Let's talk real talk for a minute

Yup, I'm back in the city after a nice few days off. Getting away for a bit was nice, but there's always work to be done.

I didn't have a chance to comment on the murder of Oscar Fuentes, but let me just say a few things. I'll even be a bit controversial. Sort of. This is an uncomfortable topic for many people to discuss.

A 9 year-old boy was shot and killed in his family's apartment about 1,500 feet away from where I live. Just blocks away from multimillion dollar developments and areas that have seen redevelopment in the last few years. But also, just blocks away from the scenes of plenty of other violent crimes.

The obvious things: A lot has changed in Columbia Heights in the last decade. I don't think anyone, not even Petula Dvorak at the Post, is trying to say that's not the case. I'm not going to argue that the commercial development on 14th Street has been a bad thing. It hasn't. It's created jobs and drawn people from all over the city to the area. It has boosted housing prices and in just the past few years we've seen many properties around that area get rehabbed and new ones get built. For people looking for a place to live in the city, it can be very attractive. It's close to transit, has plenty of retail, so on and so forth.

However, it's also very close to a crime hotspot that hasn't changed much at all. And, it seems, for the time being will not change. Let's be clear here, in most cases, the crime in Columbia Heights does not directly impact the neighborhood's new residents. There are robberies to be sure, but generally we do not read stories of people getting shot coming home from work. As such, it's difficult to put a human face on the tragedy that plays out all too often in the neighborhood.

Here's where things get uncomfortable, so let's just say it. The affluent people moving to Columbia Heights don't suffer much from the violent crime located near public and low-income housing. Until we hear about a 9-year-old child getting killed, it's difficult to even humanize the crime statistics. Far too often I see comments like "well, at least that's one less gang-banger" after a shooting.

Anyone who tries, even for a minute, to pretend Columbia Heights isn't a perfect example of the "two cities" problem is full of crap. Completely. Are there people in the neighborhood who are concerned about crime? Of course. Are there people in the neighborhood who donate money and volunteer in the neighborhood? I'm sure. However, the longer we go without even talking about this, the deeper the divide grows.

In the Post, Dvorak contrasts an empty playground and the feeling of hopelessness among the lower income residents with frivolous complaints about a coffeeshop on a blog. I think her comparison is a great one, because it shows this divide. I'm not going to say I'm some sort of saint who is spending his days trying to find big picture solutions to cycles of poverty. However, I'm not going to pretend like these problems don't exist. Where is the mayor on this? He should take a page from Obama's book and get out there and talk about this. Say a few things that are uncomfortable. You can't find a solution to a problem if you don't even acknowledge the problem exists.

Instead of calling Petula Dvorak names, I'm glad she's at least sparked a bit of debate here. A tragedy is a tragedy, and a nine year-old boy was shot and killed in his home. Many others have been shot, and many others have died in acts of violence in this neighborhood. Some were gang members, and some were criminals. Before they joined gangs, and before they committed crimes, they were little boys just like Oscar Fuentes. They were dealt a shitty hand, and not everyone gets to escape from a life of poverty and crime. I hate so much the fact that we become so desensitized to crime that we forget this.


  1. I agree 100%. I thought the Dvorak article was well written and thought provoking. It sort of nailed the same emotions that I felt after hearing about Oscar Fuentes. I had sat out in the plaza for a couple hours last Sunday afternoon, enjoying the weather and people watching. It wasn't until that evening that I found out that the boy had been shot the night before, not 50 yards from where I sat watching families with their gellato and cupcakes, their kids playing in the fountain. Quite a contrast between what the neighborhood is, and what it appears to be.

  2. I gotta say, I think Dvorak, while she had a point, took a cheap cheap shot with that comparison. Yes, Columbia Heights most certainly suffers from a deep divide but the way she structures her comparison, it makes it seem like no white people even noticed when a 9 year old was shot in their neighborhood. I actually think you've framed the issue much more clearly and fairly here than Dvorak's little gut-punch to the yuppies.

