Thursday, August 21, 2003

Residents in Shaw Fight for Their Street
Cars Damaged in 'Retaliation' Attacks
By Petula Dvorak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 21, 2003; Page DZ03

The first attack came before midnight, and it was loud. A brick shattered the driver's and passenger-side windows in a blue convertible and thunked off the side of the green car parked in the next space.

Then another brick cracked the windshield of a white car. More bricks and some rocks began hitting the house, thudding against the wall, clanging on the burglar bars.

"It was so clearly an act of retaliation, it was beyond vandalism or destruction of property," said resident Brian Gehman as he stood in the glow of a street lamp at midnight last week, waiting for police to arrive.

Gehman and his neighbors have been at war this summer with drug dealers, prostitutes and shady customers who do business on the short street they're trying to call home. On many of the mornings after they've summoned police, residents have awakened to scratched vehicles and shattered windows, gunfire and, once, to find that the foam in a car's headrest had been ripped apart by a bullet.

"This summer is the worst I've ever seen it," said Jim Norris, who recently repaired several thousand dollars of damage done to his car by bricks and bullets. Norris has lived on the 400 block of Richardson Place NW for two years.

Richardson Place is south of the intersection of Florida, New Jersey and Rhode Island avenues. Twenty steps north of the small street are gas stations and liquor stores where prostitutes stand in the fluorescent glow, waving down customers.

Many nights, Gehman and his neighbors hear arguments and the screech of vehicles in their cobblestone alley. Stolen and abandoned vehicles are dumped there and left for months and, in one case, two years, residents said.

The neighbors record statistics on all vehicles left there and report them to the Department of Public Works for towing.

Late last Monday night, Gehman and Stephen Szibler, who has lived on Richardson Place for three years, circled a car with expired plates that showed up outside their homes.

Two people rounded the corner and told them to stop meddling. The residents went inside to avoid further confrontation and about 30 minutes later, the hail of bricks and rocks began.

Police arrived several hours later. No police were assigned to the local Patrol Service Area (PSA) that night, so officers assigned to other parts of the Third District left their posts to respond.

"We have no consistent policing here," Szibler said. "We meet a sergeant, he's around for six months, then he's gone, and we have to start all over again. Nobody has been able to do anything about the problems on this corner."

Convinced that the abandoned cars are the magnet for most of the crime there, he wrote a letter this summer to Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) explaining the situation:

"I do not choose to live in a junk car lot. I recently paid $150 to have my old car properly registered and the license updated, not to mention registration fees and repairs, and initial licensing and tax fees. Why can't the police do their job and ticket and/or have these cars towed? Why can't they do it on a regular basis? Why do they have to be begged and pleaded with to do their job?"

Lt. Alveta Dennis, the officer in charge of the local PSA, said abandoned cars are not the only magnets for crime in the area. A school playground near Richardson Place remains unlocked all night, despite police efforts to lock it down, she said. The schoolyard is a hangout for drug users and other troublemakers, she said, acknowledging the difficulty she has had with staff turnover in the area. "It's difficult to keep anyone in place for a while."

Of the block, Dennis said, "They have problems there. They are not outrageous problems, but they are unacceptable."


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