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When Jonnie Jackson moved to Wylie Street NE three years ago, he had no intention of trying to change the neighborhood. He just wanted a good night’s sleep.
“The people were on the street from 10 o’clock at night to 5 a.m.,” Jackson says, “music playing, cars driving up, horns honking, people laughing, people playing cards, kids bouncing balls on your house, on cars, setting off car alarms.”
Jackson says the one-block street just north of H Street NE was also home to regular drug sales and an open-air chop shop, with cars being stripped for parts in the road.
Jackson had to be at work by 6:30 a.m. So he began calling the police about his rowdy neighbors. But he didn’t stop with noise complaints. Before he left for work, he made it a habit to call parking enforcement to ticket the cars on his street with out-of-state or expired paper tags. He shooed kids away from his stoop. And he installed a security camera outside his house.
At the time he moved in, Jackson was one of a handful of people on the block who owned the houses they occupied. The rest of the houses were home to renters or were vacant. To Jackson’s fellow homeowners, he was a hero. To his other neighbors, however, he was a one-man police state.
Within his first year on Wylie Street, someone shot up his ’95 Hyundai Sonata. People cut down the plants in his tree box. And one evening in March 2000, he says, one of his neighbors, Jabari Bishop, threatened to kill him.
Bishop, then 20, lived four houses away with his mother, Patricia Bishop, and his two sisters. The Bishops had lived on Wylie more than 20 years, and by all accounts, the family ruled the street. “My mother is the neighborhood,” says Patricia’s daughter Jamoke Bishop. “A part of the block is a part of our soul.”
But while Patricia Bishop saw herself as the neighborhood peacemaker, other residents, including Jackson, say they lived in fear of the Bishops. And they suspected that Jabari Bishop was involved with the fire-bombing of a house on K Street NE several years ago. Jabari Bishop, however, had never been convicted of a crime.
On March 16, 2002, according to court records, Jackson says he was walking home around 9:30 p.m. when he spotted Jabari Bishop.
“Why you park your car around the corner, bitch?” Jabari Bishop allegedly shouted.
“Because I don’t want you to shoot it up again,” Jackson replied.
“Well, I know where you parked it bitch, I’ll shoot it up again,” said Bishop, according to court records.
Jackson says he responded by threatening to call the police. Bishop allegedly did him one better: “I know where you live,” he said. “And I’ll shoot you bitch.”
Jackson rushed home and dialed 911. He gave police Jabari Bishop’s name and address. Police later showed him a photo array; Jackson picked out Bishop but said that the night he was threatened, Bishop’s hair was different. “He had plaits sticking out of his cap,” Jackson said. About three weeks later, police picked up Bishop on a warrant for shooting Jackson’s car and threatening to do bodily harm, among other charges. The police searched the Bishop house. They found no gun or ammunition.
Patricia Bishop believes Jackson and the other property owners on the block have a vendetta against her and the low-income residents of Wylie. “Those houses look like Georgetown. I know they want Section 8 [residents] out of there,” she says, referring to the Housing Choice Voucher Program, formerly known as Section 8.
Jackson and his fellow homeowners don’t deny that low-income tenants are their biggest concern. “The children who jump on my car, they are all Section 8 children,” he said at an August meeting of Wylie Street property owners. “That is unfortunate, because many poor people need subsidized housing. People learned to beat the system and you as homeowners. They make neighbors and good homeowners in the neighborhood miserable.”
So besides turning to the police and to attorneys with their noise, trash, and crime complaints, the property owners on Wylie also turned to the D.C. Housing Authority. In April 2001, after Jackson complained to the Housing Authority, the agency investigated Patricia Bishop for violating housing regulations by having more people living with her than she stated on her lease. She successfully challenged the claim and kept her voucher.
A year later, though, the Housing Authority launched another probe of Bishop stemming from her son’s arrest for allegedly threatening Jackson. During the police search of the Bishop house, officers reported finding a small quantity of crack cocaine. But the substance was never tested by the Drug Enforcement Agency, Jabari Bishop was never charged with possessing it, and, as a result, it wasn’t presented during his trial, according to attorneys for both sides.
The alleged discovery of drugs was enough, however, to force the Bishops off Wylie, according to a letter the housing authority sent to Patricia Bishop.
Patricia Bishop says that, ever since leaving Wylie Street, she and her teenage daughter have been staying with friends and relatives. “I’m basically homeless,” she says.
