By Énoa Gibson
Washington, D.C.—During a Ward 8 ANC meeting on February 5th the crime in Shepherd Park was a topic that garnered much concern when a Ward 8 commissioner who struck a local drug abuser at the park relayed her concerns about Shepherd Park and the need to keep the community safe.
According to the Metropolitan Police Department, violent crime remains a problem in Ward 8, which has the city’s highest concentration of poverty.
ANC Commissioner Olivia Henderson works in Ward 8 and has been living there for 44 years. Henderson stood up during the meeting from within the crowd and explained how she has questions regarding the crime that is taking place at Shepherd Park.
According to a petition signed by community members in Ward 8,“This ‘park’ has been a blight on the community for over 40 years, 365 days a year, because it has been allowed to become the unofficial open-air clubhouse for loitering, litter, vandalism, public drinking, public urination, drug dealing, gun violence, drug using, prostitution, robbery, and a host of other crimes against the community and the laws of the District of Columbia and the federal government.”
Henderson said, “I never ride on Martin Luther King Avenue and yesterday I decided to ride through my community and as I’m riding up Martin Luther King Avenue by Shepherd Park doing the speed limit, I rode by the sidewalk and a guy fell because he was so high on drugs, he fell into my lane.”
“I hit him, ran over him,” she said. “I couldn’t stop because he would have been under my car but the police and the community they all ran out there and told me to calm down because they watched him jump in front of my car and I had no other choice but to keep going because he would have been underneath my car.” The man was injured and taken to the hospital.
According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health Substate Region, as of 2014, Ward 8 had the second-highest illegal drug usage percentage with Ward 2 at No.1.
Councilmember Trayon Whiteis all too familiar with the drug epidemic in Ward 8. Known for his activism work, protesting, fighting for the rights of others, and advocating for the disenfranchised, he is a member of the City Council , representing Ward 8 of the District of Columbia.
White grew up in a neighborhood in Southeast Washington where drug dealing and violence were common. The area was dangerous, and at times the violence restricted him from leaving the house.
During commissioner Hendersons recount of her car accident with the man she said “ It was the drugs that kept this man alive. We all know that that park is a drug park. Yes, we do want our residents to be somewhere freely, playing and sitting, but it was dark. What happened to the parks supposed to be closed at dark?”
Henderson directed her concern to Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, who was present at the ANC meeting.“When do we change? Why do we keep driving past and accepting that, because if that was like way up in Ward 2, 3 or 4, it wouldn’t happen, but since it’s over here in Ward 8, it’s ok for someone to come over here and get as high as they can, then go back over to the living facility homes that they live in Ward 8 for free and then start over the next day,” said Henderson.
“I have been able to get funds for Shepherd Park; there’s already some work being done around Shepherd Park,” said the congresswoman.
“Shepherd park must be patrolled by the park police the way the neighborhood parks through the district of Columbia are.”Continued the Congresswoman. “The Park Police are supposed to go through the park periodically. They are very short staffed and they have to cut where they go. They still must have a presence that’s patrolling in every park, so I will get back to your chairman to let him know what I have discovered and make it clear to the Park Police that if you’re going to any park, this park is surely a park they must go to.”
“…There was nothing that I could do to help this man because that’s how high he was. So when do we help these individuals in Shepherd Park?” said Henderson.
The concern for safety around Shepherd Park has been prevalent for years. There was a petition to close the park because of a lack of safety. The park is located next to a liquor store and adjacent to known drug dealing hotspots. People have lost their lives in and around Shepherd Park because of what happens there. The petition did not garner enough support to cause change within the park.
Henderson ended by saying, “It’s like when do we say enough is enough and this is not going to happen in our Ward because we got so many better people as leaders, as residents, as family members that’s living over here.”