  3. Thanks for the thoughtful post on this. I just finished reading comments at the PoP site and am in disbelief over the denial going on there.
    It seems that the giant mirror that Dvorak held up is showing many something that they don't want to see.
    The comments are quite enlightening.

  4. Thank you!!! Here is a reasoned, thoughtful commentary that was refreshingly frank. I couldn’t agree with you more and am so glad you spoke up!

  5. what I find most disheartening is that prince of petworth blocks any comments that criticize his psuedo-empire, yet keeps all of the racist, myopic comments flowing. Lil' Danny Silverman is unbelievably fascist. long live WIHDC where at least you can read comments that don't always blow smoke up Dave's ass - in fact, a lot of them criticize his views.

  6. I'll second the sentiments on PoP. All one has to do is take a look at his sponsors to see that he can never really go against commercial and developer interests. I was wary of his blog from the moment it got publicized in the Post. I knew it was bad news for long time residents of Petworth.

    But people in DC have been cognizant of the so called divide for a long time, and many of us don't really need an article in the Post (of all places!) to "hold up a mirror." We've known this a long time; agitated for change. But I guess we are not bloggers and such. But there are organizations out there that fight for better living conditions and favorable laws and such. It's always strange to me and a little bit frustrating to read a view that postulates that no one is really aware of a so called divide and injustice. I mean, not everyone moved here after 2002, afterall. Sorry for the extended kvetch. I'm surprised this is coming from Dave Stroup. Is this the same one who did the excellent series on Metro safety on another blog?

  7. Curtis, Don't know what YOU are talking about. Dave always deletes my comments. Gimme a break w/ that. The comments read like the ones that follow advertising promising big bucks working at home posting Google ads. "Does this REALLY Work!?"

    Interesting commentary, though: "Anyone who tries, even for a minute, to pretend Columbia Heights isn't a perfect example of the "two cities" problem is full of crap."

    In fact, the research does show that communities with greater levels of racial-ethnic diversity suffer greater levels of mistrust and a much lower rate of civic involvement. Just a covariance there....

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  9. The fact that someone has called Dan Silverman a "fascist" on this thread shows the amount of liberal, white guilt goofiness that goes on in this city among the newer residents. Fascists, military industrial complexes oh my!

    Fact is, there are a lot of people that are poor in this world and make something of themselves. I've encountered people in real poverty in this world, not this bullshit that Americans see as poverty, and many of them work are too busy working their asses off to get by and make give their children opportunties to succeed to commit crimes. In DC and in a lot of the United States, it appears that a healthy number of the poor are too busy committing crimes, having that 8th child that they can't begin to afford, and bitching for ridiculous entitlements instead of doing anything to actually make their lives better.

    And it is these people who are really aiding the far right wingers who continue to inhibit this country from debating an honest, efficient safety net. They make it look all like a joke.

    And people are really reaching with the "racism" label on some of those PoP posts that blast the poor for not doing shit to make their lives better. The white population of DC is made up simply of the wealthiest white people from other states- so of course the white people in DC are going to be responsible for basically none of the crime that takes place here. There are probably more white people from Uganda than there are white people from DC. White people have the same damn problems though, just drive to Prince William or even parts of Fairfax if you want to see it. This is not a race issue.

    And, the only thing that is going to change this completely: a centrist Republican mayor.

  10. Contradiction?

    "Fact is, there are a lot of people that are poor in this world and make something of themselves.

    "The white population of DC is made up simply of the wealthiest white people from other states- so of course the white people in DC are going to be responsible for basically none of the crime that takes place here.."

  11. I think the discussion as you have framed it here is extraordinarily relevant.

    However, Ms. Dvorak's article is a piece of crap.

    The fundamental point here seems to be that we're not allowed to complain about service at a coffeshop because there are problems in the world.

    What the fuck?

