Residents of the Eckington neighborhood in Northeast Washington gathered Monday evening on the nearby Metropolitan Branch Trail to figure out how to reduce crime on the path.
More than 40 participants rode bikes or walked, wore white T-shirts and gathered at opposite ends of their stretch of the trail — one group near the local recreation center and the other at First and L streets NE. Some of them brought their dogs.
They were all determined not to be shaken by the attack last week near Third and S streets NE in which a 37-year-old commuter was knocked from his bicycle and beaten by a group of more than a dozen youths. No arrests have been made in connection with the attack.
“This could happen in other parts of the city,” said Sherry Joyner, 52, who uses the trail daily to commute from Hyattsville to her job at 16th and K streets NW. “I am here for people to know that the trail is perfectly fine. You just have to look out for things like you do in other parts of the city.”
The two groups convened at Fourth and S streets, where there was a moment of silence for victims of trail violence and then a discussion about strategies to keep the trail safe for those who use it. Organizers said trail rangers will begin patrolling the trails next week. Security cameras will also be installed.
“We need to make sure that everyone is aware of safety on the bike trail,” said Dion King, 36, an 18-year member of the Guardian Angels, which have pledged to renew efforts to help patrol the trail. King walks with his children on the trail every weekend.
Incidents like last week’s attack have been rare since a surge of violent robberies two years ago. Then, police blamed youths for the attacks, including one in which a stun gun was used to knock a commuter off a bicycle and another in which a metal pipe was thrown at a 61-year-old woman who was robbed of her purse and the book she was carrying.
One arrest brought that spate of robberies to an end, police said at the time.
Authorities said they do not think what happened last week is part of a new wave of violence.
But that has not stopped residents from trying to repeat an effort launched two years ago to keep the trail safe. In 2011, communities along the trail organized volunteer patrols after the attacks along a 1.5-mile stretch between Franklin and L streets NE, the same area where Tuesday’s attack occurred.
“We are a very diverse community, and we want to make sure people feel safe walking on the trail,” Eckington Civic Association Vice President Brooke Edgecombe said. “I think people are concerned about the welfare of kids who felt the need to commit such a heinous act.”
Monday’s gathering was hosted by the Eckington Civic Association and the Friends of Edgewood Recreation Center. Additional support came from Big Bear Cafe, Eckington and Edgewood Neighbors, the Guardian Angels and D.C. police.
The Eckington Civic Association and the Guardian Angels plan to work together to reintroduce bike patrols along the trail.
“Our main goal is to train local people in how to be the eyes and ears for police and work as guardian angels,” said John Ayala, the D.C. chapter leader of the Guardian Angels. “We want to recruit people who already use the path so they know what to do when they see a situation. Right now, if we don’t put a lid on it it’s going to get worse.”
The eight-mile trail, connecting Silver Spring to Union Station, runs along the old Baltimore & Ohio railroad tracks, now used by freight and commuter lines and by Amtrak trains to Chicago. The route starts in suburban Maryland and winds through the District’s Fort Totten, Bloomingdale and Eckington neighborhoods before reaching downtown Washington.
The path is often deserted, and with Metro stations and shopping areas so close, it’s easy for attackers to get away before the police arrive.
“The number-one thing is that people should come away from this event knowing that this is a beautiful trail and we should use it,” said Michael Henderson, director of the Friends of Edgewood Recreation Center. “The more people who use it, the safer it will be. Shying away from it now is the worst thing we can do.”
Two D.C. Council members also attended Monday’s event: Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5) and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6).