- The Washington Times - Friday, August 18, 2000

You're walking up Columbia Road N.W. Saturday afternoon, minding your own business. Suddenly, it hits you. A tidal wave of marijuana. Sinsemilla. You're drowning in it. Arms flailing, you're looking for the source. A group of young Hispanic males pass a joint in broad daylight. Someone puts a little brown envelope under shrubs, another whistles at cars with Virginia and Maryland tags; they unabashedly broadcast in Spanish the quality of their wares.You knew this was the city's "green card strip," but now it's marijuana heaven and haven. You tell the guys, in English, that they're pretty bold. They smile. You head for the nearest supermarket, ostensibly for a bottle of Evian. But you pick up a large bag of chips, a few barbecue chicken wings and you latch onto a root beer soda. You have a mean case of the munchies. But you never put the joint near you're lips. Yes, you inhaled; it wasn't your fault. You thought the air you were breathing was natural. Few things are natural or normal on District streets.

Where are the police? Where are the ones Metropolitan Police Chief Charles Ramsey promised would saturate the neighborhood just after the latest killing on 18th St. N.W.? You feel violated, like the kid in that anti-drug commercial who is racing behind buildings and hopping over fences just to avoid the dealers. All your life you resisted the lure of drugs. You didn't succumb when you lived in the Desire Public Housing complex; didn't get trapped in California when folks at parties passed around pure grade cocaine as if they were offering hors d'oeuvres; and you certainly didn't go anywhere near the crack epidemic of the 1980s.

Now drugs have caught you, on a street in the nation's capital. Is anyone paying attention to the ills of this type of secondhand smoke? Is there no protection for the innocent, you ask as you finish a chicken wing and reach for a chip at the same time? Where are the police while these guys with funny accents wrap and sell their sinsemilla? Where are the police and the Immigration and Naturalization Service agents while green card peddling becomes a major market?

You hear their criminal whistle every time a truck or van with a Virginia or Maryland tag and occupants who look like them comes along. You see others stoop and lift small envelopes from the shrubs outside this apartment building, in the tree box outside another. Why don't the police see them? Are they blind? Or are they merely on permanent vacation?

Mr. Ramsey says he's short 200 officers budget problems. At least 1,000 are still behind desks, performing administrative functions while you and others are assaulted by thieves and mindless thugs; reportedly they'll be on the streets beginning next week. (You won't hold you're breath.) Then, there is the mob at D.C. Superior Court "5,000 police officers are subpoenaed for more than 500 felony and misdemeanor cases scheduled each month. But most months, only 90 to 110 cases ever make it to trial," The Washington Times' Jim Keary told you.

You realize that even with all the money Congress has thrown at the District and with Mr. Ramsey appearing on radio and television talking a great game it's all the same. Same plot, different actors. You don't want to sound like a stuck record, but no one's changing the groove, at least not for people like you captives of the city's failed war on crime, working class folks who don't have the luxury like some residents, of hiring their own guards to protect their neighborhood because the police either can't or won't.

You're thinking this as you read the Wall Street Journal report last week that said Mr. Ramsey and a Department of Justice official will be off to Prague later this month to teach the Czechs how to handle anti-globalization protesters. The World Bank and International Monetary Fund are holding meetings there in September. You wonder how you and your neighbors can get in with that crew. You pick up the phone and call police spokesman Sergeant Joe Gentile who confirms the story; he says the chief will travel with Special Operations Commander Michael Radzilowski. Two hours later, Mr. Gentile calls back. Never mind, he says. "Over the weekend the chief changed his mind. He wants to be here for the roll out of the new deployment plan." Good.

You think maybe if the chief were forced to live with the family of the next homicide victim, maybe if he were forced to take off his uniform and walk the streets like an average citizen if he were forced to inhale sinsemilla, if his car were stolen, if someone broke into his home and stole priceless family heirlooms; if someone beat him just on GP (general principle), maybe then he might get close to understanding how you and other residents feel, and have felt for the past two years, when you all thought your rescue was at hand. Maybe then he'd see protecting you and other residents as more important than World Bank and IMF executives. Maybe he'd stop eyeing a job at the Justice Department and do the one he's getting paid to do here.

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