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LL awoke early Saturday morning to a cackle of shouting and shuffling in front of his Logan Circle house. Startled, LL checked his clock—3:06 a.m.—and jackknifed out of bed. Before he even reached the window, LL knew what to expect. After all, it was closing time at Diversite, a 14th Street NW nightclub that’s popular with gangs, who have sprinkled the blood of their nemeses all about the club’s environs.
By the time LL slipped on his mesh shorts and Rehoboth flip-flops, the victim of the night’s melee was laid out on the corner of 14th and Q Streets, curled up, still. Around him assembled a cluster of newly arrived police officers—who confirmed to LL that the trouble had come out of the club—and gawkers from the other nightspots on the 14th Street strip, like the Metro Cafe and the Black Cat. The medics would be there any second.
The young man’s violent injury was no less public than that of Warren Helm, who made the mortal mistake of passing by Diversite in March 1998. Upon approaching the bar, Helm encountered several patrons hassling a homeless man along the strip. A theology student, Helm intervened in an attempt to spare the poor man the same gruesome end that was in store for him.
The group chafed at Helm’s meddling and re-focused its attentions on him. Helm fled up 14th Street for a couple of blocks before the mob encircled him and slammed him to the pavement, according to court testimony. At the junction of 14th and R Streets, Helm was bludgeoned, kicked, and stabbed until he expired. Four men are now serving 30-year sentences for the murder.
Matthew Muir died a more immediate death after leaving Diversite late last August. He was gunned down in the nightclub’s parking lot, which borders on a number of Q Street homes. Two weeks after this second Diversite murder, resident Shirley Neff and several neighbors, along with the Logan Circle advisory neighborhood commission, sought a revocation of the club’s liquor license, an action that is now pending before the Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Board.
Should gang violence around Diversite claim another life, Police Chief Charles Ramsey must be held accountable. At his disposal is a law signed in January 1998 by Mayor-for-life Marion S. Barry Jr. allowing the police department to ask the ABC Board to revoke the liquor license of any establishment that fosters violence at its perimeter. The law appeared custom-made for Diversite; the murders of Helm and Muir occurred within eight months of its enactment. But so far, Ramsey’s department has made no such request.
If Helms and Muir had been police officers, Neff et al. wouldn’t have had to bother with all the paperwork and legalisms involved in an ABC proceeding. That’s because all the heavy hitters in the District—from the mayor to the police chief to the D.C. Council—would have converged on Diversite, clamoring for its closure. Just as they did to the late Ibex Club on upper Georgia Avenue.
Before the night of Feb. 5, 1997, the Ibex’s rap sheet looked a lot like Diversite’s today. The popular haunt was one of the few places in town to make D.C.’s go-go scene, but it also doubled as the site of frequent stabbings, beatings, and a homicide. Similar incidents of thuggery stem from Diversite. In addition to the two 1998 killings, there have been a couple of assaults this year, plus an incident in June when Diversite patrons fired shots into a 14th Street building, according to Doug Fierberg, an attorney working with the neighbors.
“The clientele on some of the evenings is the problem, after the club lets out,” says Lt. Bridget Sickon, who oversees police activity in the area. Sickon notes that the club’s management has been cooperative in working with the police.
What separates the Ibex from Diversite is Brian Gibson, the Metropolitan Police Department officer who was sitting in his cruiser on that February night when Ibex patron Marthell Dean executed him with five unprovoked shots from a handgun. Gibson’s murder did what all the previous carnage around the club had failed to do: stir a response from downtown. Then-Mayor Barry, then-Police Chief Larry Soulsby, and Ward 4 Councilmember Charlene Drew Jarvis raced one another to the outrage bullhorn. With an assist from the ABC Board, they made sure that the Ibex never sold another drink. The club immediately lost its liquor and business licenses. The ABC Board even employed a seldom-used provision in the D.C. Code to strip the liquor license.
The message? We can tolerate the killing of young, male, minority night owls—so long as they’re not on-duty cops. Helm was a 28-year-old African-American man. Even though he lost his life over an act of courage and generosity, his death sparked no citywide outrage. That he doesn’t rest alongside Gibson and Helen Foster-El in the District’s civic consciousness suggests that a young black male on the streets late at night is looking for trouble and thus unworthy of our sympathies.
“What does it take?” asks Fierberg, who specializes in ABC cases and is representing the complainants against Diversite. “Three people? Two and a cop? A cop and nobody else?” So far, the neighbors have worked the phones with city politicians and bureaucrats, presented evidence at one preliminary hearing, and asked the police to use their sweeping powers. But nearly a year after their initial complaint was filed, Diversite is still humming.
An official from the city’s Office of the Corporation Counsel initially told neighbors their case wasn’t as compelling as that of the Ibex. “We got bad advice, and now we’re revisiting it,” says advisory neighborhood commissioner David Stephens.
A Diversite manager, who asked not to be identified, denies any link between the murders and the club. “We don’t know anything about it,” says the employee with regard to Helm’s murder. He ascribed the liquor license protest to racial prejudice—”We are not welcome in a white neighborhood”—and asked LL if he felt threatened by the couples dancing on the club’s elegant, black-and-white dance floor on Monday night. “Do you see any gangs here?” he asked. LL didn’t. All he saw was 40 or so low-key revelers whose good times may be canceled thanks to fellow clubgoers’ lawlessness.
