14 June 2013

A run-in with kids outside of Frager's while biking home

By necessity, this is just going to be a narrative without embellishment. I just wanted to share this story because I mentioned it on Twitter, and many people responded out of concern for me and out of anger at the situation.


First, let me say that I'm okay. 100% fine. There's not a scratch on my head.

I was taking the Green Line home from work. We arrived at the Anacostia station, and the train doors were held open for over ten minutes. I decided to leave the station and find another way home.

I hopped on a Capital Bikeshare bike at the station and headed north, across the 11th Street bridge. When I got to the corner of 11th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue SE, I had to wait for a red light. Four kids were standing on the corner, next to the fence that has been put up around the charred remains of Frager's Hardware Store. There were three girls and one boy, all around the same age (12 or so).

One of the girls approached me and asked for five dollars. I told her I didn't have any cash on me. She looked at the bike and said, "You need money to pay for that, right?"

I told her, "Yes, I use a credit card."

She said, "Credit cards have money on them, give me some!"

The light turned green at that point, and I said, "Sorry, no, I have to go."

As I started across Pennsylvania Avenue, she lunged at me, pushed on my backpack, and yelled, "Give me money! Give me money!" a couple times, while the other kids laughed. The events of Tuesday on the MBT came to mind, and I turned around to make sure the other kids weren't coming after me. I scolded them and asked if they heard about the MBT assault.

The boy in the group started yelling, "Fuck you! Fuck you! Get the fuck out of my neighborhood!" At this point, I realized I could hurry up and bike away, but I wasn't in the mood to let these kids think they could get away with threatening someone on a bicycle, so I yelled out, "These kids are trying to assault me."

I moved my bicycle to the southwest corner of the intersection (in front of the dry cleaners) and called 911.

A gentleman came out of the dry cleaners and told me that the kids had been causing problems in the past, throwing rocks at the store's windows.

Two officers arrived after about 3 or 4 minutes. I told them what happened, and in which direction the kids went after our encounter. A quick check on the radio and the first officer was able to confirm that a third officer had some kids a block down the street. The second officer went to bring them back.

While she was gone, I spoke with the first officer. She told me that kids in the area were apt to do things like this, and that the children doing this get younger every year. The second officer returned a couple minutes later with a woman in her cruiser. This turned out to be the mother of the girl who had shoved me. The first officer insisted that the young girl be brought back as well, so a couple more awkward minutes passed while the first officer, the girl's mother, and I stood around waiting for the other officer to bring back the girl.

When they returned, the first officer asked the girl to state what had happened. She basically gave the full story, but claimed that she had just touched the bike, and not pushed me. The officers wanted her to apologize to me, which she did, but clearly not in a sincere manner.

The police told the girl she could be charged with both aggravated panhandling and simple assault. The girl's mother quietly told her not to be stupid and to apologize.

The officers stepped aside for a moment, leaving me with the girl and her mother. We stood there awkwardly as a light rain began to fall. The officers then called me over to where they were discussing things, and asked if I wanted to press charges. They were willing to lock the girl up, and told me that there would be a few hours of paperwork, but it was up to me how to proceed.

I told the officers I wanted the girl to learn a lesson, but I wanted to do what they thought was best. They called her over, and had her stand right in front of me. The officers told the girl that I had the power to ruin her life then and there, to give her a criminal record. They told me to tell her what I thought about the whole situation.

I told the girl that I thought what she did was stupid, and there was no reason for her to have done anything more than say hello to me on the street.

The officers jumped in and told her to look me in the eye, stand up straight, stop mumbling, and pay attention. The girl's mother, standing nearby, implored her daughter to listen. The police asked her if she had goals, wanted to go to college, and wanted to get away from the bad influences around her. They reminded her that her attitude and actions were going to damn her to a life of dead-ends.

Finally, I told the girl my name, and offered my hand to shake. She did, and apologized again (personally, it still didn't feel 100% sincere, but I remember how much of a sullen brat I could be at 12 years old myself).

Her mother said she'd be going home and would be on a short leash. I obviously don't know what happened once they got home, but I hope we got some sort of message into the girl's head.

As I got back on the Bikeshare bike to head towards home (yeah, I racked up some fees for having the bike out more than 30 minutes!), I thanked the officers and they apologized for my ruined evening. I told them it was absolutely not their place to apologize, and thanked them for doing a great job.

The officers remarked that, while the girl avoided a criminal record, they had her name and would put her on a "juvenile watch list." If she gets caught causing trouble again, there will be no mercy.

Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.

03 June 2013

Vanished/The Ruined Capitol doesn't live up to promise

Sloppy work on blogs deserves to be called out, especially when the author of the work seeks an air of authority on a subject. I'm taking this opportunity to ask Simon Jacobsen to do a better job with the Vanished/The Ruined Capitol blog.

Early last year, his blog called "The Ruined Capitol" (since re-branded "Vanished:Washington," though the URL never changed) was briefly profiled by the Washington City Paper. In this short interview, he gave an interesting quote:
I'm not putting any facts down...
In fact, Mr. Jacobsen puts a lot of facts down with every post. The most important of these facts is the address of the buildings. Unfortunately, he can be sloppy with those facts. Here's an example:

Image from Vanished

Mr. Jacobsen shows this picture and says it's at 6th and College Streets NE. That's a non-existent corner. There is a 6th and College Street NW, though. Here's a piece of the Baist Atlas for that part of the city in 1937 (two years after the date shown on the photo):

Image from Historic Map Works

You can see a line of rowhouses on the west side of 6th Street, north of College Street. I think it's a safe bet that these are the houses in the photo. What's there today? This:

View Larger Map

It's Lewis K. Downing Hall, home to Howard University Engineering.

Jacobsen, though, shows this image of what he believes is at that corner today:

Image from Vanished

That's actually the corner of Georgia Avenue and Howard Place NW. Jacobsen manages to start by saying the original location is in a different quadrant, then believes today's corner has somehow moved a couple blocks away. It's terribly sloppy. Google Maps is how he verifies the location of all present-day buildings. He'd be helped by actually going out to the corners where he believes these old buildings were located and doing some ground-truthing. It would probably make clear some of the more egregious errors and avoid the embarrassment of publishing mistakes.

Here's one more. The page was taken down after I pointed out an error, he refused to acknowledge it, and further information from me made it crystal clear that he had made a simple mistake. I saved the page as a rough PDF:

Jacobsen mistook the numeral "1" (for 1st Street) for the letter "I" (for Eye Street), and insisted Florida Avenue "flattens out" (whatever that means) at Eye Street NE. A simple walk around the neighborhood would show how incorrect that is, but he didn't take the time to go out and look at things in the real world.

It's a shame, it could be an authoritative site, but there are so many holes in it, it's hard to say how many of the before and after pictures he posts are just plain wrong.

A better example of the genre is the "Then and Now" series that Kent Boese did for Greater Greater Washington. Admittedly, this is more thorough than the "drive-by shooting" (a poor choice of words) that Jacobsen claims to offer at his site, but the basic idea is that a little more research goes a long way.