is the Thunderdome. Two enter. One must die."
My apartment is three blocks away. I realize that these bizarre people are actually my neighbors. I spend the rest of my walk home looking to see if I am being followed.
1800 block T Street NW, 10:10 p.m. -- Two men rob a female pedestrian at gunpoint; 1800 block R Street NW two assailants throw a man to the ground and steal his cash and credit cards . . . .
My neighborhood is in D.C.'s third police district. More crimes against people occur here than in any other part of the city. There were 39 murders in 1984; 1,205 robberies; 1,714 burglaries; 858 aggravated assaults; 46 rapes; 4,701 larcenies.
It is also an area of sweeping change. Cabdrivers once refused to go to Corcoran Street. Now, the houses have been exquisitely restored. Young and successful black and white people live there. A smattering of expensive autos are now parked on a street where stolen cars were once stripped and drugs sold openly. Now, like a tide that moves in years but never ebbs, the regentrification moves inexorably east. It confronts crime so entrenched that nothing has been able to remove it. It simply moves when police make a show of force and then it moves back in again.
There are constant reminders of potential crime, along with the attempt to carry on as normally as possible while acknowledging the dangers.
Signs in the lobby of a 14th Street building where drama classes are held warn: "Always leave in pairs" and "If you can't legally park nearby, park illegally."
A Korean couple, robbed twice at gunpoint at their 14th-and-R-Street grocery and liquor store, block off the groceries behind thick plastic walls. Only the trusted are allowed behind the barrier. Groceries are handed through a small revolving door to everyone else.
New Hampshire Avenue and R Street NW -- Five men surround a pedestrian, kick him to the ground and steal his wallet; 13th Street NW, 1:15 a.m. -- A group tries to sell drugs to a pedestrian, beat him up when he refuses to buy and then steal his wallet.
"I never really thought about it being dangerous before," says a female attorney who has lived on Corcoran Street for two years. "Then I heard about an attempted rape right on my street corner. If I go anywhere alone at night, I take cabs now."
"You can't just stop living because there is crime in the area. But when I go out late at night, I ask myself: 'What am I wearing that might make me a target?' I just don't wear . . . anything else that implies I have money," says a Church Street resident.
An intrepid group of Logan Circle residents has vowed to run crime out of the area. The D.C. police have instituted their SOAP program (Stay Out of Areas of Prostitution) by cordoning off streets in the area and shutting the traffic down. Both have admirable goals, but I wonder whether the crime is not just as resilient as the huge roaches that still take over those streets at night, regardless of whether the homes are old and dilapidated or expensively restored.
One night before police blocked off access to Logan Circle, there had been six prostitutes on the corner of my street. On the following night, when the police barricades were gone, there were ten.
I do not trust anyone I pass on the street at night now, no matter how innocent or respectable-appearing. Every so often, I stop and scan the shadows around me for movement. I cross the street and stop whenever I have heard footsteps behind me for too long. Every time I realize that I have not enjoyed the cool night air nor marveled at a full moon, I know that one does not have to be robbed at gunpoint to be a victim of crime.