Security


Last night at around 11 pm there were a series of gunshots fired very close to my home. The rhythm of the shots came something like this:

Pop!…Pop! Pop!…Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop!

It was during the long series that I heard and felt something strike the house. I thought it was the ricocheting of a bullet and so crouched beneath the window of my room.

One of my roomates saw a man running between alleys behind Kelsey Gardens. It appears the shots were fired from Q between 7th and 8th streets.

After being on hold for abour 45 seconds, we got through to the police, who told us there had already been several calls placed. The police cars arrived a couple of minutes later. It appears nobody had been hit.

According to neighborhood blogs, Kelsey Gardens, in the midst of being cleared for the construction of new condominiums, contains a number of abandoned, largely basement, apartments. Drug dealers, ever opportunistic regarding new commercial locations at which to profiteer and occasionally shoot, have begun using these apartments. A young man was shot dead inside one of them last week, one of a spat of shootings along 7th in this most recent crime spurt.

On the way to the Giant supermarket, I originally walked down 7th past Kelsey Gardens, acquiring dirty looks whilst picking out some of the middle-school age boys I played basketball with at the Rec. After a few months, however, I ended up taking the much quieter and more peaceful route behind Kelsey, along 8th. The “Drug Free Zone” sign within this almost fully gentrified street is eerily marked with the spraypainted visage of a ghost peering out across it.

When I consider the capoeira workshop I was organizing that failed to materialize (the whole teen night was cancelled at the last moment), I wonder how much I, or any other concerned outsider, can offer these young boys, who seem  filled with such torment and anger. They need something greater then that, and if Mayor Fenty and Kevin Chapple have a solution other than pushing folks out into Southeast or PG County, I’m still yet to hear it. Education reform clearly remains a fundamental piece of the efforts, changing the existing culture of violence and hostility speaks to a far broader, more complex situation and set of issues.

From the top bedroom window, it’s possible to make out the National Monument, peeking its pointy crest directly over the Projects at which this bloody pestilence has rotted in. In Sarah Luria’s “Capital Speculations,” which discusses early planning and architectural conversations regarding this city, Ms. Luria argues that Washington remains a city of failure, a flawed and ongoing project toward reaching the original vision of America. Present day Shaw is a good example of the country’s continued failure to successfully lift the disempowered out of bleak situations, a piece of New Orleans, South Central and South Dakotan reservations within passing shot from the White House. And while there are many good people doing excellent work to change this current predicament, more clearly needs to be done.

Young professionals who might be considering a move into Shaw with the notion of raising  children in this neighborhood should know: these problems running down the Projects of 7thremain malignant.

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The more time I spend living in DC, the more I realize how great the chasms between abstract liberal class-consciousness and actual practical realities of living in DC are.

Case in point: I was just setting out at around 8:30 pm last night when I heard a succession of gunshots, or “fireworks,” as a roommate likes to call them. Police cars–four of them–flashed through the streets around my home within a couple of minutes. I then carried on to the 9:30 club, watched the Scottish folk-rock band I had gone to see, and chatted with a friend about music venues in Los Angeles. From the laptop screen to the office to the music club, modern urban living allows one to be hyper-conscious yet remarkably oblivious to the plight of his neighborhood, to taking in knowledge on one’s own terms, and through one’s own RSS feeds/labor.

Living in Shaw, I’ve become used to living with many things that would have seemed almost unimaginable in former locales. Homelessness, increased noise, steady traffic along Rhode Island and down 7th, and, almost without question, some sort of police presence. I can’t say I was completely prepared for the adjustment; my move into the city was driven primarily by a desire to escape what I felt to be the alienation and plastic-tasting cultural dirge of the suburbs than it was a desire to bathe in youthful class guilt. But since moving in, over the months and more often through word of mouth or the blogosphere (which is just virtualized word of mouth), I’ve absorbed several valuable life lessons and ideas that neither the lectern nor the text book could provide nearly as well:

1. Every incoming publicly elected official should be required to spend some time in the poorest district of their constituency: Ideally, this would involve living in the neighborhood for at least one month, visiting community centers, talking to folks outside 7-Eleven on Sunday afternoons…

2. No, you don’t know what it feels like to be somebody else, but that shouldn’t stop you from trying to understand, more than your ignorant “If only Blue people acted more like Purple people,” or “Those people are all lazy, self-victimizing so-and-so” commentators ever will from their dinner table.

3. People won’t think better of you, no matter how fully you live out a pseudo-Buddhist, one-world worldview: this probably goes as well for developing world back-packing as it does for your own block. Class resentment exists, culture matters, and it takes a long time go from toleration to harmonious co-existence.

4. Hope is the piston of the American Dream: the journey won’t kick into gear without solid factory work to begin with.

I wish more successful folks in the business community saw the dream within a broader brush stroke than that commonly associated with Wall Street culture. “Greed is good” is so passé. All that capital, all that ability, still being thrown about like raccoons in a winter pantry. What makes humanity so thoroughly compelling is our ability to fulfill higher modes of living: beyond the television, beyond wanting a snazzier car than Jim, always a little beyond our current comfort zone.