Racial allegations are an unfortunate staple of liquor-license squabbles in gentrifying areas like Logan Circle, Dupont Circle, and Capitol Hill. And to be sure, many protests bear the signatures of residents who want to live in a city yet expect the peace, quiet, and ample parking of a country estate. When a pattern of grisly crimes leads back to a club’s front door, though, the NIMBY label doesn’t quite stick.
The violence around Diversite long ago mushroomed from a provincial matter for LL and his yuppie neighbors into a citywide scourge. According to police sources, the club is a hangout for La Mara R, the R Street NW gang implicated in the June 25 shootings outside the Latin American Youth Center in Columbia Heights.
The following night, Mayor Anthony A. Williams and Ramsey toured Adams Morgan and other crime hot spots to showcase their intolerance for street violence. For their next outing, LL recommends a stop at Diversite, a place where all the disses and slights—both real and perceived—among street-savvy rivals accumulate, only to be resolved later on at random sites around the District.
For a time, LL was committed to keeping Diversite out of this space over concerns that he was carrying water for his neighbors. The scene at the corner of 14th and Q last Friday night, however, banished all quibbles. As LL looked on, the medics scraped the night’s beating victim off the pavement. The grit and grime of the sidewalk stuck to the young man’s bloodstained hands as he shimmied along the stretcher board. Outfitted with a large neck brace, he screamed with every twist of his torso.
A REAL OPERATOR
As a mayoral aide in St. Louis in the mid-’90s, Lloyd Jordan, director of D.C.’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, had a knack for mixing certain aspects of his personal and professional lives. In December 1996, according to reports in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jordan dropped nearly $6,000 into the St. Louis coffers for calls made on his city-owned cellular phone. The payment covered his entire bill, because, as Jordan told the paper, “I don’t have time for the pettiness of going through the records to see whether the calls were business-related. It’s my contribution to the city.”
Now the director is making similar payments to D.C.’s treasurer. Cellular logs filed with the Office of the Chief Financial Officer dating back to last October appear to show that he may not have yet constructed the proverbial firewall between business and personal expenses.
This past Memorial Day weekend, for instance, those records show that Jordan used his government-provided phone for 45 consecutive calls—for a total of 157 minutes—to a number in Ladue, Mo., the St. Louis suburb where the director maintains a home. Calls like those and scores of others to private residences around the St. Louis and D.C. areas on weekends and evenings helped push the director’s cellular charges to $1,663 over eight months.
On a Sunday night in early May, for example, Jordan’s phone dialed up Jenny’s Chinese Restaurant in Southwest. (Business dinner? Takeout?) And on April 15, the records show, he placed a call to the Bowties Nightclub in Raleigh, N.C. LL won’t bother guessing about that one. Mayoral spokesperson Peggy Armstrong dismissed LL’s concerns. “The idea is that if you make personal calls, you reimburse the government for them.” Jordan says he’s paid around $300 to cover the bills: “We’ve taken care of all our personal calls.”
* Since he finished his multicity policy-wonk tour last December, Mayor Williams has preached the prudence of copying “best practices” from other urban areas. “There’s no need to re-invent the wheel,” says the mayor just about every time he trots out the theme.
Today’s trendy urban model is Boston, where police, prosecutors, and the courts have somehow curbed out-of-control gang violence, D.C.’s latest public safety crisis. “We’re looking to go up there and look at what they’ve done and import it,” said Williams in late June.
Talk about reinventing the wheel: Williams’ crime aides are following in the tracks laid down by D.C. Councilmember Jack Evans and control board members Steve Harlan and Connie Newman in March 1997. “We’ve already done that,” says Evans, who consulted with Boston police officials on a program to keep juveniles with criminal backgrounds in their homes after midnight, when much of the violent crime was occurring. “A few years after they started, they didn’t have anyone under 18 years of age getting killed,” recalls Evans.
Erik Christian, the mayor’s top public safety aide, says he was aware that a delegation had visited Boston but was unsure “who they were.” But Williams officials won’t be retracing any footsteps anyhow, because there’s been a change in plans: The Boston people are now coming here, not the other way around. According to Christian, it’s uncertain who will pay for the Bostonians’ visit.
* No wonder the mayor wants to install a politically savvy appointee to head up the Department of Public Works (DPW). At a D.C. Council hearing last Wednesday on the proposed intermodal transportation center (ITC) at the eastern edge of Shaw, four career public works bureaucrats sounded as though they hadn’t found their way out of their offices since the invention of the Supercan.
Before a roomful of sneering, skeptical Shaw residents, DPW Interim Director Art Lawson talked up the ITC as a means of realizing the city’s potential for tourism. Lawson, who apparently hasn’t been watching the same Andy Griffith reruns as LL, said that the gargantuan 7,200-car garage would help lend a “small-town character to the metropolis.” He marveled about the ITC’s “hub for pedestrian access” and its role in cutting off auto traffic before it floods downtown’s core.
As if he needed to alienate the crowd any further, Lawson’s small town suddenly morphed into Walt Disney’s Epcot Center, as he gushed about a proposed new light-rail line: “Not only are we going to use it as a commuting activity, but also as an excitement type of trip; part of a vacationing experience will be riding the new light-rail system.” Woohoo!
Comments like those moved Ward 6 Councilmember Sharon Ambrose to vow that the city would spend “not one more penny” on the ITC concept. Even Evans, who championed construction of a six-square-block convention center without a single parking space, blasted the ITC. By week’s end, Williams had lent his voice to the chorus as well. Maybe Lawson & Co. can use the soil from convention center construction to erect Space Mountain at the ITC site. CP
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