    I'm sorry for the language, but this attitude is THE PROBLEM with communities that are complex. Holier-than-thou people like Petula, who, themselves, probably drink Starbucks every day and probably would bitch to the manager of her K Street starbucks if she had a problem with her double mocha latte, are going to write this crap?

    Is there a single resident of Columbia Heights who is not absolutely, intimately aware of the socioeconomic problems facing this community?

    Does the fact that crime still exists here, or anywhere else in the world, mean that life ceases to go on? That we shouldn't wash our cars, or talk about new businesses and the quality of service? Why?

    Frankly, almost everyone I know who are, actually, the people she is bitching about in Columbia Heights- you know, us yuppies who don't live in Section 8 housing - are involved a hell of a lot more in our communities that, I suspect, Petula is.

    We volunteer time. We give to local causes. We take in interest in issues facing our neighborhood and our city. Many of us have chosen to put down roots in a troubled community because we LIKE it despite it's flaws and we want to help it get better.

    So, does the fact that I bought a house here make me part of the problem? Does the fact that I pick up trash on my street make me a bad guy? Oh yeah, I forgot, poor people LIKE trash. Umm...

    What the fuck. Get a life. Everyone here, rich and poor, is still trying to live their lives, and you know what? Regardless of whether or not something awful has happened on any given day, life still goes on. Many, many people are trying to work to make things better for those less privileged. But there is only one person responsible for the death of a 9-year old boy, and there is nothing I or anyone else could have done to stop that on the day it happened.

    So why, again, does the fact that there is poverty and crime in Columbia Heights, DC or the United States mean that nobody should be allowed to discuss the quality of service at a business?

    Let me ask you a different question. If there's a problem with people who aren't poor living in Columbia Heights, what exactly is it? That we discuss quality of life issues? That we want things to be better?

    I certainly don't know anyone walking around scoffing at poor people.

  12. Sorry for the second comment but here is my fundamental problem with her post, and your commentary.

    "I hate so much the fact that we become so desensitized to crime that we forget this."

    Why do you think, that because someone complained about bad coffee, that they are desensitized to crime?

    I don't know anyone who lives in Columbia Heights who is not acutely aware of the crime going on here.

    It is actually possible to be concerned about your community, involved in it, outraged about this horrific crime, and yet still go to work every day, drink coffee, and bitch about little things. They are not mutually exclusive.

    I don't understand why the existence of that PoP post is evidence of anything other than someone who got bad service at a coffee shop and whined about it. For all you know, they started a fundraiser for the family of the victims, work at a soup kitchen, and mentor a child on their street.

    But her tunnel-vision missive didn't ask, didn't look to see what all the awful yuppies are doing. it just assumes that because someone bitched about a cup of coffee, that every single person in Columbia Heights who's not poor does nothing but bitch about coffee.

    I really don't see how that is good reporting. It's nothing but judging, without any evidence, and it's not accurate or fair.

  13. Jamie, I don't think that was the point Dvorak was trying to make. Writing about what people are doing in Columbia Heights to improve things is a completely different column, though I think it would be an interesting one.

    There's likely a silent majority of people who live in Columbia Heights, recognize the problems, and deal with it in their own ways. There is also a minority of people who do something to improve it. Then there's also the very vocal minority who write stupid comments on blogs, making the rest of the neighborhood look stupid.

    Dvorak could have easily just written "a customer loudly complains about his latte while children hurry home before dark." or something, and not mentioned PoP. However, if you look at the "Crime" category on PoP, you'll likely notice that the Tynan complaint post had about as many words as 2 months worth of his thoughts on crime.

    The comments section at PoP is more valuable for discussions on crime and poverty than any of his actual posts. But, one usually judges a blog based on its content and not its comments.

  14. You said, " There are robberies to be sure, but generally we do not read stories of people getting shot coming home from work."

    I'm not sure if you were trying to be ironic or referential or what, but a woman was shot and killed in Columbia Heights walking home from work not too long ago. She was caught in the middle of gang gunfire.

  15. Dave, then what was her point?Why did she end an inaccurate and narrow-focused article with that reference to the PoP post?

