Since January, 2003
 Sliding from Before to After

Readers may be familiar with the map a little ways down the right side of the JDLand home page, showing recent crimes in the neighborhood (along with a larger one showing more crime statistics for the area since 2005). However, there's another map and dataset I've wanted to build for a long time, that I'm finally launching today. It's not anything to really celebrate, however:
What you're looking at is a map of 64 violent deaths that occurred in Near Southeast between 1987 and 2004, when crack and other drugs and the accompanying violence nearly destroyed Washington, DC. And, if you go to the page itself, you will see the breakout of each death, with a name of the victim (when available), the date and location, and a brief thumbnail of what happened. The map and the data are interactive, so you can view just by year, or location, or type of death. It's not uplifting reading, but I really do recommend taking the time to go through it.
I can't pretend that this is a complete list; there are no online databases that easily offer up this data. I spent hours (and hours and hours) doing "grid searches" of the Washington Post and Washington Times electronic databases, having to search by street names and locations ("300 block of K street, SE; 300 block of L Street, SE; 3rd and K streets, SE; 1000 block of 3rd Street, SE;" etc. etc.). There's no guarantee that the newspapers mentioned every homicide, especially in the years when there were more than 400 murders across the city.
And, of course, this doesn't begin to capture the number of other crimes in the neighborhood during those years that didn't result in homicides--the robberies, the assaults, the non-fatal shootings and stabbings, etc.
It should be remembered that Near Southeast wasn't anywhere close to being the most dangerous area in the city; the 64 murders I've documented aren't even one percent of the 6,023 murders reported in this 18-year period (source: MPD, via the Internet Archive). So, as you look at this Near Southeast list, multiply it by 100 to imagine all the people who were killed in the city in those years.
It turns me into an old codger to say it, but it's really true: those of you who didn't live in the DC area in the late 1980s and 1990s really have no concept of what Washington and its residents went through in those years. Even though large swaths of the city were considered "safe," with the bulk of the epidemic crime happening in certain neighborhoods, everyone was affected by the unrelenting drumbeat of murders and violence.
Nights with seven murders in DC were unusual but not extraordinary; reading the paper each day with little more than tiny blurbs on most homicides (because they weren't really "news") made for a bleak landscape, even if you spent most of your time in sections of the city where day-to-day life seemed unaffected. DC's title of "Murder Capital of the World" was known far and wide, to the point that if you were traveling and told someone where you from, you'd often receive a sad shake of the head and hear, "It's such a shame what's happened to that lovely city."
It was a terrible time; and I say this as someone who was never affected by the violence personally in any way, other than knowing to avoid certain areas and be very careful during nights on the town. Looking back on it all now, through the lens of how far the city has come, makes the level of violence seem all the more incomprehensible and maddening. There's no question that I have become a little haunted over the past few weeks as I compiled this list, as my old generalized feelings of "quite a few people died on these streets over the years" have now been replaced with names, locations, a few photos, and gruesome details of executions and people in the wrong place at the wrong time.
And yet the violence of the era probably fueled my interest in watching the city's redevelopment, to see neighborhoods that I had given up for lost in 1990 (such as Massachusetts Avenue east of Mt. Vernon Square) turn into luxury condo havens by the early 2000s. And it was why I began to watch--with no small sense of wonderment and even a little skepticism--as I started to hear in the late 1990s about the plans to "revitalize" the area south of the Southeast Freeway, an area that was a near-total No-Go for me from the time I moved to the south side of Capitol Hill in 1994 until my first furtive photographic forays by car in 2000 and 2003. (It's somewhat amazing now to realize that I did not actually put my feet on the ground at Third and K, SE, until the summer of 2005.)
I'll be writing in more detail in future entries about the violence in the Cappers, and at the Chapter III nightclub, but I wanted to post this overview first, to illustrate Near Southeast's descent to rock bottom for the people who might not be familiar with the recent history of the neighborhood, and also to remind everyone else of just what we as a city went through, as those memories become somewhat hazy in an era when some of the biggest battles are over funding for streetcars and dog parks. The city is certainly not without violence now, but the scale just doesn't compare.
And perhaps it'll also help clear up why I might not react with quite so much alarm when new residents write me concerned about a wave of auto thefts or other property crimes. I admit that it's somewhat unfair, but I think newcomers can talk to almost anyone who lived in Washington during the era of the Crack Wars and get the same reaction: You just have no idea.
UPDATE: Just to close the circle a bit, I should note that the reason I ended the dataset in 2004 is because, to the best of my knowledge, there have been no murders in Near Southeast since 21-year-old Terence Gathers died at Third and K on March 25 of that year.
Comments (8)
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Miss V says: (6/28/10 8:57 AM)
Wow. Interesting post and a very interesting perspective. I moved to the DC area in 1997 for college. In the short 13 years I've been here I've seen a huge change. There were parts of the City you didn't even THINK about going to that are now bustling main streets.

