City Paper is not for tourists
While researching the history of the Dissed-Trict, I spent a lot of time focusing on Forrester Street SW in Bellevue. I had never really spent serious time in Bellevue unless recording the complaints of homeless women (at the infamous D.C. Village), attending to some ceremony at the police academy or attending a debate at the Washington Highlands Public Library (it’s actually located in Bellevue). I didn’t think Bellevue had much to offer beyond those three spots. So I was encouraged to find plenty to fill a reporter’s notebook: stable homes filled with people who knew their neighborhood’s history, sweet ornamental improvements (those flags!), and the notorious side of Forrester Street.
When I started my reporting, one of my first calls was to Assistant Chief Winston Robinson. He had been the 7th District commander for more than 10 years (1993-2004); he would know stuff. When it came time to talk about Bellevue, he jumped all over Forrester Street.
“The drug activity on Forrester Street—-it was unbelievable, like unbelievable,” Robinson said. “The street was unreal. It was just so awesome.”
It was 1993. Robinson said that the quality of weed sold on that street was good enough to lure potheads from Annapolis, Richmond and Delaware. At any given time, he told me, there were roughly 25 dealers working the unit block of Forrester. Even on that street, their territory was small. They mainly sold their product out of the apartment complexes clustered at the bottom of the block.
Captain C.V. Morris policed that street back in the day. The dealers, he said, were a confident bunch. “They had their own website—-Best Weed in D.C.,” he recalled. “I know they had a website.”
The dealers were mostly Jamaicans. He doesn’t know how they turned Forrester into their own special stateside island. “For whatever reason, they had all those buildings,” he said. “They were entrenched in those four-unit buildings.”
Search warrants would lead Morris inside those buildings. What he founded was something out of Scarface or New Jack City—-an over-the-topness that tends to stand out in one’s memory. “This one guy had a bar. His whole living room and dining room was a bar, fully stocked. You could tell it was professionally done.”
And money. The police found it everywhere.
“We found money in ovens, air conditioners,” Morris said. “One place had a drop-out floor, there was a door in the floor. We go in and they…they’re gone.”
That area was good for between 10 to 20 homicides a year, Robinson recalled. In the beginning, these murders weren’t between rival dealers. There was no need to beef when the money was flowing and could be spread around. Murders, he said, stemmed from people robbing buyers—-easy prey carrying substantial weight. “Robbers knew these guys would buy a pound of marijuana,” he said.
All the activity was at those apartments. The good citizens lived farther up the block in houses. “They were right in the middle of all this stuff,” Robinson said. “They just got to the point where they either had to move or to fight. I had coverage up there as often as I could.
The dealers, Robinson said, knew which neighbors had 911 on speed dial. “They threatened them,” he explained. “They cut their telephone lines. These guys were stone bandits. But the [residents] hung with us.”
Morris and other cops opted for an interesting tactic—they would pose as drug dealers and arrest anyone who bought from them. The first night, he recalled, they got 40 arrests. The second night netted another 96. And the third night, they had more than 100 people in cells.
The dealers may have been smart, but their customers—-they were still stoners. “It was very successful,” Morris said. “We wound up using one of the apartment buildings as a staging area. We send you into this building, once you opened the door, you got snatched. [We] used another unit to store people…. It didn’t take us long. In two hours, we had 100 bodies easily. The oldest person we had was 83. The youngest person we had was 14.”
Morris is still impressed by his officers’ ability to play weed dealer. “We were very good at it,” he said. “We were super good at it.”
At least one of the apartment buildings emptied out. Chris Smith, CEO of William C. Smith, has a property on Forrester. But he couldn’t stand the vacant. “We went in and bricked it up,” he said. “Sometimes you just have to do things in order to support the neighborhood.”
Eventually, Morris said the real dealers got murdered or got run off.
“The Jamaicans had all the contacts,” Morris said. “Most people feared them. And they had the drug connections in New York. Nobody could do nothing to them. Weed and crack started exploding. When [the homegrown dealers] didn’t need the Jamaicans no more, they started killing them and running them off. The local boys had enough.”