Dear PoPville – Action needed for Raymond Recreation Center

Photo by PoPville flickr user AggieMAB

A number of readers have written in about tonight’s ANC4 meeting (Petworth Library Community Room 6:30pm-9pm) that will discuss Raymond Park/Playground (915 Spring Rd, NW) and one shares a letter written to the mayor:

“Dear Mayor Gray,

I am writing to implore you to help our community here in Petworth.

This past Sunday, Jamar Freeman was murdered in the Raymond Recreation Center. The identity of the murderer and the reason for the murder are both unknown at this time. What is not unknown to the community, however, is that the poor state of the Raymond Rec’s security and the “anything goes” attitude that comes along with it.

On any given night of the week there are drug dealers present surrounding Raymond Rec. Some nights these dealers stand on corners, some nights they sit in the playground that is meant for children to play in. My wife and I have gone outside in the morning to discover men sleeping on the playground equipment, as well as using the playground as a toilet. As residents, we have watched as police dutifully respond to calls at Raymond Rec, but are unable to apprehend the subjects escaping through the numerable uncontrolled entry points – both official and those made with wirecutters through the chain link fence. Dealers flee the police from surrounding blocks through Raymond Rec, knowing that the police cars cannot follow them.

This criminal element has a safe haven at Raymond Rec, as it is full of dark corners and numerous entry points for people to get in and out. As a result of this safe haven, crime in the surrounding blocks has risen steadily for the past 6 years (as shown in the attached graph). A change needs to happen in the neighborhood to improve the safety and security of the park, which will have undeniable positive effects for the surrounding community.

Despite all its problems, the community is still able to make use of the Rec Center. The daily basketball games continue, despite players having to avoid the prominent pothole inside the three-point line. The weekly flag football and soccer games continue, despite the field’s bare spots, and despite the broken water fountains. Parents still take their children on the playground, avoiding the sections where it has been used as a toilet.

This community and its citizens deserve better.

The Raymond Recreation center has an immediate need for new security lighting, lockable gates, and a fence that cannot be cut or scaled. Renovations would enable opportunities for organized programs, which will make the park a destination for recreation, instead of a hang-out or escape route for the criminal element. These renovations are already planned as part of your budget, but have not been executed. The Rec Center has gone without these much needed renovations while the neighborhood and the city have developed around it. Impressive recreations centers have shown up in Shaw, Columbia Heights, Deanwood – while the citizens of our neighborhood wait.

The Raymond Rec renovations have been part of the District’s planed capital expenditures since 2009. The 2011-2016 Capital Improvement Plan called for Raymond Rec ‘s construction to begin in October 2010. We have seen drawings and plans, with the project start time always “just around the corner.” We have watched the start date move from October 2010… to January 2010… to June 2011… to September 2011…until now, when we have no determined date for these much needed improvements.

At a September 27th meeting with Councilmember Bowser and the Office of Public Education Facilities Modernization, the community was presented with new ideas which would change the Rec Center as planed into new city offices, and push the project start time even further into the indeterminate future. This new plan will not help the community fix problems that are getting worse daily, and we reject it as a community.

The renovations for Raymond Recreation Center are already paid for, and were allocated in the 2011 budget. We need this work to begin NOW. DPR and OPEFM have a plan that has been vetted by the community and is achievable within the budget. I urge you to press the heads of these agencies to move forward with execution immediately. Bringing the Raymond Recreation Center modernization project to fruition will bring the community the safety, security, and recreation opportunities it deserves.

I speak for our entire neighborhood when I tell you that we cannot bear another night of drug dealing, another day of unusable facilities, or another young life taken.

Friends of Raymond Recreation”

49 Comment

  • Would it be okay if I showed up for the meeting late? Do they typically run until 9? I care about this but have class until 8!

  • I live two blocks from Raymond park…and I agree with everything stated in this letter. Every time I walk by the playground there are the same 4-5 guys standing on the corner of Quebec Place and 10th Street slinging drugs, there are adults without kids hanging out on the playground, and it just feels the most uninviting place you would ever want to go to…especially with small children.

    I am tired of this administration sitting on their hands with this park and rec center improvement project we’ve been hearing about for years yet nothing gets done. Does someone really have to die for DC’s bureaucrats to get their asses in gear?

    Apparently…and that’s a sad state of affairs.

  • That was a very well written letter. Kudos.

  • I’m single-parenting tonight and can’t make the meeting–what can I do in terms of email/letter-writing? And I’m also not in ANC4 or Bowser’s district but am just the other side of the line and would like to be able to take my kid to that playground without being worried about what he’s going to see or find.

