- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 8, 2008

D.C. police set up their first vehicle checkpoint in the troubled Trinidad neighborhood Saturday night, but might have been outnumbered by two dozen American Civil Liberties Union volunteers monitoring police and speaking to residents who were turned away.

Those who live in the community had mixed reactions to the checkpoint - part of a heightened effort to stanch the virulent homicide rate in the 5th Police District. The controversial step came after eight people were killed last weekend in five incidents, mostly in that district.

For a time on Saturday night, police used the checkpoint to limit access down the main thoroughfare of Trinidad, which is in Northeast near the National Arboretum and Gallaudet University, under the new Neighborhood Safety Zone program. They stopped motorists and checked their identification. Those who did not have a “legitimate purpose” in the area were not allowed to proceed.

“If they hadn’t put the notice up, they would have caught everybody red-handed,” said Barbara Campos, 65, of the 1400 block of Montello Avenue. However, she said she doesn’t think the checkpoints will lower crime.

“It’s a great idea. It’s good for us because it makes the neighborhood safer. I want the people to be caught,” said Mehret Tesfay, 32, of the 1200 block of Owen Place.

Other residents opposed the checkpoints.

Linda Leaks, 60, of Northwest, was stopped at Owen Place and Montello Avenue. She showed officers her identification, she said, but refused to tell them where she was going. Police did not allow her down Montello, so she had to circle around and park two blocks away. She later said she was headed to a community meeting.

“They violated my rights. That makes no sense,” she said. “That doesn’t stop the crime.”

“Let’s not turn Trinidad into Johnny Barnes, executive director of the ACLU-National Capital Area.

“The courts have ruled many times that the right to be left alone is a very important right, maybe even the most important right a person can have,” he said.

More than 20 lawyers, law students and others observed the checkpoints and planned to interview those who were turned away by police to determine if their rights were violated, Mr. Barnes said. The local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s police task force joined the opposition.

The plan, created by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, a Democrat, who calls it necessary to halt such an alarming surge in violence.

The checkpoints will be enforced at various locations at random hours for at least five days, and up to 10 days, police said. Pedestrians are not affected. Only cars in which officers see guns or drugs will be searched, police said.

Harry Thomas, Ward 5 Democrat, supports the plan, but Friday called for Mr. Fenty to back his 10-point plan to create permanent solutions for issues such as poverty and lack of social services that plague the communities where violence has occurred.

Council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, blasted the plan hours after it was announced and sent a letter Thursday to Chief Lanier asking for documents related to the operation of the program and data on the effectiveness of other strategies, such as drug-free zones.

Of the 42 homicides in the city since April, seven of them have occurred in Trinidad. Reports show 24 assaults with a deadly weapon since that time.

In the 5th District as a whole, 14 people have been killed since April, and 22 have been slain year to date - one more than in all of last year.

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