Monday, July 26, 2010

WIN Forum: Fenty or Gray--Who has more energy (to get the job done)?

Washington Inner City Network (WIN) held a campaign forum last night in Asbury Methodist Church at 11th and K Streets, NW. In addition to the forum, those attending were treated to a few mini-sermons and a couple of prayers. The energy was high. These were church people, and they were there to get things done. The top candidates for Council Chair and Mayor were there. Every candidate said yes to every policy request made. No more usuary. Jobs for DC residents. Affordable housing for long-time DC residents. Everyone promised to do what WIN wanted them to do. So how do WIN members decide who to vote for? Well, might I suggest they vote on body language.

The presence of mind of a mayor is critical. "Be here now" should be a way of life for any big city mayor who often must respond to crises in little or no time.

The two videos attached are one-minute clips from the 5 minute statements given by Mayor Fenty and Council Chair Vincent Gray.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Overview: North East 2400 block 18th Street Northwest

Motorcycles occupy several parking spaces in front of Madams Organ, Asylum and The District. It's more than a parking lot; it's a party lot.
Boom boxes run amok in the parking spaces in front of the Marie Reed Learning Center.

This is 18th Street at one-thirty AM Sunday morning. There is so much movement in the street and on the sidewalks that it would be difficult for any armed force to say they have it completely under control. MPD likes to call it "controlled chaos". It's more like mildly contained chaos.

And if that didn't bore you enough, here's the same places on a different night.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Walking in the MPD's Shoes during Club Zone hours

Commissioner Stacey Moye and I arrived at Third District precinct about 15 minutes before our 2:30 a.m. scheduled appointment time with Sgt. Williams. We arrived early in order to fill out required paperwork and because we were pretty darned excited to see what was going on in the Adams Morgan Club Zone at the most intense time.

The sergeant was not there, so we sat and waited next to the front desk. Even the wait had an element of excitement because it was a front row seat to 3rd District at the crazy hour. An Ethiopian couple came in to give a pair of shoes to a sister, who had been arrested while wearing no shoes. We heard a woman's story about how her car got attacked and trashed on 18th Street by a carful of hoodlums while she and her friends were inside the car. They had to drive up a one-way street the wrong way to get away. She said the police on 18th Street told her to go to 3rd District because they couldn't make a police report out there.

Sgt Williams arrived about ten minutes late and full of adrenaline. There had been a change in her duties; the day before, she'd been moved off the Club Zone for the next two weeks. I never got the email. Since we were there and waiting, she requested and received permission to do the walkaround as scheduled. Her car was in the back of the station. We walked out onto the top floor of the police parking lot. I got to ride shotgun. When she got into the car and we were all ready to go, she asked about the paperwork. We told her we never got it. So she drove around to the front of the precinct and brought it to us in the squad car. While we were filling it out, she turned up her radio so we could hear the jibjab coming out. We heard about an unconscious person at the corner of 18th and Columbia. It was time to get up the hill.

When we pulled away from 3rd District it was 3:00 AM. Crossing 17th Street and then Florida Avenue, sirens were blaring. 18th Street was waiting. We got as far as Kalorama Road, where the Sergeant squeezed her squad car by a police motorcycle, and then parked her car, right in the middle of the street. The street was being closed to northbound traffic. We got out to walk.

The street was definitely hopping, but the crowds were not so large and rowdy. Heaven and Hell was closed because of an ABRA violation, according to the sergeant, and that kept a lot of people from being out there at closing time. As we walked further up, the crowds got bigger and the people got rowdier, especially outside the pizza places. There was a horrendous mess all over the sidewalk in front of pizza places; the worst was Adams Morgan Pizza Mart. The trashcan was piled up with pizza boxes to about 3 feet higher than the rim of the trash can. How is it that the owners who are raking in the dough, no pun intended, for their unending pizza sales can be so irresponsible about the pizza trash they create right in front of their store? Not to mention trash created when people take the boxes and eat pizza on neighbors’ front steps, then leave trash behind.

How hard can solving the problems be if we all work on them together?

As we walked up 18th Street, the sergeant kept keen vigil on the crowds.Occasionally she’d intervene in someone’s fun and tell them they can’t have a tailgate party with their boom box blasting. Basically, she let the crowds stay and didn’t move people along because she knew there were at least 15 officers in the vicinity who were taking care of their stations.

Sgt Williams introduced us to all the police personnel on the block. There are two types of MPD deployed on 18th Street during the club zone hours. The first are the regular police from MPD, including Sgt Williams. The second are so-called “reimbursibles”. The BID (Business Improvement District) hires approximately ten MPD reimbursibles and pays them time and a half to keep a lid on the explosive situation. A few business establishments also hire and pay for their own reimbursibles. The BID gets a grant from the city to help pay for the reimbursibles. In addition to the reimbursibles, the BID pays a security director a hefty sum each night to help keep a lid on it. He is Officer Greg Frank, a certified MPD bicycle officer. We ran into a plain clothes Greg toward the end of our walk to Columbia Road.

