Reality, Reality

Since 1981, D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department’s ride-along program has offered voyeurs a first-rate opportunity to glimpse the underbelly of District neighborhoods. All you have to do is sign a waiver, which is what I did last Thursday a little before midnight at First District headquarters.

Since 1981, D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department’s ride-along program has offered voyeurs a first-rate opportunity to glimpse the underbelly of District neighborhoods. All you have to do is sign a waiver, which is what I did last Thursday a little before midnight at First District headquarters.

I soon found myself in some woman’s Capitol Hill living room, listening to her recount to officers the intimate details of a past relationship with a man who had just tried to kick in her front door.

The man, who ran off before we arrived, kept calling the woman’s cell phone. One of the officers answered, advising the ex to stop calling with threats to murder the woman’s new lover.

After getting as much information as was needed and a very earnest thank-you from the woman, we got back in the patrol car and went searching for the guy, with no luck.

Much of the night was spent looking for cars with violations, which can be as minor as an air freshener dangling from a rearview mirror. That “obstructed view” offense wins a $25 fine (though officers use their discretion on whether or not to issue a fine). News to me.

Another funny thing I learned: When an officer-to-be in the training academy does his four required ride-alongs, he must wear a bulletproof vest. All a civilian ride-along gets is the opportunity to sign the waiver — ironclad legal protection for the MPD!

No complaints here, though. It’s a great program and a fun way to spend an evening. I didn’t get to see any arrests this time, though. Had I gone the previous night I might have seen officers chase a dangerous armed teenager to a Capitol Hill house, where he barricaded himself after being hit on the head with a frying pan by his unwilling host, Gary Peterson. Ultimately, the police got the kid’s grandmother to convince him to give it up. Peterson has been dubbed a hero by Cmdr. Diane Groomes, who told The Washington Post: “We liked his choice of weapon.”

 Washington’s reign comes to an end

Washington, D.C., no longer can claim to be the Capital of Homeland Hysteria. The countless barricades, bollards, bomb scares and bogus busts will never trump the government panic that occurred in the great city of Boston last week.

On Jan. 31, Boston authorities shut down highways and bridges because several lit-up images of a cartoon character with a raised middle finger had been placed on them. Somebody mistook the cartoons for bombs, and bomb squads were deployed at great cost. This easily could’ve happened here — it didn’t, though, so let’s have a laugh.

The battery-powered signs were part of a nine-city ad campaign by Turner Broadcasting. They had been placed throughout Boston by a pair of shaggy 20-somethings named Peter Berdovsky and Sean Stevens, who were arrested Tuesday.

Actually, the press outside court was more of an embarrassment than the overly cautious government of Boston. 

After being charged with creating a panic and released from government custody, Berdovsky and Stevens walked up to a giant pile of microphones in front of a group of reporters and announced they would only take questions about 1970s haircuts. They blathered while the reporters tried to make “serious” inquiries.

“That’s not a hair question, I’m sorry.”

Offended by the affront to their journalistic gravitas in this era of “widespread panic,” the reporters resorted to threatening the lawyer, Mike Rich: “Mr. Rich, you gotta understand your clients aren’t generating much sympathy within the press or the public with their attitude.”

Maybe we in Washington have been through enough security hoopla that it’s easier to see what an utter joke this whole episode is. 

 ‘Meaningless’ rules-change to trigger lawsuit?

It’s likely that Republicans will sue over a recent measure to give Eleanor Holmes Norton and other delegates the ability to vote on amendments in the House of Representatives, judging from a recent statement by Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.).

Republicans sued when delegates were given this same sop in 1993, but U.S. District Court Judge Harold Greene ruled that there was nothing unconstitutional about the privilege because it was “symbolic,” and therefore “meaningless.” It’s meaningless because if delegates provide a margin of victory, the vote is tossed and the whole process is re-done without the delegates.

“We’re going to embark on another legal struggle, just as we did 14 years ago,” Dreier said  Jan. 24.

Dreier’s office and the Republican National Committee failed to return repeated calls for comment or clarification.

The legal theory behind the 1993 challenge was that having to re-vote without the delegates affected the voting dynamics — that congressmen flip-flop when given the chance, in other words. Judges said there wasn’t evidence of this. Perhaps a new challenge will present new evidence from the past 13 years.

SWAT deployed to Southwest

The city’s southwestern quadrant is such a dangerous place that residents have called in the SWAT team. Har, har, just kidding — on Jan. 30, residents patrolled the neighborhood themselves: the South West Action Team.

The public-safety walk, which was attended by nearly 70 residents, First District police Cmdr. Diane Groomes and Ward 6 City Councilmember Tommy Wells, was designed to highlight safety issues raised by redevelopment on the Waterside Mall site, where demolition is set to begin in the spring.

Currently, residents are allowed to walk through the middle of the mall until 11 p.m. to get from the north side to the south side, where the Metro station, CVS and Safeway are located. Security guards patrol the area. After 11, though, they have to walk around the massive building, and the sidewalks are dark and dangerous.

“We’re a little bit nervous about what life is going to be like,” says David Sobelsohn, a member of the southwest Advisory Neighborhood Commission.

Sobelsohn has good reason to be nervous. In 2003, the mall announced that it would start closing at 10. Sobelsohn protested, pointing out the stupidity of shutting off the safe path before the Metro or even the Safeway close. Then one night, Sobelsohn recalls, “I had to walk around the mall and a couple punks followed me and robbed me.” They slugged him in the face, too. The mugging gave him enough leverage to convince mall owners to keep the place open another hour. 

But his troubles weren’t over. In March 2006, after leaving the nearby Navy Yard Metro station, Sobelsohn was attacked again by another group of kids. This time they smashed a bottle on his head, broke his cheekbone, gave him a concussion and pretty much left him for dead. He spent three nights in the hospital and several months suffering from various mental and emotional problems, including loss of memory. The experience became the subject of a Washington City Paper cover story last July.

The safety walk followed a route around the mall that people will have to take. The mall has been a neighborhood controversy for a while; almost all of the land was recently given to developers by the National Capital Revitalization Corporation (NCRC), a quasi-public company charged with “empowering” citizens. The NCRC retained a small but massively valuable acre and a half, while the Waterfront Associates obtained the rest of the property for nothing. Residents questioned the giveaway, and badgered the NCRC over development plans until it promised to make developers keep a supermarket on-site.

The Waterfront Associates are in the unfortunate position of being a scapegoat should there be a spate of muggings …

CORRECTION: In last week’s column I wrote about Adrian Fenty’s flip-flop on releasing a secret 2004 memo from former Attorney General Robert Spagnoletti to former Mayor Anthony Williams. I wrote that the memo concerned whether a gay couple could file taxes jointly — actually, the letter concerned not just joint filing, but whether the District could recognize a same-sex marriage from any other jurisdiction. Joint tax-filing is just one of hundreds of marriage benefits under D.C. law. I regret the error.