This past July, Jabari Bishop went on trial in D.C. Superior Court for threatening Jackson. Bishop’s lawyer argued that Jackson had fingered the wrong man. She contended that the description Jackson gave matched Bishop’s neighbor, Mike Dennis. Bishop had dreadlocks; Dennis had plaits. And attorney Todd Baldwin, who used to represent Jabari Bishop, testified that Dennis had admitted to him that he was the one who had shot up Jackson’s car and threatened Jackson. Dennis himself refused to testify on Bishop’s behalf, because the government wouldn’t give him immunity.
During the trial, the prosecution argued that even if Dennis had shot Jackson’s car, he had done it at Bishop’s behest. In the end, the case depended on Jackson’s word against Bishop’s.
“[Jackson] worked two jobs to buy his first home. He wanted to pursue the American dream. He did everything a decent, hardworking person does,” the prosecutor argued during closing arguments. “In every city and town, people like Jonnie Jackson are the people you want as neighbors. What you don’t want is people like the Bishops, who rule the street.”
The defense attacked Jackson’s credibility, arguing that he had a penchant for exaggeration. As evidence, they offered a letter he had sent to Attorney General John Ashcroft, in which he described his neighbors on Wylie Street as “terrorists.” The defense also disputed Jackson’s motives, saying he had fingered Bishop because he wanted to “get the Bishops off his Georgetown block.”
In the end, the jurors didn’t seem to believe either side 100 percent. On July 24, they split the verdict, acquitting Bishop of shooting Jackson’s car and related gun charges, but convicting Bishop of one count of threatening to do bodily harm and one count of threatening to destroy property.
Jackson’s efforts to clean up the block didn’t end with Bishop’s conviction. In September, with sentencing still pending, Jackson drops in on a community meeting to tell a group of police officers that he’s seen young men dealing drugs outside another house, rented by the Proctor family.
A few minutes later, four police cruisers pull up on Wylie Street, lights flashing, sirens blaring. Another uniformed officer rolls up on a bicycle. Several plainclothes officers disembark from a gray unmarked sedanthe standard-issue jump-out vehicle. The officers clear the Proctor family from their house, so a police narcotics dog can sniff the tires of a station wagon, then a black Mercedes sedan.
Jackson’s neighbors don’t need to know the details to understand what happened. A woman heading into her house stops a neighbor who is watching the search. “He called again?” the woman asks. The neighbor nods.
“The police don’t ask us what’s going on,” says an elderly woman who lives at the end of the block with her grandchildren. “To bring police with dogs? They don’t bother nobody. Nobody [else] ever calls the police….He calls the police every day, saying the kids are bouncing a ball too loud. Kids can’t ride bikes up and down the street.”
After 10 minutes, the police have found nothing. Once they are safely out of earshot, a toddler sitting on the Proctors’ stoop says what’s on everyone’s mind: “Police get on my nerves.”
Patricia Proctor says that ever since she and her family moved to Wylie Street in January, Jackson has called the police on them at least once a week, accusing the Proctors of selling drugsan allegation she denies. She says she can’t take it anymore; she’s moving as soon as her one-year lease is up.
The night before Jabari Bishop is to be sentenced, Jackson says he isn’t looking forward to sending Bishop away: “I came here to live, and that’s all I want to do.”
He says that “things have quieted down” on Wylie since he moved in. He says they’re down to three voucher-assisted rentals on the block. “It’s a thousand times better. You can sleep at night, even in the summer,” he says.
These days, though, he suffers a form of quiet harassment. The next morning, Nov. 17, he tells D.C. Superior Court Judge Rafael Diaz that “my life is a living hell and continues to be.” Jabari Bishop’s old associates, he explains, still frequent the block and give him “harsh stares and harsh words almost on a daily basis….My environment still feels unsafe.”
When Diaz asks Jabari Bishop to speak, Bishop insists that he’s innocent; he plans to appeal the jury’s verdict. At the same time, he says he wants to tell Jackson that he’s sorry. “I never had any ill will or feelings toward him and still don’t to this day,” he says.
Diaz gives Bishop another chance. He sentences him to a suspended term of 20 years in prison with five years’ probation. Diaz also orders Bishop to stay away from Jackson and from Wylie Street. CP
Art accompanying story in the printed newspaper is not available in this archive: Photographs by Darrow Montgomery.