On the streets of Langley Park, vendors sell $1 chunks of watermelon with your choice of salt or hot sauce. They will tell you about the drug dealing in the neighborhood, but not before their eyes dart around to see who is watching.
In a span of five days in this neighborhood, four throats were slashed, and one man's hand was nearly severed by the slice of a machete. The attacks, which have killed two men, took place within five blocks of one another, sending a shock of fear through this community.
Prince George's County police are investigating the three incidents, the first of which was early Wednesday in the parking lot of a Toys R Us. Police have made no arrests and say the attacks are not connected.
"Five violent crimes in five blocks in five days. It's horrifying," said Kim Propeack, advocacy and organizing director for Casa of Maryland, a Latino community group.
Troubled by crime for years, Langley Park, a community that covers about one square mile, has been part of crime-fighting and renewal efforts by law enforcement and neighborhood groups. The densely populated, unincorporated area of Prince George's is bounded by University Boulevard, the Montgomery County line and the community of Adelphi.
Like such communities as Culmore and Baileys Crossroads in Fairfax County and Arlandria in Alexandria and Arlington, Langley Park is heavily Latino.
The 2000 Census counted 16,214 people in Langley Park, nearly 64 percent of them of Hispanic origin. Most are foreign-born, most rent and most speak Spanish or another foreign language at home. The area is also home to many other recent immigrant groups from Africa, the Caribbean and Asia.
"It's an extraordinary neighborhood. It also has a lot of problems. It's a large number of people packed into a very small place with relatively few government services," Propeack said.
By day, laborers can be seen in clusters on the streets looking for shade and waiting for work. Women say they won't walk to the store alone, and some won't leave their homes at night. They won't wear short skirts, they say, because the men will ask them, "How much?"
Last night, about 100 people gathered at the Langley Park Community Center to voice their anger at the crime in their area. Speaking to senior police officials and county State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey (D), some in the audience demanded more police foot patrols.
In recent years, immigrant advocates have created services to help the newcomers, including a medical clinic, legal aid and an employment center. Meetings about how to combat crime are held at Langley Park-McCormick Elementary School and the neighboring community center.
Neighborhood watches have been established. Pedestrian safety also has been a concern after fatal car accidents in an "international corridor" of businesses along University Boulevard, where big corporations such as Starbucks and Chevy Chase Bank are located near smaller stores with such names as Fashion La Fama, Casa Furniture and Casa Blanca Bakery.
"It's a tightly knit community," said George Catloth Jr., a parks and recreation official at the community center. "A lot of hardworking families."
One business leader said she fears that small merchants along University Boulevard and nearby streets will be hurt if Langley Park's image suffers. "I'm pretty sure they are affected by the violence because it brings negative vibes," said Rosa Amo, chairman of the Prince George's Hispanic/Latino Chamber of Commerce.
Ivey's Latino liaison spends more than half of her time in Langley Park, where the most prevalent crimes are domestic violence, burglary and assault. "Knife attacks happen often," said Ruby Stemmle, special assistant on Latino affairs for Ivey's office.
The police department does not keep statistics on knife attacks, but Stemmle said small knives and machetes are the weapons of choice for some immigrants, especially if they come from a sugar cane cutting culture.
Joseph P. O'Neill, a parks and recreation official, said the recent spate of violence in Langley Park stands out. "Is it just random?" he said. "I don't have any reason to believe they're related in any way."
Prince George's police said the only threads that connect the three knife attacks are proximity and time. They have not found a link to the increasingly violent gangs in the area.
"We had three unfortunate incidents," said Maj. Mark Magaw, district commander for the Hyattsville-Langley Park area. "We haven't found a connection."
The first three victims were attacked Wednesday in slashings that killed two men. Two days later, a 17-year-old girl was slashed in the throat outside the Langley Park Boys & Girls Club. She was in stable condition yesterday. And a few blocks away Sunday night, a man nearly lost his hand after he argued with someone who later attacked him with a machete, police said.
Talk to residents, day laborers and street vendors about the attacks, and they will repeat the same word: "mara." That is shorthand for gangs, including the Mara Salvatrucha group that has been growing in number, violence and reputation in Prince George's, Montgomery, the District and Virginia.
People will say it in a whisper, fearing for their lives.
"They will rob you, take your money. They have a lot of power here," construction worker Alfredo Ramirez said.
Ramirez, 41, was standing yesterday on the spot where Cesar "Chapin" Mayorga, 27, was fatally slashed in the neck Wednesday while sleeping in a parking lot. Also slashed that morning were Anival Hernandez Escobar Cruz, 28, who died at the scene, and an unidentified man who survived.
Ramirez said he is bothered by the idea that the Latino community has so much high-profile crime. "All Hispanics aren't bad. A lot of us who are around are good," he said. "The Hispanics who live here, we want to have a good life."
Friends of the victims made a memorial of two wooden crosses, candles and several bouquets of flowers. A half-dozen men were drinking Corona in bottles and smoking cigarettes, their way of celebrating Mayorga's life.
His body was returned to Guatemala over the weekend for burial.
Lazaro Escobar Cruz, 25, said the body of his brother Anival would be flown to their native Honduras tomorrow for burial in a rural village south of the capital, Tegucigalpa.
Escobar said his brother is survived by their parents, seven siblings and a young son. He said the neighborhood did not seem overly hazardous when he moved there two years ago.
"You always felt a little worried," Escobar said. "But we never imagined this. It's so sad. Now we have more fears -- fears of attackers. The police need to protect the people."