  • Excellent letter.

  • Couldn’t have written it any better than this letter. I walk by the park at least twice a day and I played 7v7 soccer there for many years. It has been a dangerous eyesore for the entire time, as well as an obvious drug dealing center (to include all of 9th street behind the Park Place building). The park needs to be secured and lit after dark for there to be improvement in crime in the area. There is no excuse.

  • I can’t make it tonight, but strongly support those going and urge you to express your concern about this and surround troublesome areas in Petworth.

  • andy

    how/why does the Raymond Rec Center renovation get rid of the drug dealers?

    I don’t live far away and would like the drug dealers out of business, but am having trouble understanding how nicer facilities = less drug dealers.

    What am I missing?

    • Drug dealers feel safe to deal around the rec center for the reasons listed in the letter – easy to get in and out of, dark corners, cops can’t give chase, etc. Eliminate those elements and it becomes much more difficult to deal. Keep the park secure at night and it can’t be used for mischief or worse. With time, this may positively influence the surrounding area.

      The one thing I don’t know about is “a fence that cannot be cut or scaled”. What does that look like – a 14 foot tall, iron barred prision perimeter?

      • I believe that the planning has something that’s more like 8 or 10 feet, and similar to many of the aluminum rail fences seen at different parks around the city.

        For example:

        The point isn’t to be impenetrable – just that it’s not chain link that can be easily cut or climbed.

      • In addition to the obvious security benefits, nicer facilities = less drug dealers because of the increase of usage by the community. When the rec center is used more often by a larger segment of the neighborhood (which will happen when the facilities are improved), the tolerance for crime, mischief, and destruction of property will be significantly reduced.

        There is also early planning in the works by DPW on how a police presence can be incorporated into the Rec Center building. Something as simple as free coffee for officers on patrol available inside the rec center kitchen will help.

        • andy

          I get the benefit of a fence security upgrade. Anything that could keep people out at night sounds good.

          And increased police presence sounds like a good idea. Near there it seems like I’m most likely to run into a cop at Yes!, when based on what people are saying here it sounds like their hangout spot should be the rec center.

        • orderedchaos

          + a lot. Police presence combined with redoing the whole park will go a long way to cleaning up the area.

          • The proposed fence is an 8-foot iron one, and the number of entrances will be scaled for better control. The plan also calls for better lighting, and the park can be secured after hours.

  • There is a candlelight vigil for that boy on Saturday at 7 o’clock I believe.

  • Great letter! Well-written. Kudos to active participation in gov’t.

  • cadlelight vigils should be replaced with outrage.
    enough is enough.

    • Especially when the deceased actions apparently led directly to his demise (see homicide watch photo prominently displaying his “crew” affiliation).

      • we should have a vigil to protest the loss of freedom to enjoy our neighborhoods withhout the constant criminal actions foisted on us by scum.not the loss of scum.

        • Somehow I suspect that you didn’t know the victim – just as I didn’t know him. Since I can’t say with certainty what kind of a kid he was, nor what exactly having “3500” on your photo actually means, I’m not going to get too hung up on those details.

          Instead, I’ll stay hung up on the fact that Raymond is in desperate need of renovation, and we need the city to act on it NOW.

  • Call me a devil’s advocate, or possibly completely naive. Yes a kid got stabbed around the park and died, which is very unfortunate and not indicative of safety. Although the circumstances are unknown, everybody turns to drugs and complaints about the danger of that particular area. But going back to 2006, there don’t seem to have been any homicides in the blocks immediately surrounding that park, and the distribution of other crimes don’t suggest that crime seems to center there.

    Furthermore, I’m not sure about rampant drug dealing on any of these blocks or in the park. Rather, there are a bunch of “kids” that hang out in the blocks surrounding the park, particularly on 9’th st. Although a lot of them don’t live on that block, most of them did go to elementary school at Raymond Felton and they still know a couple of people on the block. These are the reasons they hang out there if you ask them. Yes they do take drugs and drink excessively on weekends, but it’s not like we’re talking about corners on the Wire or anything. Rather than being a public safety issue, it seems more of a quality of life and noise issue.

    I’m not saying that houses on these blocks have never been raided by the police for drugs and I’m not saying that everything that goes on is completely benign, but I feel a lot of people misinterpret the loitering that goes on in some of these blocks. Also, I’m not sure how fixing a park that’s not in that bad of shape would accomplish anything. Kids don’t escape the police who are called on noise complaints through holes in the fence- they don’t run and simply retreat with their alcohol to somebody’s porch to avoid a citation.

