City Paper is not for tourists
In the past seven years, Adams Morgan residents have tried just about every established method to rid the corner of 17th and Euclid Streets NW of criminals and loiterers. They’ve formed orange-hat patrols and marched through the streets. They’ve had the police designate the corner a “hot spot” worthy of special attention. They’ve pushed police to issue stay-away orders for particularly bothersome thugs.
Neighbors have turned to some more unorthodox tactics, too. In 2002, convinced that the home at 1701 Euclid was the center of the problem, they encouraged the U.S. Attorney’s Office to prosecute its tenants, the Bennett family. But a subsequent raid didn’t turn up the crack factory some thought it would (“The Stoop at 1701 Euclid,” 12/3/04).
But there’s yet another option: going high-tech. And now that hasn’t panned out, either.
According to a March 2005 agreement signed by Teresa Bennett, Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham, police, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, two floodlights and two security cameras were to be installed on the Bennett house, with video images available to anybody with Internet access.
Cameras have become a go-to crime-fighting method in big cities everywhere, despite studies disputing their effectiveness. Baltimore has more than 100. Chicago and New York have thousands. London has a half-million. D.C. hasn’t quite caught camera fever yet—the Park Police, Capitol Police, and Metropolitan Police Department have only several dozen cameras between them.
But if Bennett ever had the bug, she lost it soon after signing the agreement—and found herself a lawyer. In a September 2005 letter to Graham, attorney Donald Temple said his client had “no objections to camera equipment being placed on any building—other than her property.”
“We had significant concerns about attitudes associated with gentrification,” says Temple, who holds that Bennett “probably felt significantly compelled” to sign the original agreement. “It resulted in significant harassment of the family. It was pretty horrific. It would not have happened if they weren’t African-American.”
Bennett declined to comment, other than to say that the whole affair has been “very stressful.”
Even without the option of sticking the devices on the Bennett house, neighborhood activists have plugged along, none more energetic than Wilson Reynolds. In September, Reynolds introduced a resolution supporting Graham’s efforts at a Reed-Cooke Neighborhood Association meeting. It never got considered; Reynolds tried again last November, and it failed again.
“It’s really not about a camera,” Reynolds says. “It’s about bad guys doing bad things going away.”
In December, he won a vacated advisory neighborhood commission (ANC) seat. In his official government capacity, he pressed the case for cameras with the powers that be. And Graham was as receptive as ever to the idea.
Graham has been personally involved in the corner’s affairs for a while. In 2004, after the U.S. Attorney’s Office couldn’t pull off a Bennett eviction, Graham sought to pester the household with trash violations and flirted with the idea of a private lawsuit against the family. In March, Reynolds and a handful of other neighborhood activists met at Graham’s office to discuss how to move forward with the cameras. Reynolds and Graham each contacted security contractors to get proposals for installation.
On May 16, at a joint meeting of the two ANC districts whose borders meet along Euclid Street, residents discussed the camera plan and then rejected it by a vote of 22–17.
Oralia Puente, who has lived across the street from the Bennetts for 30 years, voted for the camera. “That corner’s been there a long time—nothing’s changed,” she says. Puente has installed double-pane windows and planted a tree in her front yard as a buffer against the noise and activity on the corner. She does acknowledge that the spot has improved slightly but not enough. “Sometimes we just have to do something that’s gonna make a change.”
Joyce Edwards, who has lived two doors down from Puente for six years, voted against the camera. She says she’s called the cops regularly for gunshots and fights happening on the street but doesn’t want a surveillance camera “because of the whole Big Brother thing.”
Reynolds introduced another resolution to the Reed-Cooke Neighborhood Association in support of cameras last Tuesday; it died for lack of a second. “The kind of support that’s needed is not there,” Reynolds says.
Graham says he isn’t terribly convinced by the vote—he says some of the plan’s strongest supporters didn’t show up. “I think that with an issue like this, unless you were to stage a formal election, you never really know where the breakdown is. It really is a function of who shows up.”
Even if cameras had majority support, some doubt they would be worthwhile. Bryan Weaver, an advisory neighborhood commissioner who represents a district adjacent to Reynolds’, says most of the “entrenched” criminal activity has moved east, to 14th and 15th Streets NW. “The thing that unnerves me is that there’s been so much energy spent on this camera, and those kids have moved on,” Weaver says. “It’s sort of like hoisting the flag when the battleground has moved up the street.”
But Officer Andrew Zabavsky, who patrols the area, says the same old gang has returned, following a brief hiatus because of a shooting. He wants cameras: “It sure would help,” he says. But “the whole idea kinda fizzled. Jim Graham was pulling his typical two-faced kinda stuff.”
Despite his pro-camera advocacy, the councilmember says he shares the neighborhood’s mixed feelings. “I have enough reservations about surveillance and First Amendment rights that it gives me pause,” he says. “If enough neighbors were in favor, I’d be for it.”
Graham denies any two-facery; once Teresa Bennett changed her mind, he says, he spent six months helping to negotiate a new agreement. And then in December, he says, Reynolds told him there probably wouldn’t be enough community support for the camera. “Do you have any idea how tormented this has been for your humble public servant?” he asks.
About a half-dozen dudes are hanging out on the stoop of 1703 Euclid on a recent Saturday afternoon. One man, who identifies himself only as “Big Daddy,” says he doesn’t think much of Graham or the camera plan: “Invadin’ folks’ privacy—fuck ’em.”CP