When we got to the top of the hill (18th & Columbia), there was an emergency vehicle parked almost directly in front of McDonalds on 18thStreet. Inside was the unconscious person the radio call was about. The sergeant went into the EV to determine the person’s condition. When she came out, she told us the patient is conscious and alert. As we lingered, I peeked into the back of the EV to see the patient; she was laughing and looked to be in no pain. The EMS were taking her to the hospital for observation. The sergeant wanted to wait until the EV moved before we continued the walk.

By the time we started back down 18th Street it was almost 3:30 AM. The hanging-out crowds were still around, but thinning. There is no anti-loitering ordinance in DC. The police cannot just bum rush the loiterers -- yes, there were many loiterers -- and make them move. The one statute the sergeant relies on to move people along is a statute against incommoding, blocking passage on a sidewalk. Even that statute was applied extremely sparingly as we walked down the street. This was good policing, because none of the loiterers were disturbing the peace. She worked with fearless coolness and great respect for everyone. It was easy to see why Sergeant Williams was given this beat in the first place. I certainly hope she will be back by August 1st as promised.

As we continued back down 18th Street, the sergeant got a call for something happening in the garage. We walked down into the garage with her and waited while she straightened out the mishap. The garage seemed to be about twenty degrees hotter than it was on the street. It was easy to see how tempers could flare down there. When we walked out of the garage, it was 3:55 AM. We walked to Sergeant Williams car for one short last ride.As she was picking up speed, she got a phone call and pulled over to the corner of California and 18th to take the call. Coincidentally, this was where we wanted to be let out.

We walked two buildings up California, until we got to Stacey’s building. I got my bike and left. I rode up the west sidewalk of 18th Street.The west sidewalk is never as crowded or messy as the east side, a safer bike ride than up 18th Street. The whole street scape was calming down. At the corner, I took the bike lane up the hill and got home by 4:10 AM. Indeed it was a night to remember.

With greater insight into the MPD perspective, especially of the officers and “reimbursibles” who maintain order on 18th Street, I am hoping that this commissioner and others will be able to work more easily with MPD (and other relevant agencies) to reach an informed solution to the perennial problems the 18th Street Club Zone presents the police and the community.

I did not take any photographs during this walk because I did not find it necessary. Commissioner Moye and I walked down 18th Street earlier in the wee hours, and I took photos then. They’ll be posted in the following article. There was not a whole lot to show because it was a relatively calm night on 18th Street.

Maybe due to the calmness of this particular night, the walk helped us see more easily the roots of the problems on 18th Street. Another night and another walk-around/ride-around might be a whole different story.

Many thanks to Sergeant Sherrelle Williams for sharing her time and insight with us.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

New Tent City Survives Three Days and Counting . . .

The group of determined activists who on Saturday took over Parcel 42, a piece of city property in the Shaw Community, are still at it.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Take Back The Land After Mayor Fenty's Broken Promise

On Saturday, July 10th, One DC neighborhood organization and their friends and neighbors had a fabuloso block party with singing and dancing, yoga and community organizing, free food and books.

This was on S Street between 7th and 6th Streets NW, deep in the heart of the Shaw Neighborhood. Also in the heart of the Shaw Neighborhood is Parcel 42, a piece of vacant property at the corner of 7th and Rhode Island Avenue, NW. Four years ago, Mayoral Candidate Adrian Fenty made a promise that this parcel of land would be used for low-income "affordable" housing. Four years later, the land is still vacant, and the promise is unkept. (See below for details.)

During the block party, Green Party candidates came through to rally the troups.

Green Party Candidate for US House of Representatives (Eleanor Holmes Norton's seat) Joyce Robinson was there with her very creative and unfortunately true campaign sign.

Annother candidate running on the Green Party Ticket is Ann Wilcox, the People's Lawyer, running for the Chair of the DC City Council.

To the left, Green Party candidates include Joyce Robinson for Representative to Congress, Ann Wilcox for Council, Adams Morgan Commissioner Chris Otten, and David Schwartzman, cancidate for DC Council At Large.

Faith, the perennial Mayoral candidate, was also there asking for votes and blowing her bugal

In the backyard of ONE DC, activists gathered to share last minute details about the march.

While the block party continued the organizers began to rally for the march.

At the end of the block party, the people gathered up their signs and banners and marched to Parcel 42, went around to the back to get in, and began erecting a tent city to take back this land that was promised to the poorest of the poor in our city.

The police have not removed them yet, chances are because the mayor does not want a spectacular confrontation with poor people on the evening news.

As the mayor ponders his options, the tent city grows. The atmosphere is a bit more serious than the block party, but the fun is still ongoing. There are collective meals during the day and movies at night.

Everyone who is sober and nonviolent is invited to join the little city in the making.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Walk with Vince Gray Along U Street Northwest

Yesterday, in the 95+ degrees weather, I had the privilege of walking along U Street with the Chairman of the DC City Council. Chairman Vincent Gray is running for mayor against the incumbent, and he was out there pressing palms and glad fisting most people who wanted to talk to him. Chairman Gray is a listener.

Many people, especially those exiting the subway, did not want to stop to talk, but no-one heckled or was in any way overtly disrespectful. Chairman Gray has earned this city's respect, if only for the long hours he toils at his job as Council Chair in the District Building.

The following is a photo essay of who he was talking to and how well he was received.

Marcia Shia collected signatures outside in the heat while Vince's entourage followed him inside the airconditioned establishments.