In LeDroit Park, parents have seen sons gunned down near their doorsteps or arrested for killing their neighbors' children. They say violence, mostly drug-driven, has left 15 people dead this year and dozens more injured, transforming once-quiet streets into battle zones for gangs.
Once a haven for the black middle class, the community of brick mansions, row houses and some public housing just south of Howard University now hears gunfire several times a week. Community leaders have met twice in the last week to urge police to close crack houses and shut down street corner drug sales. The D.C. homicide squad and federal agents, meanwhile, have moved to halt what detectives describe as a lethal chain reaction among drug gang members.
Police say several drug gangs operate in LeDroit Park and the adjacent Bloomingdale area, selling crack cocaine and settling disagreements with high-powered weapons. Residents complain that crack houses operate in the 300 blocks of T and U streets. They say drug dealers sell openly only yards from the front door of Jesse L. Jackson, whose wife, Jacqueline, witnessed the killing of a man in May and was nearby when three young men were killed as they drove through LeDroit Park on Nov. 3.
Yesterday, two LeDroit Park area men were arrested and charged with the Oct. 6 slaying of a police drug informer on the eastern edge of the neighborhood. Police said the men, Antone Richard White, 20, of the 1900 block of First Street NW, and Ronald Hughes, 19, of the unit block of V Street NW, also were wanted for questioning in connection with the Nov. 3 slaying, just a few blocks west. White also was wanted on an outstanding bench warrant for cocaine distribution.
Both have been charged with first-degree murder in the killing of Arvell "Pork Chop" Williams, 24. Police sources said Williams was shot as he attempted to set up a meeting between White and an undercover police officer.
On Nov. 3, three men who police had been seeking for questioning in connection with the Williams slaying were killed as they drove through LeDroit Park. The three were suspected drug dealers who may have witnessed or had information about the killing of the informer, police said.
Two neighborhood teenagers have been arrested and charged with the triple slaying.
Police sources said officers from the 3rd District and the Narcotics and Special Investigations Division had been involved in an undercover operation on a drug gang known as the First Street Crew. Williams, who was familiar with the gang's activities, had agreed to help police set up an undercover buy with White, sources said. Police hoped to arrest White, who they believe is the head of the gang, and charge him with drug distribution and drug conspiracy in connection with gang activities.
About 5 p.m. on Oct. 6, Williams had set up a meeting with White in the 1800 block of Second Street NW, police said. Williams was shot more than 20 times as he sat in a car in the block.
Police were searching for Richard L. Sowell III, 17, Clifford White III, 20, and Damani Jwanza Colvin, 18, who they suspected were other members of the drug gang having information about the Williams killing.
The three men were killed about 4 p.m. Nov. 3 as they rode in a car in the 500 block of T Street NW, about four blocks from where Williams was slain. Last week, police arrested Andre Brighthaupt, 16, and a 15-year-old, whose name was not made public because he was charged as a juvenile. The two, also suspected gang members, were charged with murder in the Nov. 3 slayings; Brighthaupt was charged as an adult.
They are neighborhood friends who grew up with Sowell, White and Colvin and are believed by police to have shared a meal with them at the Florida Avenue Grill shortly before the slaying.
Thursday night, about 70 residents attended a community meeting at Florida Avenue Baptist Church to address the violence. Jackson urged residents to join hands with "teachers, preachers, police and parents" to turn around the "degenerative self-hatred" in youths that leads them to get involved in drugs and violence.
Community activists have tried to rally residents, but so far efforts to start a Neighborhood Watch or Orange Hat Patrol have been unsuccessful. Usually, fewer than 30 people show up for monthly community meetings, and only three people signed up recently to volunteer for neighborhood patrol.
Police statistics show the neighborhood to be the deadliest in the police department's 3rd District, which covers the central part of the city. While it has fewer crimes in general, the area sees more arrests for murders, serious assaults and drugs than other sectors of the district, said Deputy Police Chief Larry Soulsby, commander of the 3rd District.
"This area is a real mixture of every part of the District. You have everything from the very wealthy to the very poor, public housing and private homes," Soulsby said.
LeDroit Park was built in the 1870s as an all-white community of ornate, expensive homes on what was then the edge of the city. It was marketed as a "romantic suburb." Today, LeDroit Park is a patchwork of restored mansions, renovated row houses and boarded up shells. The vacant homes, residents complain, draw vagrants and crime.
LeDroit Park Civic Association president Anita Rice said the scourge of drugs has made many people afraid to walk the streets at night. She said many residents complain that they are now afraid of some of the same youths who grew up with their children. Where once they would chastise children who misbehaved in public, they now turn a blind eye and a deaf ear.
"That's when it all started, when the drugs got so bad. It's changed the whole neighborhood," said Rice, who was returning from work Nov. 3 when she heard about the triple slayings from her teenage daughter. "That's what is to blame for all of these killings, all of this violence that is taking these young men's lives. These are kids from the neighborhood, who grew up here. Now people are scared of them, even though there are some good kids here too. It's so sad."
Alvenice Colvin said last week that she believes her son was killed to silence him.
She said he had begun running with "the wrong group" about nine months ago and she had confronted him after finding cocaine and a gun in his room. In the last month, she said, he often looked frightened and uncertain. But when she attempted to talk to him, he tried to reassure her that everything was all right, she said.
"I begged him not to be involved with drugs or anybody who was selling it," she said. "I worried because Damani wasn't streetwise. He was a good boy who had been a good student. I told him drugs will get you killed. He kept telling me not to worry. But I slept with his picture under my pillow every night praying that God would protect him."
Staff writers Santiago O'Donnell and Debbi Wilgoren contributed to this report.