    Because the only thing I took away from that article was an unpleasant mix of gentrification-blaming and fear mongering.

    Apart from that, her basic premise is completely inaccurate. Crime has not increased in Columbia Heights since the development has been underway.

    Even without accounting for the vast increase in population, meaning crimes per resident, it's gone down in the last five years. We've had this discussion before. I am sure you can find a period of months which has more crime than the same period of the same size. But that doesn't mean anything, the numbers are way too small to make that statistically significant.

  16. Jamie, I don't think people are saying crime has increased. You and I have discussed this, and crime hasn't increased. Crimes per resident has decreased.

    Let's put it this way: Violent crime involving the more affluent newer residents has not increased. Violent crime among the lower income residents has likely held steady.

    The point is the neighborhood is safer and more charming for people who can afford to live in a nice house or apartment building. For the lower income people, they still live in a world filled with gang shootings, drugs, and homes that are falling apart. Crime overall has decreased, but certain groups are still seeing it just as much as they ever did.

  17. From Petula's article: "According to D.C. police statistics, thefts, shootings and homicides jumped during the past year in the neighborhood."

    Yes, she did say that. This is misleading. What time period is she comparing this to? What does "jumped" mean, from 5 to 7?

    So, her point seems to be that despite a Target opening near a Section 8 housing project, poor people, who live with the problems of poor people in a city, are still poor and still living with those problems.

    If that is her point, then why is this news? Did anyone expect that DC's vast poor population would magically no longer be poor?

    I think that writing about the impact of development on poor inner-city people is extremely relevant. However, it is a complex issue, and her editorial made absolutely no effort to do anything other than marginalize the value of the development.

    What if I wrote an article entitled: "Columbia Heights Has Come A Long Way," and interviewed someone who got a job at Target, and someone else who said how great it was that they had convenient, affordable shopping in walking distance whereas they used to have to hump groceries on the bus or shop at an expensive bodega? And then found some latino kid playing soccer at Harriet Tubman's new field, like I saw yesterday, and asked him how he liked the new parks?

    That would be really easy to do. And it would be equally one-sided and inaccurate.

    She painted a picture of haves and have nots, and cast the development as ineffective. So should we give up? Should we let run-down neighborhoods rot?

    I think you would be hard pressed to find a lot of people -- especially poor people who have lived in a decrepit neighborhood with no local services or shopping for many years pre-development -- who would argue that they preferred life before DCUSA.

    Things don't change overnight. Nobody expects them to. But the dismal image created by her article seems to say that there's no hope for these people and nothing good coming from the development. That is not true. And it's not good journalism.

  18. You're right, her use of that statistic is misleading. This was an opinion piece, but that's no excuse for her to be misleading with statistics.

    I think it would be very interesting to do a series on Columbia Heights and how things have changed, and how all sorts of different people in the neighborhood view the changes. I'll try and get that ball rolling with my new group of writers at District Daily.

  19. I think that's a great idea, and it's no small task.

    Columbia Heights is a fascinating place, and there aren't a lot of places that have undergone this kind of transformation here or anywhere. Trying to understand the effects, and watching the evolution of this place, is extraordinarily important to me. And that's exactly why I found her piece so distasteful - because she trivialized a hugely important issue.

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  21. What bothers me most is all the uproar about Columbia Heights is only because the neighborhood is changing. These problems have always existed and nothing significant has been done to change this. Now that there is a more affluent neighbor and commercial interest is at stake people are talking. I agree that something should be done, but majority of people only become aware of issues because it is happening in their backyard. We all have become desensitized to the crime that the news uses as a marketing tool to have us watch at eleven. The question would be do people show the same concern when crime happens in PG or even just across the river?

  22. Unlike a lot of liberals,which I am one; I grew up poor in an economically depressed city and I can tell you that nobody is going to change bad neighborhoods but the people who live there. Being poor doesn't mean you are automatically prone to criminal behavior and need white richies to rescue you.