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The 3500 block of 13th Street NW is marked territory. Tags for the MS-13 and STC gangs decorate an apartment building. Someone has scrawled indecipherable graffiti on a wall across the street. And last week, the lampposts on the block presented a threatening counterclaim: Fliers, attached with masking tape, delivered a Dirty Harry message to graffiti artists and litterers:

“Gang punks, fuck off! We care, and we carry guns!”

“This block is not a sewer,” the message continued in smaller type, “and we will put you in jail if you throw your garbage or empty bottles here. We are watching, and we pay for your name. If you put garbage here, you are going to JAIL.”

The fliers, which also appeared in tamer versions and in Spanish, were unsigned, but they promised a $100 reward for the names of taggers and litterbugs. The tipster-hot-line number on them connected callers to 4th District police headquarters—and to a puzzled desk supervisor. Police say they had nothing to do with the fliers or any tagger reward.

“Obviously, that’s not us writing those fliers. Come on, now,” says a Metropolitan Police Department spokesperson, Officer Junis Fletcher. “Any release we do we put on letterhead.” (The fliers have since been removed.)

This stretch of 13th Street is a mix of well-groomed row houses and shabby apartment buildings. The shabbiest building of them all, 3511, has broken glass for windows, a dirt lawn, and beer bottles for lawn ornaments. Its house number is scrawled in spray-paint, near an “STC.”

Yet 3511 doesn’t seem to be the only problem. It appears that the complaint began a few doors down in another apartment building. One variant of the vigilante flier offered a $100 reward “for the arrest and conviction of any person disturbing the peace by banging on the door of 3517 13th Street.”

“There’s no doorbells,” explains Evan McAnney, a resident of 3517. McAnney denies authorship of the flier, but he’s sympathetic to the anonymous complainant’s various causes. “There’s some woman who comes by and yells ‘Dave, Dave, Dave!’ and wakes up the whole building.” Dave, says McAnney, was a former building superintendent.

The street and sidewalks sometimes become a forbidding landscape of broken glass, he says, but he doesn’t know if gangs are at its root of the problem. Then again, McAnney says, he’s from New Hampshire: “I guess I wouldn’t know.”

Michael, a 42-year-old construction worker who grew up on the block, says he never noticed the fliers. “I think this is ludicrous,” he says. “What it is is a reverse kind of graffiti,” he adds, “a reverse type of trash, reverse punks!”

He is skeptical of the notion that gang activity is on the rise. “That’s life,” he says. “It didn’t just sprout up.” CP