After the 1968 riots, Columbia Heights saw a deterioration of businesses, white residents fled for suburbs, and violent crime went up dramatically. We’re not arguing that the riots were a catalyst for crime and believe crime to be a much more complex and nuanced occurrence, but simply wanted to provide that background.
Since redevelopment, Columbia Heights has become a safer neighborhood and crime has gone significantly down. Every resident interviewed expressed an interest in seeing violent crime in Columbia Heights decrease. However, there were different interpretations regarding where lines for crime were drawn (i.e. would possession of drugs also count) and people felt differently about the police. These opinions were in many cases racialized.
A snapshot of Columbia Heights before….:
“We lived in D.C. until we were 5 and this area was pretty dangerous back then. So, mom and dad moved us out to Maryland when we were 5. At 10, in ‘95, my parents bought this business here and so we did spend a lot of time here. We didn’t live here, but were always in this environment.” – Roberto
“When my dad bought this property the neighborhood was in bad shape. You’d walk this street and there were drugs, prostitution, crime.” – Roberto
“I wasn’t here before all the development, but I have heard stories about there was nothing there, same with 14th Street. Lots of prostitutes running up and down 14th. It’s a completely different world now.” – Ian
Columbia Heights now…:
“Before, from what I’ve heard, there were a lot of drug addicts. I feel like that’s under control now and there’s been a cleansing of sorts. There’s a lot of police involvement… If there’s unity, regardless of culture, race, religion, regardless of where you come from, if we’re all united to have a safer state things are good that way.” – Manuel
“I have seen changes in parts where there was lots of drug trafficking, but I see it getting better now… There’s lots of security and you can walk around at night, of course not every night, but you can be calm.” – Manuel
Envisioning Columbia Heights of the future:
“I question, why live here in this neighborhood? I want to stay in the city at this point and time, but why am I investing in a neighborhood where there are shootings going on, robberies going on, but you’re still paying premium prices and people aren’t necessarily being nice.” – Ian
“I think it’s a grey area. I mean, if you wanna raise case, it’s a good thing. You know, if maybe your mindset is a little different no one would care about it. But I’d rather have it (development), you know, if I was to build a family in that area, I’d rather have the riff raff out. It’s as simple as that. But I mean, it doesn’t move that fast, it’s not easy just to be like, okay, everybody gotta go. Stuff has to happen. If that was the case, I’m sure a lot of the people would be gone by now. Simple as that. I’m positive about that.” – Arthur
The right to a neighborhood:
“Nothing is static or stagnant. That’s why I think development is not necessarily a bad thing. You can strive to make it more inclusive, but at the same time you have to crack down on things that have become normal like shootings, littering… People are invested, but then they’re not. You just become numb to what’s going on around you. It becomes the new norm. Whether it’s structural racism or the structure of crime or violence. It leads to this kind of defeatism of I as an individual can’t stop this. There’s this article I should find in the Washington City Paper that caused a lot of stir about the people who lived here. People who lived here and invested a lot in this neighborhood and moved out to the suburbs. It was because of a lot of things that had happened to them after trying to invest in the neighborhood and they had been threatened because they called the police on someone about something and then they started targeting their home. That’s the whole mindfulness, so you’re dealing in some ways with a lot of highly volatile people. You need to be careful on those interactions and how you go about it. I think that’s the thing, do you stay and fight within the system or outside the system? To use an analogy about how people interact with government. I think it’s a myriad of factors. It sounds terrible to say, but even though people get displaced sometimes it still creates positivity.” – Ian
“The original people. The new people would still be there, because they don’t wanna move, you know they’re the ones paying for everything. You know, so, but everyone likes to be safe, they don’t like to walk out their house and see ten people sitting there on the corner, I mean even myself being from here, I don’t like to see it myself.” – Arthur
“people have a right to go where they wanna go, to live where they wanna live, where they think is safe. I mean, I go where I think I’m safe.” – Arthur
The maps above, from the DC Department of Corrections, show the number of inmates per census tract. Columbia Heights serves as a middle ground almost for the disproportionately larger number of inmate coming from East DC in comparison to West DC.
|Robbery (with gun)||96||1501|
|Robbery (without gun)||44||1088|
|Assault with Deadly Weapon (with gun)||53||1331|
|Assault with Deadly Weapon (without gun)||19||660|
The chart above shows the total number of crimes committed in Columba Heights and DC from the start of 2016 until November 1st. A majority of thefts, 316, occurred in the immediate periphery of the Columbia Heights Metro station.