Different responses to crime at 21st and Madison

The area near Deano's lounge, meaning around 21st Avenue East and East Madison Street, remains one of the city's crime hotspots. Drugs, loitering, prostitution and numerous related issues, have long plagued the area dubbed "the war zone" by residents, many of whom are weary of the issue or frustrated by city and police response.

That the area has a high crime rate is beyond dispute. According to police statistics provided on the Miller Park Neighborhood Association's website, 2005 has seen 144 felony narcotics arrests, more than any other precinct. The East Precinct also considers the 21st and Madison area its No. 1 priority as far as allocating resources.

Two different approaches by groups of neighborhood residents serve as examples of how neighborhood residents are coping with the persistent crime problem.

Julianne Andersen, who has lived in the area for more than seven years, said that roughly 10 households in and round 22nd and Madison have formed a loose, unofficial association. Fed up with what they see as a lack of meaningful change over the years, their intent, she said, is "to make the neighborhood inhospitable for inhospitable non-residents."

This means taking a more confrontational approach to those individuals who, for instance, are taking drugs in a neighbor's back yard. It means walking up to a person who may be smoking crack cocaine and telling them to leave

"We are doing more," she said. "It's not that we want to come outside and yell at someone at 1:30 in the morning. But we are out of options."

She said many of her neighbors are afraid to leave their houses at night. Working nights herself, Anderson said she sees a different world coming home late at night than many see during daylight hours or while driving past the neighborhood en route to Madison Park.

Anderson fears that being confrontational could well lead to a violent conclusion. She also said the group is not taking a vigilante approach. Nor is the intent to undermine efforts taken by the city or by neighborhood groups like the Miller Park Neighborhood Association. But an under-resourced police department, she said, means the neighborhood has to fend for itself more than it should. The approach is born out of frustration with the drug problem and the negative climate on the streets.

"We really are just asking the non-residents to move on. The older ones usually do, but the younger ones are argumentative," she said. "But by the time we call 911, and by the time officers get here, criminals have left the scene or the drugs are hidden. We aren't happy with this and don't think of it as a real solution. I endorse all sorts of progressive ideas on solving crime here. We just want the right to live here peacefully."

On Saturday, April 30, members of the newly formed Madison/Denny Community Action Program (MADCAP) held a community clean-up and barbecue. Jon VandeMoortel, who has lived in the neighborhood for the last two years and spearheads the group of roughly 30 Madison-Denny neighbors, said the new group is centered on involvement.

"We are not trying to be a confrontational presence. It's about creative resistance to crime in the neighborhood and a desire not to allow things to continue has they have," he said.

VandeMoortel thinks the police are doing pretty well with an extremely difficult job. But some neighbors are hesitant to leave their houses, especially at night - " some people are pretty fearful of what can go on."

MADCAP will be aligned with the Miller Park Neighborhood Association.

"This group is more for people who live at the epicenter of what is considered the worst crime area, in and around Deano's," he said.

The April 30 event, held on a day with less than optimal weather, involved cleaning debris, exposing sidewalks and unclogging sewer drains. Two community watch signs were put up. Cleaning supplies, some food and fliers for the event were provided by the city as part of its Adopt-a-Street program. Police officers who work in the 21st and Madison area attended. During the barbecue, the group was joined for lunch by several people who are typically associated with the problems MADCAP is trying to address.

"That was a positive surprise," VandeMoortel said. "But they are part of this neighborhood, and we see them here every day. Given the bad weather, this was more successful than I expected."

The clean-up was MADCAP's first event. The group may apply for official nonprofit status, which would make it available to a wide variety of grants. Those involved with MADCAP will begin meeting more regularly and work on establishing MADCAP's identity. More community walks are likely, especially during the upcoming summer. Summer typically sees an increase in the criminal activity that wears on the neighborhood.

VanderMoortel said that one goal is to simply be present and active in the neighborhood.

"We don't want to be aggressive or scared. We're just a group people in this neighborhood who want to have a positive impact in a good-hearted way," he said.

Doug Schwartz is the editor of the Capitol Hill Times. Reach him at editor@ capitolhilltimes.com or 461-1308.

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