Monday, December 30, 2013

Letter from a reader: what to do about loitering and drugs

The other day I got this email from a local resident talking about loitering and drugs. Read on:

I've lived in DC four years and Columbia Heights for 2-ish, including Mount Pleasant.

I've realized that the way C. Heights was set up was to be kind of a welcoming hangout, especially around the Julia's (may she RIP) and Froyo joints with the fountain there and the cement benches.

Yet most of the hanging happening in the neighborhood is done by perpetual street vendors selling cheap hats, oils, colognes, and sunglasses outside Target, as well as loiterers around 7-11 and the Columbia Heights Metro stop (by Five Guys and Potbelly).

So here's the concern: Why is the loitering allowed? I couldn't care less about the street vendors, it's the loitering around my commute to the Metro that makes me and my friends uncomfortable.

I literally witness the the passing of drugs between people by 7-11 and the Metro on a daily basis. At least, I'm pretty sure what I see them passing between hand shakes and pockets aren't valentine's or candy... No one should be blind to this activity either, especially considering the amount of police activity in the area, sometimes parked not twenty feet from all of this.

And maybe it's these poor saps livelihoods, selling drugs at the Metro from 7am - 6pm every day, maybe even on holidays. Not a fun job either, I imagine, but it really makes me wary of my surroundings and uncomfortable to walk around the area. It also freaks out my friends who commute to my house, having to avoid people standing in the middle of the sidewalk, or attempting to cross the street to avoid walking by this kind of thing.

Is there any reason police ignore this? I'm no detective, but this isn't a rocket science fix for safety. It also seems to be a theme around this area where people just look the other way to shady business. Anecdote: When I lived closer to Howard last year, it was a known fact the person next door sold stolen bikes for a living. He hid them behind a house on a nightly basis and people looked the other way, as to "mind their business," as it were. Plus, who wants to be the end of someone else's rent check in this expensive city, even if it is petty crime we're talking.

Anyway, police complaints are obviously an action, but I feel weird even mentioning this concern as a white person, due to all the stigma associated with judging cultural pastimes. Still, I feel no matter who you are and who the people committing crime in your neighborhood are, you'd feel safer if police actually DID something about obvious CRIME, or there were laws (or signs) in place to reduce discomfort to residents.

What do people think? If you saw someone pass a little baggy to someone else for money in your neighborhood, would you do anything about it? Or, would you go on your merry way saying, "Oh, well, that's just Columbia Heights"? I certainly haven't.

-Concerned Resident

Some interesting points, but I'm not sure I agree with them all. What do you think?

For one, I'm not bothered by the vendors, and I've actually bought stuff from them before: sunglasses, mittens, books and such. 

As for the drugs, I can't say I've noticed people passing drugs outside the 7-Eleven, but maybe I'm just not looking for it. I have noticed a little in the past around 14th and Euclid. That said, police have always said at community meetings that if you notice people selling or doing drugs or prostitution, to call them. Even if they can't get there in time or they don't have evidence (which is probably why they don't do a lot of arrests, like the reader is talking about) then at least they have a report of it, which they use in planning where officers should go and patrol. The more reports in one area, the more they will focus on that. So even if you don't think anything will happen, call the police.

But that's my opinion. What do you think? Do you agree with the reader?


  1. Police continue to ignore drug dealing in this town. Ihel, even assaults and shootings are ignored. They never do anything proactive - only reactive. I wonder what their arrest record is for the amount of recorded crime? They are awful. Our city isn't safe yet nothing is done. Contact your elected officials, contact the media. Don't accept this as the norm. Gray, Bowser and Graham share the blame for Columbia Heights and Petworth. Shameful.

  2. Couple of points. 1) Loitering isn't illegal. 2) One of the better ways to address this is to go to the monthly PSA meetings and tell the police what and where illegal activity is occuring so they can address it. Just because MPD is 20 feet away doesn't mean they are witnessing the activity, and residents walking past these folks are probably going to see more than a uniformed officer does when they approach such individuals.

  3. If the police were really interested in catching criminals in the act all they would need to do is stake out in one of the Kenyon Square condos facing the alley between Kenyon and Irving. I rented a place there for 9 months and in that time period I saw numerous drug breaking in to no more than 10 years old huffing cans of hairspray in the garages before going to school...bikes phones purses anything - stolen and dropped off. Big and bloody organized fights among teens. Not to mention about 500 dudes peeing. The dealers just drive up and park in the alley. One time I watched a lady drag item after item over to a dealer - more cracked up each time. It was very sad. the funniest one was watching this kid open car door after car door taking jackets, sunglasses whatever. Then he disappears for a minute and comes running full speed through the alley with some shoes in his hands being chased by some large shoeless dude who probably should not be running at all.

