Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Via Dolorosa

The Growler has been pondering Mayor Euille’s recent proposal to take a walking tour of Parker-Gray, a tour that would culminate in a community meeting about crime.

In fact, a criminal route already suggests itself. Let the Mayor lead us on the same neighborhood tour taken by Corey (“C Bear”) Hargrow and Eric (“Fat Red”) Jones in March 2005, just hours before Mr. Hargrow’s senseless murder.

Before Mr. Jones shot his lifelong friend Corey to death in the 700 block of N. Fayette Street, the two young men cruised the neighborhood for hours, stopping at homes, businesses and fast food restaurants. Recreating their steps may correct the notion that neighborhood crime is neatly confined to public housing projects.

A walking tour would also underscore the role drugs played in the men’s itinerary. The press seldom alluded to drugs in their coverage of Mr. Jones’s trial for the murder of Corey Hargrow. But drugs played a significant role in the friends’ perambulations as well as the activities they undertook along the way.

According to transcripts from Eric Jones’s first trial in Alexandria Circuit Court in August 2005, Mr. Hargrow met Mr. Jones between 5:00 and 5:30 PM on the afternoon of March 8 at Mr. Jones’s home on N. Payne Street. Mr. Hargrow’s family lived nearby on Buchanan Street. Both homes are private residences, not public housing units.

After a quick half-hour trip across the Wilson Bridge to get a $25 pint of Remy Martin cognac, Hargrow and Jones were dropped off at Queen and Fayette, the epicenter of the local drug market. Once settled (at around 6 PM), they secured some cups and started drinking in public, though it was bitterly cold outside that night.

“[W]e just basically chilled in front of the spa court, you know,” Mr. Jones testified. The spa court is the ironic term for the barber and beauty shops on the south side of the 1100 block of Queen Street.

Drinking from an open container was the least of their offenses. On cross-examination, Mr. Jones testified that Mr. Hargrow made two or three sales of “dimes” (bags of crack cocaine) on Queen Street that night. Mr. Jones admitted that he had 10 or 12 bags of “weed” on him at this time and acknowledged that a few years earlier he had been convicted of felony cocaine possession with the intent to distribute. Court records reveal Mr. Hargrow had also been convicted on two counts of distribution of cocaine in 2003.

Around 6:30 PM, the pair strolled up and down Queen Street, where they saw “people that we didn’t like. I mean, like however you want to call it, crackheads,” like the man they called Nuthouse. Evidently there’s a crack hierarchy at work in the neighborhood.

Hargrow and Jones also paid a visit to the small store on the northwest corner of Queen and Fayette, the same store whose landlord has recently been complaining about crowds of youth pilfering the shelves after school.

Around 7:00 PM there was more strolling around the neighborhood and more contacts made. The young men poured a drink for a friend, joined another buddy at Payne and Oronoco, and talked to “Duck,” a former jailbird who lives at his grandmother’s Princess Street house. The Princess Street family has extensive criminal records for drug possession, distribution and prostitution.

Around 8:00 PM Hargrow and Jones walked to the now-closed 7-11 on N. Columbus Street, then stopped at McDonald’s on N. Henry Street for cheeseburgers. (This troubled fast food restaurant appears regularly on the Police Department’s monthly list of the top 10 sites for calls for service.) Due to the severe cold, they sheltered in the restaurant for some time before heading back to Fayette and Wythe around 9:00 PM.

On the way back, Hargrow and Jones also encountered another friend they’d seen earlier, who was setting off on his bike to the gas station at Montgomery and Washington to score some “blunts” (cigars that have been unrolled and refilled with marijuana).

Some time after 9:00 PM Hargrow and Jones reached the 700 block of Fayette Street. And it was there that Mr. Hargrow was fatally shot a little after 10:30 PM, just across the street from the expensive Braddock Lofts townhomes.

Mr. Hargrow was slain in front of a public housing project. But the route that led to his death meandered throughout the neighborhood. Corey Hargrow’s last five hours were spent on a Cook’s tour of drug markets and low-level drug runners and dealers.

Where were the cops when this crew was drinking and selling dope in public? Perhaps Mr. Hargrow would still be alive today if he'd been nabbed on a lesser charge and separated from his volatile friend.

It is even more frightening to think about when one realizes that Mr. Jones seems to have been packing a concealed gun all or most of the time that night, according to the testimony of one witness (Sebastian Carter) who was himself arrested in late December 2005 for the murder of Lawrence Sims at Montgomery and N. Alfred Streets.

Mayor Euille’s proposed walk might play well in an election year, but frankly the Growler thinks the folks who should be doing the walking are the police.

Crime can only be reduced by tackling the drug trade that is the source or contributing factor in other crimes, large and small. This trade in Parker-Gray is conducted almost entirely on foot or by bike, at well known corners and along well-worn paths all over the area. And even the youngest low-level dealers may be carrying dangerous weapons as they ankle around the neighborhood.

Curbing the drug trade can’t be done solely from outposts in public housing and particularly not from inside the comfort and distance of a police cruiser. Good old fashioned flat-footed police work in all sections of the neighborhood is the key. Eric Jones has now unwittingly provided the tour map.

So get cracking Bill – get the cops on foot and marching with you and then we’ll take this walk seriously.