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After the brawl: Zone defense

This is one in a series of pieces that will appear on Story Lab Wednesday based on reporting by seven Washington Post staff writers who spent Tuesday night in Washington's East End, taking in the scene in the aftermath of last Friday's brawl in the Metro system, talking to the teens who have taken to hanging out in the city's new tourism and entertainment district, as well as to police, residents, tourists, and business owners. Reporter Christian Davenport spent the evening with the police who keep close watch on the kids all along Seventh Street NW:

The clusters of teenagers hanging on the corner outside the Gallery Place Metro stop aren’t gangs exactly. We’re not talking the Bloods and Crips or MS-13. These are more loosely formed, less hierarchical, less sophisticated. “More like crews,” a D.C. cop says.

But still prone to trouble, though usually it’s small stuff: Muggings—watch that iPhone—vandalism, and loud obnoxious behavior. Not the kind of mayhem that broke out Friday night when a brawl involving 70 people left several injured.

The cops assigned to this piece of real estate, Police Service Area 101, recognize the faces. Take this kid right here, the tall one with the dreads crossing Seventh Street, flanked on both sides by his buddies. “He’s down here every night,” one officer says.

He and his partner are watching, even on break, downing a couple of burgers while seated at the window of Fuddruckers Tuesday evening just before sunset. It’s best, they say, when the kids hang in one spot, usually on the steps of the National Portrait Gallery. “Then we know exactly where they are.”

The steps are their meeting place, Police Lt. Eddie Fowler, says by phone. But also more. The steps are an elevated perch, a lookout where the young people can see who’s coming, who’s going. “It’s like they’re watching a game,” Fowler says.

Why Gallery Place? Why of all places do they come here? He’s not entirely sure, but has a theory: it’s at the intersection of the Red and Green Metro lines, allowing kids from all over to converge on one spot; there are hipster clothing stores and a movie theater, which became the city's main teen cineplex hangout after the theater at Union Station closed last fall.

And there are lots and lots of people, especially on nights when there are games at the Verizon Center. So watch your iPhone, the cops say. There’s a thriving market for stolen iPhones. “They’ll rip it right off your ear,” one of the Fuddruckers cops says. (Apparently there’s a guy in Pentagon City who will buy them hot, no questions asked.)

Outnumbered, the cops play zone defense, but are often frustrated. They want a tighter curfew. Stricter loitering laws. If the kids block the sidewalk, they can tell them to break it up. “If they move, it’s not a violation,” he says. “So we break them up 15, 20 times a night.”

And then they move on.

By Christian Davenport  | August 11, 2010; 2:10 PM ET
Categories:  Build-A-Story, Local Life, coffee house newsroom  
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Next: After the brawl: The view from the steps

Comments

Thanks for this insight. I like what the area has to offer for meals and shopping. I always wondered what was going on at the steps of the National Portrait Gallery. Whenever I got to that neighborhood for entertainment, I brace myself for those ignorant folks. Sometimes I'm in a mood that can tolerate it and I wear shoes I can run in! Sad, but true.

Posted by: shejoy | August 11, 2010 3:51 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for this insight. I like what the area has to offer for meals and shopping. I always wondered what was going on at the steps of the National Portrait Gallery. Whenever I got to that neighborhood for entertainment, I brace myself for those ignorant folks. Sometimes I'm in a mood that can tolerate it and I wear shoes I can run in! Sad, but true.

Posted by: shejoy | August 11, 2010 3:54 PM | Report abuse

Basically it sounds like much of this can be resolved by blocking off those steps so they can't sit on them and passing stricter loitering laws. Should take a month to do. But this is DC, so it will take 10 years, several deaths and countless muggings. Worst.City.Ever.

Posted by: JG55 | August 11, 2010 9:49 PM | Report abuse

i wonder how it is going to the movies at gallery place?

Posted by: wordup1 | August 12, 2010 8:27 AM | Report abuse

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