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While I was pleased that the Washington City Paper sheds some light as to the struggles of families who live in Columbia Heights (“Parks and Wrecks,” 3/1), I am concerned by some details that the article omitted.
To begin, my neighbors and I have great pride in Columbia Heights, just as anyone should have of his neighborhood. It is not a ghetto, nor has it ever been, but rather a place where families have lived without the cooperation of the city to maintain its safety.
One thing that concerns me about this article is near the top of the story: that someone would hear pleas for help and then turn on the TV to drown out the noise. Who would do such a thing and why? On the evening of Dec. 11, 2001, the evening Kamau Walker was murdered, I slept just down the street and awoke to screams for help. Having previously phoned 911 for another incident at 6 a.m. on Sept. 11 (the emergency call was answered at 8:15 a.m.) in addition to having phoned 911 in July 2001 after having been mugged at gunpoint (the call was answered with typical nonchalance by a police officer), I had come to realize that even when we Columbia Heights residents need them most, we do not equitably receive city resources that many in Washington’s other neighborhoods receive. Why should anyone in Columbia Heights have confidence that urgent 911 calls would be taken seriously?
We’ve come to understand that the situation is nearly hopeless. This is what crossed my mind as I struggled for some peace of mind that evening by turning on the television. The good news is that for now the violence seems to have quieted down. Per his promise, Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham has seen to it that lights were installed on the city-owned buildings at 15th and Girard Streets NW. Residents of Columbia Heights count on him to continue fighting on behalf of safety in this neighborhood.
But bad news remains at hand. Police presence is still inadequate in spite of promises made by the deputy chief of police and police commander, as well as Mayor Williams, in December to increase police patrols. Open-air drug markets are still thriving in the alleys and dark streets of Columbia Heights, undeterred. As soon as the police presence is diminished, there is always an increase in illegal activities, which eventually breed violent acts with growing frequency and growing intensity—a consistent and disturbing trend.
Perhaps the most unbelievable news to face this long-overlooked neighborhood, which was not present in your article on this issue, is that Mayor Williams reportedly wants to cut the budget for the already depleted police force to make up for a gigantic overspending error in the education budget. This is a concept about which it is unacceptable to think; it is far less than responsible to discuss such a drastic measure.
The duty of any responsible democratically led government is to (1) establish order for the people, and (2) ensure the protection of the people. We have neither order nor protection. With such gross errors by D.C. government leaders as well as those misled on Capitol Hill, one has to wonder if we residents of Washington, D.C.—the capital city of the leading free nation in the world—really have a government at all.