Violence, drugs plague Shaw District; residents see more of the same

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Observer Staff
Feb. 27, 2008

The Shaw Historic District is buzzing.

With the new Washington Convention Center just a few blocks south, one might expect Shaw to be filled with hope, anticipation and excitement.

To the contrary, it has been buzzing with almost daily news of violent crime since the turn of the new year, making many in the city concerned about its future.

In January alone, there were 10 assaults with a deadly weapon within one mile of the Kennedy Recreation Center, according to the CrimeReports Web site. A gun was used in two of the assaults and a knife in six.

Violence in the month of February has already exceeded that of last month with a total of 11 assaults with a deadly weapon on record [as of press time] in the same neighborhood.

Observer photo by LISA TANGER
The Kennedy Recreation Center is located at 7th & O streets, N.W.

CrimeReports is the online service the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department refers citizens to for updates on neighborhood crime. At the time of publication, the Web site had not been updated to include three shootings reported on Feb. 19, 20 and 23 on the D.C. Police Department’s Third District Listserv. The shootings are believed to be a result of turf wars.

Shaw resident Ray Milefsky wrote an open letter to the listserv on Feb. 24 appealing for help.

“You should not have to be crazy to live here,” Milefsky wrote. “Shaw is in the path of reversion back to the crack era… There is no reason our streets have to be as dangerous as Baghdad’s. Where is our surge?”

Eddie Cole, 39, is one of a number of Cole family members who help run Wings Motor Cars in Shaw. Even on cold winter days, he can be found standing outside, washing the used cars and tidying the grass-and-pebble lot in anticipation of customers visiting.

Observer photo by LISA TANGER
Wings Motor Cars is open seven days per week.

Located on the corner of 9th and P streets, N.W., Wings is in the heart of territory known for crime. Asked if he is fearful for his own safety, he said, “You never know. I just take one day at a time. I wouldn’t be walking on some of these streets at night.”

Three days later, a sexual offense was reported only feet away from Wings, according to About two weeks later, a second sexual offense was reported one block north.

Cole was one of multiple residents who identified the Kennedy Playground – on the same property as the recreation center – as the site of after-hours crack dealing, and advised that it is not safe to walk through the park after dark.

Observer photo by LISA TANGER
While the District-run recreation center is a self-described “safe-haven,” the playground remains vulnerable to criminal activity.

That drugs are prevalent in this neighborhood is widely-known, however there have been no drug arrests within a mile of the recreation center in 2008, according to

But evidence of the crack trade can still be found without arrests.

In the past, observers might have noticed a strange sight as they walked through Shaw’s residential streets: boots strewn by their laces across the branches of trees, hanging more than five feet in the air.

It is believed within the community that the boots marked drug territory.

The D.C. Department of Transportation removed the boots from the tree-line Jan. 29, giving neighbors hope that it might be a sign of drugs moving out of the area.

Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Kevin Chapple called the clean-up a “winter harvest of strange fruit” on his Web site. His use of the term “strange fruit” refers to bodies hanging from trees during lynching of black Americans in the 20th Century.

“Whether they represent gang territory, a drug market, the site of other criminal activity or some combination of all those things…This particular problem has been ignored for years and residents have stated that the sight of these shoes caught up tree branches, or on cobra-style street lights, contributed to a threatening environment — much like gang tags,” the online forum said.

Rob Beilfus, 39, moved to the Shaw District roughly one year ago.

He lives in a condo only a few yards away from the Kennedy Playground. Beilfus was visibly unfazed when asked about neighborhood crime.

He described in a nonchalant tone how a bullet pierced his neighbor’s second floor window in January, but said he never heard a shot and could not understand how a bullet would have hit that high.

In the same breath, he mentioned how many of the boarded up buildings in the neighborhood are regularly broken into, speculating they are being used for drug activity.

Observer photo by LISA TANGER
Residents speculate vacant buildings are used for drug activity.

“I have yet to feel really unsafe, except for when it’s dark out or if there’s a crowd outside,” Beilfus said. “I am fine if there are one or two people outside, but when it’s six, seven or eight, I worry.”

He estimated neighborhood safety would be drastically improved within four to five years.

In the meantime, observers are left wondering what the warmer spring weather will bring.

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