- Courtland Milloy is always on the cutting edge of what's real in this city.
A Street Corner Analysis of D.C. Crime
By Courtland Milloy
Wednesday, July 23, 2008; B01
Driving through the District's Trinidad neighborhood the other night, I stopped to chat with three young men who were hanging out not far from where 13-year-old Alonzo Robinson was shot to death early Saturday.The corner boys, as they are sometimes called, are part of what is perhaps the most visibly anonymous demographic in the country. Young and black, feared and marginalized, they are the ones most likely to be viewed as a suspect in a crime and most likely to become the faceless victim of one.Nevertheless, if you want to know what's behind the rash of homicides in Trinidad -- 24 so far this year -- and to get a different take on how to stop the killings, these are guys to go to, on their turf and on their terms."I keep a 'K' under my truck, just in case," Mike Smith, 19, told me, referring to an AK-47 assault rifle. His friends snickered. Whether Smith was joking or telling the truth, they wouldn't say. But when he added, "I've lost 10 homeboys so far," they nodded in solemn agreement.It was almost 10 p.m. Monday, two hours before "killing time," as they call the midnight hour in Trinidad. "You don't want to be out here after midnight," said Bobby Johnson, 18. "You see young 'uns riding three, four deep, you know what's about to happen."He called them young 'uns, meaning youngsters. But they are really young guns, shooters 17 and under.Alonzo was killed about 2:25 a.m. while standing with a cousin at Queen and Holbrook streets NE. Earlier that morning, about 1, another 13-year-old boy and a man were wounded by gunfire from another passing car.The way the corner boys see it, only a young 'un would be coldblooded enough to target a kid. Although no arrests have been made in either shooting, random, drive-by terror tactics have become the hallmark of the city's most ruthless teenage thugs.D.C. officials have tried a variety of countermeasures: a beefed-up gang task force, crackdowns on car thieves, a curfew for teenagers, stepped-up truancy enforcement. The latest is a police checkpoint on a Trinidad street, requiring motorists to show ID or be turned away. But as soon as the blockade was lifted last time, the killings started again.Making matters worse, police believe that several people know who killed Alonzo but refuse to come forward."If we continue to accept the rule of thumb that we should not stand up for our communities, then we should not complain" about crime, Amin Muslim, an aide to D.C. Council member Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7), said during an anti-violence rally in Trinidad last week.The corner boys scoff at such scolding.Before residents will start cooperating with police, they say, the department must overcome a reputation, made in the 1980s, as having too many cops who are poorly trained, trigger-happy and corrupt.I asked Johnson what he would do if he were chief of police."If I was chief of police . . . wait, I can't be no police," he said. "But if I was in charge, I would tell the police to back off, all that posting up on the corner just aggravates the young 'uns, and they come back with a vengeance."So what's the answer?"I know a lot of people who wouldn't kill somebody if they knew they were going to get the death penalty," Johnson said.Moreover, he added, if killers were put to death, regardless of age, residents would be less reluctant to testify against them.Smith wasn't too keen on the idea."Suppose you get bagged for killing somebody you didn't kill?" he said. "By the time they figure out they got the wrong man, it's too late to bring you back."Derrick Wood, 19, agreed. But he still sided with Johnson about the nature of the problem."Everybody knows that young 'uns don't do time," Wood said, referring to the relatively lenient sentences meted out to juvenile offenders. "That just makes them bolder."He raised his hand as if holding a pistol. "They'll walk right up to you, not even wearing a mask, and slump you on the spot."Killing time.E-mail:milloyc@...