- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Kamal Jahanbein stood in the blazing sun outside his restaurant on U Street NW last week, pointing up to a broken window on the building’s third story.

“They hung from the roof by a cable,” said Mr. Jahanbein, owner the Saloon Bar and Restaurant. “They were using it as a rope to hang over and break in and enter the building.”

Mr. Jahanbein was describing a May 24 burglary — one of three at his restaurant since April and one of about a dozen that have befallen merchants in the U Street corridor in the past two months, said Dee Hunter, an advisory neighborhood commission chairman for the area.

The burglaries have cost Mr. Jahanbein about $4,000 and irked him enough to place signs in the restaurant’s windows inviting Mayor Anthony A. Williams, police Chief Charles H. Ramsey and D.C. Council members to discuss the situation over a beer.

So far, none has sent an RSVP.

“That sign is not gonna go down until one of those guys comes here,” Mr. Jahanbein said. “I’m not interested in criticizing. I’m interested in the solution.”

The story is the same up and down U Street, once known as “Black Broadway” — a favorite hangout for musical legends Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and hometown hero Duke Ellington. Rioting after the assassination of Martin Luther King in 1968 paved the way for crime to sweep through the corridor.

Now, after real-estate values have nearly quadrupled and ushered in an era of revitalization, merchants along the strip want to stop a new crime wave before it starts.

“I get frustrated,” said Ibrahim Aden, a co-owner of Cafe Nema at 1334 U St. NW, which has been hit by burglars and vandals at least three times recently. “It’s discouraging because when you’re trying to work, you have many fronts to deal with, and then you have useless people that hurt the business.”

Thieves have stolen the cafe’s sound system and liquor and spray-painted its front windows. Mr. Aden said he and his co-owner, Harbi Duhel, put flower stickers up in the window to cover up the paint’s remnants.

Many merchants said police are present in the area, but there is no bond between the officers and the community. Mr. Aden said officers used to make their presence known by stopping by businesses and restaurants.

“Before, some hung out, and you knew them by name,” he said. “There’s no community connection. That’s what’s missing.”

Addie Green, who owns the Islander Caribbean Restaurant, said thieves tried to break in through her roof June 6. Multiple alarms thwarted their efforts, but she said police presence still needs to be increased.

“What they need is foot traffic — people can run faster than you can park your bike,” she said.

Mr. Hunter said business burglaries are not the only problems in the area. He said that employees of restaurants have been robbed while going to work and that patrons of restaurants have been carjacked.

“We clearly need more police protection,” he said. “I really feel the police are dealing with this in a lackluster manner, and it needs to be afforded the same kind of reaction as if it were happening in Georgetown or Dupont Circle.”

Representatives from the mayor’s office have helped to organize a joint public meeting — tonight at 8 at the True Reformer Building at 1200 U St. NW — for police officers, merchants and homeowners.

Vincent Morris, a spokesman for Mr. Williams, said officers will discuss plans to address the burglaries at the meeting.

“The goal is to reassure the residents that there is a big presence there,” he said. “They know this is an issue, and they’re concerned.”

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