Rick says: (6/28/10 9:56 AM)
JD - thanks for all the research. Just wanted to reinforce your comments about what it was like with the following:

We've lived one block north of the freeway near Results since 1985 and literally watched the changes close up. Our immediate neighborhood had more than its share of crime: I was held up at gun point while watering our newly planted street trees; the house broken into three times; countless neighbors' cars stolen or broken into for the cheapest object; knife wielding crazies running across the garage roofs like action movie figures; plants ripped from the front yard; nightly helicopters circling low while beaming light on a hidden suspect; routine nighttime sex in the back alley - always an unexpected visual when taking out the garbage; hidden drug needles making autumn leaf raking a less than amusing challenge; and on. Most of it was property crime; comparatively little against individuals.

Despite what our neighborhood experienced, so much more occurred south of the freeway. It created an odd demarcation line between drastically different worlds - almost as if the 3rd and 4th Street underpasses were invisible doorways. While we still have our share of crime, there seems to have been a drop paralleling the sequential closing of Ellen Wilson, Carrollsburg, and Arthur Capper. Nonetheless, my visceral wariness of loud bangs, the unexpected person walking up behind me when sweeping the sidewalk or raking leaves, and the odd floorboard creaking in the dead of night unfortunately has become an ingrained behavior even when out of town in the safest of places.

The street litter has declined but also changed. It used to be syringes and McDonalds wrappers. I often watched teenagers buy something at McD's on 6th and Penn, finish eating around 4th and G, drop all the packaging on the sidewalk with an odd detachment, then head south under the freeway. Now it's sports drink bottles (Results patrons?), Heineken cans, more and fancier dogs' poop, and (oddly) more cigarette butts.

Amid all the drug sales and crime, there were mothers, children, and old folks struggling to create a life in Ellen Wilson, Carrolsburg, and Arthur Capper. Every once in a while you would see a small front yard with a flourishing flower garden, a string of Christmas lights, fire crackers on the 4th, or kids laughing. More than anyone, they were the victims of what happened - or didn't happen as the DC government descended into an inexcusable and irresponsible incompetence from which we are now only awakening.

While the intentional flooding of our streets with a sequence of drugs over the years was and remains a challenge few city government's could completely control, the public policies, approach to municipal services and government employment, almost willful disregard for education, jelly donut promises (they taste good but are meaningless), and personal behavior of no-longer-Mayor-for-Life Marion Barry was no small part of the problem. Despite his support over the years from those who seem to be his greatest victims, he bears no small responsibility for the valley he led us into with no path to the mountain top.

Just in case a few of your suburban readers view the murders you chronicled with smug detachment: I used to routinely watch cars with Virginia plates park on the streets just north of the freeway, presumably having just exited eastbound at 6th. They weren't just old clunkers but included new BMWs, Volvos, and family minivans. One person would stay in the car. Another would walk under the freeway to Arthur Capper only to return a few minutes latter. They'd do a little something in the car and drive up the westbound 3rd street ramp heading back to VA as the high set in. Enablers all.


JD says: (6/28/10 10:08 AM)
Thanks for your comments, Rick. Early drafts of this post included more of my own experiences on the Hill and thoughts on the (porous) Berlin Wall of the freeway, but I decided I'd prattled on enough already.

As to your comment about folks from the suburbs, being enablers to the drug trade, I would highlight the double murder at 3rd and I in December of 1992, when a couple who drove in from Virginia to buy drugs were murdered in their car, with the husband being shot several times and then his wife was shot once in the head.

Pat says: (6/28/10 10:11 AM)
Great post JD and very thought provoking. If the city is willing to tear down the projects in Near SE, when are they going to tear down James Creek and Greenleaf in SW?

It's fitting to remember in David Simon's "Homicide," a view of crime and policing in late 80s Baltimore, the cops would say how things are rough in Charm City, "but at least we're not in Washington."