    • I’ll call you completely naive.

      If you’ve seen The Wire and you watch what happens on 9th Street, you’ll see some really strong similarities. You’ll see young kids acting as lookouts, older guys on the corner directing people where to get their pickup, kids running to a stash.

      You’re also fooling yourself if you think that people committing crimes haven’t evaded the police by running through the park. I’ve seen it with my own eyes, as have all of my neighbors. When you can look out your back window directly at it, it’s a sad spectacle.

      Even if I were to accept all your comments and assume that the renovation won’t help anything for the community, the simple fact is that THE FUNDING FOR THE RENOVATION OF RAYMOND IS ALREADY PAID FOR IN THE CITY BUDGET.

      There is $11M of funding waiting for DPR and OPEFM to execute a project. The problem is they’re not executing. Call this mismanagement, call this bureaucracy, call this poor decision making…the end effect is still the same.

      Permits have been submitted for the project as it stands, and they’re now considering a re-design? No thank you. Go, go, go. Start building. Now.

      • orderedchaos


        The project is funded. The park is a mess, with rusted fences & holes cut through them, a death-trap “exit” on the west side that’s a root-tangled mud slide with the slightest bit of rain, broken water fountains.

        Raymond IS in bad shape. Whether the park rehab will help reduce the crime in the area is uncertain; regardless, this much-needed project needs to proceed as planned, immediately.

      • If it needs a re-design, do it. That’s better than building something that is poorly conceived.

        • It does not need a re-design – we’ve already been through several design cycles with the architects to get something that works for everyone.

          The “new” idea that has been brought forward by OPEFM was to relocate DPR’s headquarters to this site, which would have the positive benefit of bringing a lot more funding to the project. On the much bigger minus side, it would push it out a few years in planning and even longer in construction – and as it’s been pointed out, there is a ton of unused government office space already available at 1125 Spring Rd that could easily fulfill this.

          The community has vetted the plan, the permits have been submitted, the funding is in place – we just need the responsible agencies to pull the trigger and start.

    • saf

      You don’t live here, do you?

      Those “kids” break into cars. They mug people. They attract drug buyers, who then also commit property crimes. They sell drugs to the kids going to and from school.

      No, we don’t misinterpret it. We know damn well what these “kids” are doing, and we are tired of it.

      For years I’ve been thinking it’s improving, but we’re well into another generation now, and it’s really frustrating.

  • Get rid of the rec center and put a dog park in its place.

    • Nice troll attempt.

      As much as I love dogs and Little House on the Prairie, I think I’ll go with playgrounds, basketball, tennis, soccer and an indoor facility that provides handicapped access to the whole elementary school before a canine humping paradise.

      • Why would you hump a canine? I’d be against gentrification too, if that’s what I thought it meant. . .

  • We should pick a night to visit the center. You know, 20 or thirty of us go to get the neighborhood drug dealers. We can hang out in the playground for a little while. We could do it a few times, see how long they stick around for

  • Could even posd flyers advertizing it.

  • The kid was part of “3500,” a local gang comprised of kids who go to school at Raymond EC, CHEC, and other neighborhood schools. As a teacher at Raymond, I feel really wary about letting my students play on that playground. I have been cussed out and threatened on that field, including by the kid who was just killed. He told me that he “hates white people,” and then made menacing gestures towards me. This was last year. One of my students told me he got stabbed over a girl.

    There is so much that should be done to upgrade the facilities and also to ensure that the kids who attend Raymond EC can be physically separated from the neighborhood kids who I watch gamble, smoke, and drink from my classroom window.

    I have a meeting till 6;30 tonight. Perhaps I’ll drop by the library and share these thoughts…

  • I didn’t know him well or what kind of trouble he may have been mixed up in but he was a nice kid that learned my name and always greeted me when passing by. I agree the area needs improvement but there seems to be very little talk about improving services that provide the guidance, skills and a little bit of hope that kids like Jamar need.

    • Actually, in the planning meetings for the new Rec Center, DPR has made it clear that they have a heavy focus on programming – as it’s critical to the success of the Rec Center. This may include things like computer classes (in the indoor portion of the Rec Center), organized basketball leagues, etc.

      This programming will give kids a reason to get off the street and participate in productive, structured activities.

      Fixing a systemic problem of schools and skills learned isn’t something that a Rec Center can or should fix – there are plenty of other civic and private organizations responsible for that. However, a new Rec Center does provide a safe place to relax and enjoy good facilities…paid for by our tax dollars.

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