“Greed is good; social capitalism is better,” should be our generation’s call card. Just like an online personals profile, except regarding civic consciousness.

There’s been several shootings in Shaw in the past several weeks, as some of the more consistent Shaw bloggers have noted.

There’s also been an increase in use of the spotlight, right outside of my house. Though not certain, I’m quite sure that the abandoned building across the street from my house is a hotspot for crack dealing, and things have been picking up lately.

The first time I saw it, it was quite surreal, almost like going to bed in the middle of the day, except where the sunshine is replaced by artificial, flashing light. After a while, as with anything else, you get used to sleeping when it’s bright out.

I often hear about how Leroy Thorpe, the former commissioner for my ward, really turned things around for this neighborhood in terms of chasing out drug elements and reducing crime significantly. That being said, I suppose what I see in my brief moments rushing along outside is practically suburban humdrum quiet compared to years past.

I had another meeting at Kennedy today, this time regarding a capoeira performance I’m hoping to organize. I’m looking forward to holding an event at my local rec, if only because these are the same kids I see as I ride along 7th, or walking to Giant on P Street.

One of them asked me for change last weekend; a stocky middle-school age chap I see at Kennedy often. I was on my bike, so I didn’t stop and carried on. But I wonder if he recognized me as the guy who was trying to convince him to play 2 on 2 not so long ago? We’re from different worlds and asking for different favors, just hanging in the same places.

PS: Crime map is handy, for those with a self-interested, or simply curious–if perhaps slightly morbid–interest in the city.

As I walked home from capoeira this past Saturday afternoon, I delighted in the fact that I didn’t have somewhere to be. And so I took the time to follow the Shaw Heritage trail, stopping at each of the posts and connecting the historical dotted lines between cross-street and pictured street, decade and day. It was an experience entirely vital to me, an affirmation of a new truth. For most of my 22 years of life I’ve lived amongst people with whom I acquired similar passions. We listened to the same songs on the radio, bought our dinner produce from the same grocer, all watched the same evening news on our two television stations.

This changed quite a bit upon moving to the States. Different yes, but in some ways it was very similar. The accents and many cultural references were radically different, but the pop culture was—this being the MTV generation and all—nearly identical. Another aspect which remained the same was race. I moved from a predominantly white (English, Irish, Italian) town in southwestern Australia to a predominantly white (more pan-European) town on the Eastern seaboard.

And now, scanning over these newly placed Shaw Heritage Trail posts and their tales of backs-to-the-wall Black businesses succeeding against the odds and the neighborhood’s role as heart of DC’s own ‘Harlem renaissance,’ I was struck by the notion that I do not belong. That I should be like more ‘sensible’ yuppies who know their place—whether by income or prejudice or whose settlement has followed more classical ‘birds of a feather’ sensibilities, and that I should be reading these signs perhaps as a ‘daring’ jaunt into an historic black neighborhood before dashing back out to Bethesda or Dupont.

Or maybe I was just jumping in a little too early? There are plenty of other parts of Shaw that have been completely gentrified, with nary a Black soul in sight. If I had chosen to live there, would that have made it OK? If I go to business or law school, come out with a graduate degree and then move into a condominium in Columbia Heights: that is, if I follow the developer’s rule book, is that better? Many hyper-self-conscious, counter-culture liberals describe such actions as ‘selling out.’ Generally speaking, it’s only all right to assuage such guilt by ingeniously fusing together mannerisms which connote blue-collar hygiene standards with white-collar dietary and consumer ethics. To dig out a niche that provides non-black residency, one can try wallowing in self-imposed poverty, working for a conscionable non-profit, drinking PBR at the Warehouse, or better yet…becoming an artist.

As I completed my loop and made my final stop at the 7-11 near my home, I encountered a thin, clearly drunk man accosting a quite shell-shocked, if rather disgusted, older woman. The verbal assault appeared to be motivated largely due to her skin colour, which, as the case happened to be, was white.

“I don’t mess with no white people! That’s right…Fuck you, stupid white bitch!” he spat, as she attempted to cross the street.

I attempted to do the same thing, but as it was, the foul-mouthed drunk was wandering in my direction. Unsatisfied with the pronouncement of his “No Whites” social order, he decided to inform me that in inclusive fashion, it also encompassed those deriving from the East Asian peninsula.

“Fuck you, Korea! I don’t mess with no motherfuckin’ Koreans!” he repeated, staring me down groggily as I crossed the street, his voice hoarse but still venomous.

I was half-tempted to reply: “I don’t mess with no motherfuckin’ Koreans either,” but thought better of it. Such smug riposte may not have inspired a universal humanistic epiphany and could well have proved harmful to my health. Besides, it would have been flat-out wrong.

I mess with motherfuckin’ Koreans all the time! Plus, they have cute accents.

As I dropped a couple of quarters into a woman’s cup, I wondered if the sort of violent resentment that my lighter-skinned Bolivian colleague fears from darker indigenous countrymen is limited to those below the border. A Shaw resident since 1969 recently told me that the current climate reminds him of 1965 DC. The city’s race riots took place in 1968.

History comes round full circle sometimes, as much as we might want to wish that we learn from past mistakes.