- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 6, 2003

A piece of plywood with a brown wooden cross affixed to it now covers the apartment door in a dark, dreary hallway. A foot of yellow police tape discarded on the gritty linoleum marks the spot where three women were seriously wounded for sticking their necks out just a little too far.

The air is foul, the floor is filthy, utility wires are visible and this old, three-story brick building in the 1600 block of L Street NE has all the trappings of a Hollywood hangout for the local “drug boys.” Even the flies buzz around as if they, too, are trapped inside a hellish scene. This is a place that only in your worst nightmare could you imagine living, agrees Kathy Henderson, advisory neighborhood commissioner for the Carver Terrace area of Northeast.

But numerous families do live there. One included a 55-year-old woman who was stabbed in the neck last week after a group of druggies thought she snitched on their enterprise. Later, her two daughters were seriously wounded; the 37-year-old shot in the head and the 14-year-old shot multiple times.

Now in protective police custody, the woman is staying with relatives while her daughters recuperate in a hospital. Reportedly, police could not find any records of the women calling about suspicious drug activity.

Meanwhile, to show their support for these courageous women, Ms. Henderson and her neighbors have stepped up their efforts to push the drug dealers out of Carver Terrace. “We are not going to let 60 people define how 2,100 people live,” said Ms. Henderson, as we walked along 16th Street NE earlier this week. “We are going to send a strong message that the drug dealers’ days are numbered, and they can’t have this neighborhood back.”

In addition to a candlelight vigil in the unnamed women’s honor, Ms. Henderson said neighbors plan to reactivate their Orange Hat patrol and to become even more vigilant in their tug of war with criminals to eradicate the violent elements in their moderately priced residential neighborhood.

You can’t miss Ms. Henderson when she’s coming after you, either.

Sophisticated and statuesque, standing over 6 feet tall in high heels, she is a formidable figure. Several young men could be seen scattering as she pulled up in her convertible with its mended rag top — the scars of intimidation tactics.

“You can throw rocks and eggs, cut tires, send threatening notes, but we will not be intimidated,” she announced, as if to thin air.

With the District now reclaiming its dubious distinction as the nation’s murder capital, Ms. Henderson firmly believes from her experience in cleaning up her neighborhood “block by block,” that residents must get more involved to reduce crime.

Resident commitment requires more than attending meetings or signing up for the Orange Hat patrols, she contends. It requires establishing connections with the police department and city agencies. It requires “removing all the sign posts of neglect” that lay out the welcome mat for drug dealers.

“Operating from a bully pulpit,” she motioned to one trash-strewn house that she has asked the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs to cite. She motioned to another where she had the tenant evicted for suspected drug dealing. She held a meeting with landlords this summer and put them on notice to pay attention to what’s going on in their properties. “When I first moved here in ‘98, I thought I would be just a happy homemaker going to Home Depot every other day,” said Ms. Henderson, who moved from the Meridian Hill area on 16th Street NW.

During our stroll toward her flower-filled front yard, Ms. Henderson stopped to pay special attention to two elderly women raking leaves and sweeping their stoops along 16th Street NE. One told her she had called the city to get “the drug boys’ cars” removed from the alley so the trash truck could get through. “We want the neighborhood to support a good quality of life so we don’t have to move elsewhere.”

She immediately flipped on her cell phone to call “my lieutenant,” Lt. Judith Anderson, to have the cars ticketed. Shortly thereafter, a squad car pulled over and the officers greeted her.

“There was a time when people here were even afraid to call the police,” she said. Ms. Henderson advises her neighbors to call her as well as the police when they see suspicious activity. Following her lead, she said, many are making nightly rounds before turning in for the evening, in particular writing down the license plate numbers of Virginia and Maryland drivers apparently looking to buy drugs.

The patrol officers said that the presence of “more upstanding citizens” willing to step forward has helped them considerably in reducing some of the drug trade. “It’s frustrating when there’s been a murder, and all these people are standing around but no one saw anything,” said one officer.

An out-of-control culture in which a woman and her daughters can be maimed for trying to get a little tranquility in the midst of a cesspool of criminal activity can be curtailed only if residents back the courageous example of Kathy Henderson and her Carver Terrace neighbors to “reclaim our community” in no uncertain words and works.

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