And major props to Dave for this take, which DC is still struggling with now:

"Despite Barry's support over the years from those who seem to be his greatest victims"

Ireko says: (6/28/10 5:40 PM)
Thanks JD. I was holding my breath while reading your article. I never understood why my friends would lecture me against walking my dog at nights or early mornings on I St or Virginia Ave. I've been working and living in the neighborhood since 2005,a little past the time when the projects have been taken down. I see the transformation of the area but fortunately have not really seen it during the worst times. So thanks for the post. It gave me a different perspective and newer appreciation for this neighborhood I already hold dear.

MJM says: (6/29/10 10:10 AM)
@ Rick - very nice addition!! Kinda glad I didn't have to live through or see any of it like you did but it does add a personal touch to the story of the hood/area and how far it has come. Thanks again JD for the piece.

E says: (6/30/10 12:41 PM)
@Pat: well said. Those of us SW'ers who look longingly across the "Berlin Wall" - now just moved from the SE-SW freeway to South Capitol St. - at SE wonder when our time (and help) is going to come. The Near SE story certainly gives us hope that good things can happen with enough city leadership and citizen action.

RCM says: (7/6/10 11:10 AM)
I also live in Southwest near South Capitol Street and see the very same things Rick pointed out so eloquently in his comments in my own neighborhood. I can't stand the trash, the bullets, etc. etc. It really sucks. I (impatiently) await my neighborhood's revival.

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City Government Data for Near Southeast Records added or updated recently displayed here; click the "archive" links to see additional detail and older records. All data from DC Government databases and RSS feeds. JDLand takes no responsibility for errors, omissions, etc. (read CapStat disclaimer). Data is retrieved daily.

Recent Crime Incidents Archive  
No records added or modified in the past two weeks.

Recent Issued Building Permits Archive  
1300 4TH ST SE 1001   
1346 4TH ST SE APT 1M   
null / NA NA NA
1331 4TH ST SE R-2   
FC 1331 LLC / FC 1331 LLC
BP2101814 / POST CARD
10 I ST SE   
Installation of up to six (6) 3-inch diameter direct-push Geoprobe borings to depths of up to 30 feet below grade as part of an environmental assessment.
555 L ST SE   
861 NEW JERSEY AVE SE 20003   
Dismantling of tower crane.
FC 1275 NJ LLC / null
FC 1275 NJ LLC / null
Installation of up to six (6) 3-inch diameter direct-push Geoprobe borings to depths of up to 30 feet below grade as part of an environmental assessment.
AH = After Hours; B = Alteration & Repair; D = Demolition; E = Electrical; FB = Boiler; M = Mechanical; P = Plumbing and Gas; PC = Post Card; R = Raze; SG = Sign; TL = Tenant Layout; TN = Tent; RW = Retaining Wall;

Real Property Sales Archive  
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Project Directory
Thompson Hotel ('20)
West Half ('19)
Novel South Capitol ('19)
Yards/Guild Apts. ('19)
Capper/The Harlow ('19)
New DC Water HQ ('19)
Yards/Bower Condos ('19)
Virginia Ave. Tunnel ('19)
99 M ('18)
Agora ('18)
1221 Van ('18)
District Winery ('17)
Insignia on M ('17)
F1rst/Residence Inn ('17)
One Hill South ('17)
Homewood Suites ('16)
ORE 82 ('16)
The Bixby ('16)
Dock 79 ('16)
Community Center ('16)
The Brig ('16)
Park Chelsea ('16)
Yards/Arris ('16)
Hampton Inn ('15)
Southeast Blvd. ('15)
11th St. Bridges ('15)
Parc Riverside ('14)
Twelve12/Yards ('14)
Lumber Shed ('13)
Boilermaker Shops ('13)
Camden South Cap. ('13)
Canal Park ('12)
Capitol Quarter ('12)
225 Virginia/200 I ('12)
Foundry Lofts ('12)
1015 Half Street ('10)
Yards Park ('10)
Velocity Condos ('09)
Teague Park ('09)
909 New Jersey Ave. ('09)
55 M ('09)
100 M ('08)
Onyx ('08)
70/100 I ('08)
Nationals Park ('08)
Seniors Bldg Demo ('07)
400 M ('07)
Douglass Bridge Fix ('07)
US DOT HQ ('07)
20 M ('07)
Capper Seniors 1 ('06)
Capitol Hill Tower ('06)
Courtyard/Marriott ('06)
Marine Barracks ('04)

Anacostia Riverwalk
New Jersey Avenue
M Street
South Capitol Street
The Yards
Lower 8th Street
East M Street
Boathouse Row

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