How did the District of Columbia become the “murder capital” of the United States in the late ’80s and early ’90s? According to MPD statistics, the number of homicides in Washington, D.C., peaked in 1991 at 482, a rate of 80.6 homicides per 100,000 residents.
Notorious drug kingpins rose to power, causing “white flight” and thousands of successful Blacks to leave the city — me and my family included.
On Sept. 5, 1989, President George H.W. Bush took to the airwaves from the Oval Office to address the nation about what he said was a grave domestic threat.
“This is the first time since taking the oath of office that I felt an issue was so important, so threatening that it warranted talking directly with you, the American people,” he said.
Gazing into the camera, he turned and pulled out a small plastic bag from under his desk.
“This is crack cocaine, seized a few days ago by drug enforcement agents in a park just across the street from the White House,” he said as the camera zoomed in to show the hard, white crystals. “It’s as innocent-looking as candy. But it’s turning our cities into battle zones.”
One notorious drug dealer that influenced the many families that left the District of Columbia for Maryland was Rayful Edmond III, who made millions supplying the city with crack cocaine. We saw stories about him on the daily news, and even after his arrest, he continued to operate his empire from behind bars. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Last month, during Black History Month, The Washington Post reported in an article by Keith Alexander that federal prosecutors have requested early prison release for Edmond.
Juxtapose that history, and now look at what’s happening today. During the years 1991 to 1998, my personal knowledge of street drug dealers on streets like upper Georgia Avenue NW. Corner drug dealers showed up one day near our upper Georgia Avenue office. Things were out of control!
U Street went through gentrification, influenced by the coming of the African American Civil War Memorial. It went from a boarded up street, where businesses moved out to keep from failing, while others like Ben’s Chili Bowl stayed. As project director, I remember when our offices were housed in the Masonic Temple on U Street, directly beside the site, developers would walk over to speak with me and they would spend time speaking with Dr. Frank Smith, then the Ward 1 City Council member. They were excited about how the memorial would entice more tourism to U Street. They made proposals for new business ventures for U Street — the beginning of its gentrification.
U Street filled with mostly whites during warmer weather, and along other major commercial corridors as well. How did we go from one extreme to the other so quickly?
Another factor was when then-police Chief Cathy Lanier held her 2007 All Hands on Deck sessions, which helped to finish the cleanup of D.C. streets. During All Hands on Deck, all available police officers and recruits with the Metropolitan Police Department were called to duty and assigned to street patrol citywide for 48 hours.
Gentrification continued to take shape as our streets began to get cleaned up, with once-cheap homes now beginning at $450,000 and going into the millions. More next week.
Lyndia Grant is a speaker/writer living in the D.C. area. Her radio show, “Think on These Things,” airs Fridays at 6 p.m. on 1340 AM (WYCB), a Radio One station. To reach Grant, visit her website, www.lyndiagrantshow.com, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 240-602-6295. Follow her on Twitter @LyndiaGrant and on Facebook.