Neighbors Allege Drug Dealing and Disorder at Eastern Market Metro Park
by Larry Janezich
Thursday night, a dozen residents of the neighborhood just north of the northeast portion of Metro Plaza Park (where the “guerilla playground” is located) turned out for a PSA 107 meeting to complain about alleged increased criminal drug activity in the park. The diagonal walk across the park separates an ad hoc children’s playground from what neighbors allege is an ongoing drug market and continuing public nuisance. The latter issue refers to non-criminal quality of life issues concerning overnight sleeping in the park, in nearby yards, on porches and in unlocked cars; trash and refuse accumulation, and harassment of women who walk through the park.
According to residents, the ordinary crowd of homeless people who use the park has recently witnessed the arrival of a “new element” in the park– that is, people who appear to be selling drugs and encouraging disorderly behavior.
Neighbors say that the advice given in previous PSA 107 meetings to deal with such problems – to “call 911” – has not helped, and that when the “911 priority list” enabled officers to respond, the response often resulted in no action with officers citing “lack of jurisdiction” (mistakenly believing US Park Service has responsibility), “DC has no anti-loitering law,” and “it’s not really illegal to sell synthetic marijuana.”
Lt. Eddie Fowler, MPD’s representative at the meeting, called the description of the activities “definitely unacceptable” and said he would call in the MPD vice unit and in addition, detail an officer on each shift to keep tabs on the park.
The neighbors also expressed concern about the larger problem which goes beyond the ability of MPD to solve. For example, clearing the park of loiterers serves to drive them into the adjacent community, leaving unanswered the question of how to address this problem in a meaningful way. Several neighbors expressed support for a community meeting involving various stakeholders: the MPD, neighboring fast-food business whose refuse contributes trash, Community Connections, and other city services. The coordination of such a meeting would seem to fall under the auspices of ANC 6B – particularly those commissioners whose Single Member Districts include or border the Plaza (in this case, Commissioners Frishberg, Pate and Oldenburg).
Fowler said that people are attracted to the area for many reasons, and if one of those reasons is lack of police presence, MPD would address that. (By Friday morning, there was evidence of a greater police presence in and near the park.)
Carl Reeverts, 9th street resident, noted the proposed $42 million redesign of the Metro Plaza Park currently in the final stages of design, and asserted that the success of fulfilling the promise of the space becoming a community square will depend on its safety, usability, and comfort – and that failure of any of these will keep the park from being used, saying ‘without maintenance, spending $42 million will not be a good investment.”
Only one ANC6B Commissioner was present for the meeting – Kirsten Oldenburg whose SMD ANC6B04 borders the east and much of the south sides of the park. Oldenburg left the meeting during the discussion and was not present for the part of the meeting where community action was discussed.