    Did I call the cops? Yep. It was pathetic. If they came at all they came way too late. It was like watching an old Keystone cops movie.

  4. Original poster here: I said I don't mind the vendors!

    I agree my lack of calling is a bit of cowardice in itself, but cops in DC do seem to be purely reactionary in this town, sitting in their cars awaiting a radio (which I'm sure happens fairly often to violent or dangerous crimes.) I can't be the only person who mentions this, especially at these meetings.

  5. I think the second anon is right on: if you see something, call the police. Even if they don't show up, they have a record of it. And if you notice something, go to the monthly meetings or contact the police officer who runs that police district:

  6. People shouldn't have to always take the lead. We pay taxes for law & order. If I'm told to "stay vigilant and call us if you see anything" one more time, I'll puke. Cops need to be proactive. They need to do stings and task force ops in troubled spots. It's how other cities handle crime...

    Gray has lost my vote due to the crime problem. I voted for him last election, but now I will be waiting to see what each candidate has to say about how their administration will handle this issue.

  7. Most recent anon, police can't be everywhere all the time. And there are fewer murders now than in a long, long time.

  8. I've seen a cop reprimand a drug deal by saying something to the effect of, "Really? Right in front of me?!" He let them move on around the block; no arrest.

  9. I'm Kenyon Square anon. I have to say that I really don't have a problem with a little weed dealing and I understand some of the juvenile crime since there is nothing else for these kids to do. Unfortunately it's not about weed and it's not about mischief. This stuff is serious and people die. Instead of the clutching of pearls that goes on among the elite PBR hipster crowd who think being a gentrifier is edgy and cool until they get hit in the back of the head over their iphone, I wish they would really consider themselves part of a community - even if for a short time. Actually get involved. Use your power and influence to make a difference. Don't herd yourself like sheep into the latest bar/pork belly/tapas/cool $30 happy hour/dog park/gray market/pop up knitting co-op and try looking around and stepping out of your gilded comfort zone. JEEZ!

  10. I've lived in Columbia Heights for 57 years and I must say that the loitering doesn't bother me. The crime and drug dealing are definitely concerns, but just because a person is chillin on the sidewalk doesn't mean that they are selling drugs. I'm a city girl so I like to see the streets full of people. And I like to chill on my front porch and "people watch." And sometimes I just take a walk up to the Target Mall just to see what's happening in the neighborhood. Have I sat on a wall or two just to catch the sun and watch the world go by, yes I have. That doesn't make me a loiterer. When did it become a crime to just stand or sit outside and enjoy the weather with your friends? If you and your friends are afraid just walking past people, my god, why do you live in such a crowded urban area? For the time being Columbia Heights is still a racially and economically mixed neighborhood. However, with more and more gentrifiers moving in and no additional affordable housing being built I'm sure it won't be another 10 years before you won't be able to find one black person or Hispanic person on the streets. If you can hold out long enough I'm sure you'll get the kind of people you want/desire walking past you. Until then you'll just have to deal with people who don't look like you or make as much money as you. It might be comforting to know that most of these people are harmless and couldn't care less about you. I often shake my head at comments like yours because I wonder I why if you are so afraid of being around these people, why would you move into their neighborhood?

  11. This is such a racist post. I can't believe you even put it on this blog.

  12. This is such a racist post. I can't believe you put it on the blog

  13. It's not my opinion and I certainly don't agree with some of it. That said it's somebody in the area with an opinion, and it's generated a lot of discussion.

  14. Crime is crime. Being bored doesn't mean you get to tear down the neighborhood. The police need to crack down HARD and push these low lives out. It's time to clear out the trash.

  15. I have crossed 14th and Columbia several times and was amazed at the stench of marihuana smoke. One time, a police officer looked at me as if it were my fault. I have seen crab games and drug dealing right in front of the police cruiser at Columbia and 14th and the officer is only looking at his computer screen. Wonder if Neighborhood Advisory Committees can do anything and please our Ward 1 rep is past caring, he will retire with benefits soon.

  16. This wknd, 3D vice police executed a search warrant and arrest on my block WRT to drugs/cash- apparently on a tip from a citizen who witnessed activity and reported it. The yahoo group that Andrew posted has the details incl how to contact 3D vice and report.

    The people who live here (way before the gentrifiers moved in) don't want to live with drugs/violence either.

  17. Good points in this read. You messed up when you mentioned that you were white though. Such an inclusion is completely irrelevant to the main point of the post. I was with you 100% before reading that. It went from an article about cleaning up the streets, to an article about non-white activities in your neighborhood. For future reference, keep color out of your arguments if you don't want to lose support.

  18. I just want to reiterate that I didn't write this and it's not my opinion. A reader had an opinion that I thought would generate some discussion, and it did.


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