The flyer for tonight’s meeting (Philip Pannell)

Usually, civic groups aren’t in the business of referring to their environs in such terms, but for longtime activist Phil Pannell, the neighborhood has no choice when its D.C. Council member refers to it as such.

Background: In August, Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) drove his Jaguar to the John A. Wilson Building with its rear bumper dragging on the ground. Barry said that the damage was from a hit-and-run incident, explaining “when you live in the ghetto, all this stuff happens.”

Needless to say, the comments rankled some of Barry’s neighbors — including Pannell, who said he doesn’t think “ghetto” fits the community centered on the intersection of Martin Luther King Drive and Alabama Avenue SE.

Hence tonight’s forum: “This is not designed to take a swipe,” Pannell said. “This is to start a community conversation. ... What we want to find out is how pervasive is that feeling and attitude. We’ll find out.”

Pannell said he understands where the perception comes from — note his flyer’s use of graffiti, sagging pants, vacant properties and street death memorials.

”Question is,” he adds, “will [Barry] do anything about it?”