“Dear Former Neighbors,
As a favor to the folks who will simply stop reading and disregard whatever is written below based solely on race, let me save you the time and start by saying that my wife and I are black. I say this not to elicit snark or engender sympathy or because it should matter, but just as a basis of fact in a city where you can’t seem to have a conversation without taking race into consideration.
I moved here in late 2003 after college and a tour in the Marine Corps. Like so many other people, I moved to the region for work. I thought I’d be here for a short time but life happened, and I made the District my home.
Oddly enough, all of my positions and jobs were in MD or VA, but I was one of those who enjoyed urban living and made the reverse commute. I endured the embarrassing things our elected officials did and the backwater way our city operated because the urban-ish lifestyle seemed to be one that I should endure these things for.
We aren’t looking for a trophy or a gold star, but my wife (former Navy) and I (atleast on paper) are the kind of residents jurisdictions try to lure. Highly paid DINKS, we pay a lot in taxes but use relatively few public services as we’ve yet to have kids. We actively participated in and tried to improve our community. We both had spent years (5 and 7 respectively) tutoring DC middle and high school students in STEM courses. Kid-less, we still participated in the yearly DCPS summer “all hands on deck” to help clean, paint and landscape local schools before school started, occasionally volunteered at the local hospital, food banks etc.
I met my wife here. We started out buying a condo in Woodley Park, then made the jump and bought a row home in on Kenyon street in Columbia Heights in 2006. At the time, there were fewer people living or socializing in Columbia Heights. You were confronted by the occasional day-drunk and discarded used condoms on the sidewalk, but the neighborhood then was significantly different, and for the first few years we lived there and it was the picture of urban renewal. More than a billion dollars of private development in the neighborhood took form in a matter of a few years, and even more since. DC schools have always been atrocious but at the time we had decided to try to stay in DC regardless and simply “hope” that there would be significant short term educational gains, or resigned ourselves to pay for private school when the time came.
Then a few years ago the positive changes in Columbia Heights seemingly started to reverse. The streets of Columbia Heights filled with unbelievable quantities of trash. It was as though people from all over DC were coming to Columbia Heights specifically to throw trash on the street. The amount of crime skyrocketed. Robbery’s, assaults, burglary became a more frequent issue. Not a week went by in the last couple of years living there where at least one car on the short street I live on hadn’t gotten broken into. I had to get one of those roll down steel doors across the back of my lot because all of a sudden, out of nowhere 4 years after we moved in, people started breaking into homes via the alley. Nearly every house (15 in total over 6 months) on our block got hit, some twice and despite the cops taking prints and finding the criminals already had been in the system, there was seemingly no consequence to their actions. People also started defecating with some regularity in the alley and on the sidewalks. Constant pleas by the entire neighborhood to the ANC, the police the Council member go ignored for months and years. The only time someone from the ANC or Council gets involved is around election time, and the involvement stops immediately after.
At least 2 or 3 times a year I would walk out of my house in the morning to go to work and find some passed out / strung out guy on my lawn or adjacent neighbors lawn, covered in his own urine or vomit or actively hitting the crack pipe in the middle of the day. People started ripping out landscaping plants and bushes we (or my neighbors) had planted, apparently to take home and plant because they simply disappeared. Who does that?
A new and very visible drug trade has appeared in multiple places in the neighborhood. Unbelievably the most visible example is right at the Columbia Heights metro stop where it happens in full view of cops who sit there in their cars on their Facebook, or otherwise couldn’t care less. And I am not talking about weed here, but serious narcotics.
The straw that broke the camels back was when I apparently had the audacity to remind a young twenty something that my lawn wasn’t his trash can as he walked by and threw his discarded chicken wings on my lawn. I was standing less than 10 feet away when he did it and decided to ask him what he was doing.
Like all young thugs I’ve encountered, he “ran hot” which meant he went from zero to full-rage in about a millisecond. After ~20 seconds of screaming every four letter word and negative gentrification invective in the book at me (he and I are the same race but that seemed to elude him), he started towards me, pulled up his shirt to show me his gun and told me he was going to shoot me (I’ve actually cleaned that language up quite a bit, I will let your imagination run with what he really said). I grew up in rural VT, hunted in my childhood, spent time in the Corps and am extremely comfortable around firearms, but I had never had one pulled on me before, or the threat of it. I simply reacted out of fear, grabbed him by the neck with one hand, put my hand on his gun with the other so he couldn’t draw it and slammed his head into the retaining wall in front of my house while trying to disarm him. (more…)