“There is no hour of the day when you are safe,” one resident said. A mother described preparing bottles for her newborn daughter while hearing gunshots and ducking behind the furniture. Another person suggested police use the pandemic’s social distancing orders to break up groups they believe are selling drugs.
“It feels like we’re surrounded on every side,” said a resident who lives on Bennett Place, near what is called the “horseshoe,” a looping pathway that often is in the middle of the shootings. Each of those residents who spoke to The Post said they were too frightened to be named.
As the unofficial start to summer kicked off this Memorial Day weekend, many residents remain skeptical that District police and other agencies can rein in the violence, especially as the coronavirus crisis has made community policing harder and hampered programs aimed at easing tensions and offering alternatives to the street.
FitzGerald, a 30-year police veteran, said much of the violence stems from a long-running feud between some people who congregate at two housing complexes, Carver Terrace and Langston Terrace.
Carver-Langston — its contours defined by the commercial strips of Bladensburg and Benning Road and the serene southern edge of the National Arboretum and Langston Golf Course — is one of a handful of communities chosen for enhanced police patrols as part of this year’s annual Summer Crime Initiative.
As of Friday, four men have been shot and killed in Carver-Langston this year. From the start of the year to mid-May, there were 12 assaults with firearms in the neighborhood, up from two during the same period in 2019.
“People should not have to worry if they’re going to become a victim to the pandemic or a stray bullet,” said Kathy Henderson, a former advisory neighborhood commissioner from Carver-Langston and onetime council candidate who is organizing a community crime walk in June to include the District’s police chief.
“These criminals are commandeering our public spaces and trying to drag us back to the bad old days,” Henderson said, noting a time when District was known for high crime. “We’re sheltering in place, and they’re trying to take over our neighborhoods again.”
The leader of one agency established to confront crime as a public health emergency and to mediate disputes says its work has largely been stymied by social distancing restrictions, which have relegated much outreach to the Internet.
“The pandemic tremendously slows our efforts to get into the community,” said Delbert McFadden, the director of the District’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement. “This work is face-to-face, working with individuals to build trust, trying to convince them they are worthy of transitioning into larger society.”
In an email to residents in Carver-Langston, McFadden, a career educator and community organizer, said the rivalry between the two groups associated with the housing complexes “is one with significant history.” He said “both sides had a mutual understanding to not act on the bad blood.” But in an interview, he said several incidents including a recent homicide complicated cease-fire talks.
McFadden said his agency’s office remains open in Carver-Langston, and workers are ready to help, but key aspects of their work have changed.
He described a list of programs that began last fall, which include recreational activities, support groups and classes to learn how to build websites. But by March, the programs had largely gone online.
He said violence interrupters, in many cases felons who have served their sentences and now are tapped to identify and then quell disputes before shootings start, have to “get to the key individuals who control the temperament and the temperature when it comes to violence.”
City leaders continue to debate which approaches are most effective.
FitzGerald, the police commander, said he has poured every resource he has into Carver-Langston, and more will be added with the summer crime initiative. He said he needs more help from the judiciary system to target repeat gun offenders, adding, “The police can always do better, but I don’t see much help coming from other parts of the system.”
He told residents in an email, and repeated in an interview, that he was “unaware of any positive effects by violence interrupters.”
On Tuesday, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) proposed cuts to the violence interrupter initiative, saying other programs seemed to do better. The administration declined to comment on FitzGerald’s assessment of the violence interrupter program.
In the 2000s, it was neighboring Trinidad, on the other side of Bladensburg Road, that was considered more violent. Now Trinidad is the quieter of the two areas.
Clarence Lee, who has lived in Trinidad more than 30 years and chairs the Advisory Neighborhood Commission covering both communities, said what is happening in Carver-Langston “is almost reminiscent of what it was like here. It’s kind of disheartening.”
Trinidad has more rowhouses and fewer apartment buildings than its neighbor, and it has gentrified quickly over the past few years. Police and residents say drugs, territory and disrespect, along with a lack of resources, factor into the violence.
Police say many of the people involved in the feud are young men who have ties to the community but don’t necessarily live there. They say the disputes go back decades, their true origins likely unknown even to the people now wielding the firearms.
“There’s a whole new generation of people shooting now,” Lee said.
One fatal shooting this year was of a man from a suburb of Baltimore who police said had arranged a marijuana deal over the Internet and was shot in the head during what court documents said appeared to be a robbery. Another man was killed after police said he refused to give up his dirt bike to a gunman. Arrests have been made in both those cases.
Tolliver, 27, was shot on the afternoon of May 7 in a courtyard off 21st and H streets NE. Police Capt. Jerome Merrill told residents at a community meeting held over Zoom that detectives believe the shooting was related to the feud between the crews, and the shooting moments later at 21st and I streets appeared to be retaliation.
Another commissioner, Sydelle Moore, who represents Carver-Langston and has lived there seven years, said the shootings typically involve “someone who used to live in the community or hang out there, using it as a stomping ground. And that person is in a conflict with a guy doing the same thing.”
The residents, she said, “are very much the victims.”
Several residents interviewed said they have interacted with police through email exchanges. In interviews, they said answers felt too “boilerplate” and not directly responsive, and they complained about the gatherings of large groups and what they termed futile attempts to get police to act.
At a meeting this month with Advisory Neighborhood Commission, Moore pressed Merrill, the police captain who is leading the summer crime initiative in Carver-Langston, on some of those very issues.
Moore told him drug markets seem “to be opening up again,” and she asked what the community is anxious to know: “What kind of strategy is in place for what we’re seeing going on outside our windows?”
Fenit Nirappil contributed to this report.