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Last week, I wrote a blog post about the removal of pairs of shoes from trees and street lights in Shaw, and the various ideas flying around about the symbolism of the shoes. One theory is that the shoes mark gang territory; Another is that they are used as memorials to lost friends; One more is that they identify drug houses. These conflicting ideas were often recorded with deep conviction (read: self-righteous dogmatism) on the Police Third District listserv. Example: after one poster wrote in support of the gang territory theory, another posted, “It’s very obvious that you are not an expert on this topic, sir.” Then, with great wisdom and compassion, the writer enlightened the listserv: “The kids I have tried to discourage from doing this were hanging shoes on telephone lines to honor the memory of a deceased friend who they held in high regard. Not every little neighborhood kid is in a gang or a crew.”
In the end, no one idea emerged as the absolute truth. But, I wanted to get to the bottom of this. I made some calls to the Ward 2 representatives in the Mayor’s Office of Community Relations and Services (MOCRS). They were working on the shoe removal. Unfortunately, the MOCRS guys didn’t call me back too quickly. But, somehow through the grapevine, two other men heard what I was doing and called me to set me straight.
ANC 2C01 Commissioner Alexander Padro rang first: “I grew up in the Bronx. I knew that shoes hanging from lampposts and trees [identified] where a drug house was, and that’s where you go for the action.” Padro says he’s called the Department of Public Works several times over the years to report hanging shoes. He’s noticed a lot of shoes on the 400 block of Q Street. “I’ve talked to people who walk on the block or live on the block, they think there’s a message: this place belongs to us.”
Then, Steven Cox from local anti-violence group Root Inc. called. “So, what do you think the shoes represent?” I asked. “Well, let’s get past the “think” part,” he responded, “I know exactly what’s going on here.” Or something to that effect. “You know how people say ‘he got smoked out of his shoes,'” continued Cox, well apparently, the shoes often belong to murdered victims of gang violence. The perp lobs the shoes up to show his gang is unafraid and willing to kill. Grim stuff—and utterly different from Padro’s claim.
So, who’s not down with the DC streets? “As far as theories, there’s not one specific theory [driving the removal],” says mayoral spokesperson Dena Iverson. Her office heard various complaints at community meetings and via e-mail, and decided the best thing to do was just take down the shoes. So, I guess there’s my answer, if I were to consider the Mayor’s Office of Communications the ultimate authority on gang activities. I still think the full truth has yet to emerge.