A terrible assault and a group of neighbors working for change

I heard from two readers that there was an assault and attempted robbery in the early evening of November 19th just above Sherman Circle at 7th and Decatur, so I spent time trying to figure out what happened since it didn't appear in MPD's email crime stats. Here’s what I’ve pieced together from multiple sources about the assault. 

Around 6:30pm in the evening on Thursday, November 19th, a man was walking from his home on Illinois Ave to pick up his wife and two kids who were coming from the bus stop on Kansas Ave and Decatur Street. The man crossed over Decatur and turned left on the sidewalk, into the small triangular park between 7th and Illinois. 

According to MPD, the man was jumped by five juvenile assailants in that park — though it’s possible only three of the five actually participated in the attack. 

The small triangular park at 7th and Decatur where the assault occurred.

It was dark out when the assault took place, and tragically, while the woman called 911 to report it right away, she didn’t realize it was her own husband being attacked.

MPD showed up 3 minutes after the call, and an ambulance took the victim to the hospital, where I understand he was treated for broken ribs and received stitches for his injuries. Nothing was reportedly taken from him by his assailants.

Approximate location of the assault (photo: Google Maps)

The crime didn’t appear on MPD’s crime report listserv because it occurred on park land, so is under the jurisdiction of the US Park Police and they are the reporting agency, not MPD. (This is one of the complications in living in DC with so many different police agencies and jurisdictions overlapping.) 

According to MPD, it was just a random assault. No reason, no motive and, at least right now, no leads. 

I can’t even fathom what would make a group of people do something so vicious. 

As I was on the scene taking photos today, I saw an MPD patrol car sitting on Decatur. The officers saw me taking pictures and stepped out to talk, and I met Officers Topper and Worthington. (Apparently Officer Worthington gets the Petworth News email newsletter, and recognized me.) 

While we were talking, one of PSA 407’s bike patrol cops, Officer Glascock, rolled up to join us. Turns out, Glascock was the first MPD officer on the scene after the call came in on Thursday. All three were surprised by the violence of the attack.

MPD Officers Glascok, Topper and Worthington

They’re on Decatur working a specific patrol area in the 5th to 8th and Decatur to Emerson areas (in line with Lt. Washington's recent redeployment efforts). 

The officers explained to me where the assault actually took place, in the small triangular park just north of the Circle. We talked for awhile about something like this happening at that time of day, and what’s been happening in the area along Delafield and Emerson with the gun shots, and resident's reports of drug dealing. 

From our conversation, what I can say is that the police generally know the problem houses and people very well, but their hands are somewhat tied, as knowing who or what isn’t good enough for an arrest warrant. In this case, MPD is forced to be reactionary to the problems, not proactive. Patrolling the streets in predetermined areas may seem like it keeps the criminal activity down, but it really just pushes it someplace else for the time being. 

While longer term solutions are needed, Officer Topper said, “We know us being here makes people feel more comfortable."

As we stood on the sidewalk talking, people walked or drove by and I saw the officers paying attention. They waved at some, talked to others and pointed out a few to me that they knew. What was obvious was they knew the area, and several of the people who came by knew them.

Then as we were talking, their radio’s squawked, and they were told to go to a local house on 7th Street for a community crime meeting. “You may want to come along,” Topper said to me. "This probably concerns you, too."

I met the officers are the house where the meeting was already ongoing. There were about 20 or so residents talking about the recent incidents, as well as one specific problem house that everyone seemed to know. The residents know the man who owns it, and about the people who hang out at all hours in the front. They want to do something about the violence and the quality of life. They want to talk to the homeowner, not confront him. But how do you tell someone their friends or family are scaring people or committing crimes? They talked about writing him a letter, and having one neighbor deliver it in-person, so as to seem less confrontational.

"We think we know who they're shooting at," one resident said. "I know the Assistant Attorney General knows, because we told her. But does MPD? "

"There's clouds of pot smoke coming from the front yard," said one resident. "And we want to be tolerant, but it gets overwhelming."

They talked about working together as a neighborhood group, being consistent with their messages to the people hanging out in the alleys and on the street. There was talk about getting a community walk together and going door-to-door to talk to neighbors. They even had a formal sign-in sheet with everyone's name, email and address. They're concerned, and they're organized.

One woman talked about recently confronting the young men hanging out behind her house in the alley when she was taking the trash out. She told them the neighbors don’t want people there, and the boys apologized and left. Frankly, it could have turned out differently, and worse.

“We went through this 4 to 5 years ago,” she said. “We were told to look at putting in more lights, getting street lights fixed and buying cameras.” She looked over at the officers and asked, “What can we do now?”

We talked about the upcoming PSA 404/407 meeting at 7pm on December 17th, and the importance of showing up, talking with MPD leadership and expressing their concerns.

There was a lot of talk about the number of officers available in the PSA and across the Ward. The officers spoke of seasonal spikes in crime, crew violence and some reasons for why crimes occur at certain times. 

Regarding safety while walking around, Officer Topper said that people really need to be vigilant about their surroundings. “Put the phone down and pull the earbuds out,” he said. “You have to know what’s going on around you.”

The discussion lasted for more than an hour. In the end, the residents agreed to meet again prior to the PSA meeting, and to show up at the PSA meeting to ensure MPD leadership heard their concerns. 

ANC 4D Commissioner Bill Quirk, who also attended the meeting, said to me later that he's "grateful to see such a strong outpouring of support from the community."

From my position as an observer at the meeting, I agree that it was great to see a very diverse group talk so openly about ideas to work together as neighbors. It was also great to hear the MPD officers be forthcoming with ideas and explanations. It's definitely going to take more than focused patrols and community meetings to stop the recent surge in violence. But I think it's a great first step.

Officers patrolling along 7th Street NW

Updated 11/22: I changed the phrase "fixed post" to "patrol area" to reflect the correct terminology MPD is using.