Patricia Holliday is downright disgusted with the drugs, and last week she began organizing her Annapolis Gardens neighbors to go after the dealers and the bullets and mayhem they bring with a new Neighborhood Watch program.
This week, she and her neighbors were handed another target: international terrorists.
The directive came from no less than Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, who believes neighborhood watchdogs across the country can help the government "weave a seamless web of prevention of terrorism." He enlisted the aid of Ed McMahon who's gone from pitching Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes to pitching the war on terrorism and funneled almost $2 million to double the number of local Neighborhood Watch groups nationwide to 15,000.
"Fighting terrorists?" Holliday repeated when she heard the news. "Um, I guess if it's part of the program, we can do that, too."
From the public housing complexes of Annapolis to the bucolic subdivisions of Loudoun County's horse country, Ashcroft's request has stirred consternation and amazement.
On Capitol Hill,as four neighborhood watchers set out from 11th Street and Independence Avenue SE for an Orange Hat patrol, they were skeptical they could do much good in the war on terrorism.
"We're too open-minded to be racial profilers," noted Peter Rothschild, 45, a computer security engineer. Later he said, "If you see a guy in a turban, he's probably the ambassador."
As for Ashcroft's admonition to be vigilant, Herbert Brown, 69, shrugged. "I've been doing that for years."
Yet sorting out residents from muggers and drug dealers is no exact science. When the group spied a young man, whistling, they stopped for a better look. Then the man disappeared.
"I think we drove him out of the neighborhood," someone said.
Rothschild added: "Are terrorists . . . going to stay out of the neighborhood because of Orange Hats? I have to wonder."
Butch Kinerney isn't wondering. He's a 33-year-old founding member of the newly formed South Riding Neighborhood Watch in Loudoun County. And while he and his crew expect to concentrate on thieves, unruly teenagers and folks who break the speed limit, he is also convinced he plays an integral part in the battle against terrorism.
"Our little saying is, 'Homeland defense starts at home,' " Kinerney said. "South Riding is certainly not a terrorism hot spot. But we know who belongs there and who doesn't belong there. We don't say you should look out for people of such-and-such a descent. It's people who stand out . . . anything out of the ordinary."
Those were the very points that Ashcroft and McMahon made at a news conference Wednesday. They were joined by McMahon's 9-year-old granddaughter, Jiao-Jiao, who smiled and carried a teddy bear in her right hand. That night, Ashcroft visited a Loudoun County high school, spoke to 200 residents and was named an honorary Neighborhood Watch block captain.
"Every community should be on guard against suspicious activity, even the activity of potential terrorists," Ashcroft he told the crowd gathered there. "While our brave men and women in our military work to defeat terrorists overseas, we have the opportunity . . . to make a difference here at home."
Already, Neighborhood Watch programs around the country have amped up their watchfulness. The National Neighborhood Watch Institute, headquartered near Los Angeles, has been selling for $27 each large, rectangular street signs that announce: "We Support HOMELAND SECURITY."
Under a map of the United States decorated with stars and stripes in red, white and blue, reads the warning: "All suspicious persons and activities are immediately reported to our Law Enforcement Agency." Two of the biggest orders the institute sent out recently were to the police departments of Olympia, Wash., and Goose Creek, S.C.
But Holliday isn't likely to order one anytime soon for her Annapolis neighborhood. She is still fixated on the 20-minute shootout that occurred a little after midnight, two weeks ago. Her 14-year-old daughter was outside at the time, and when the gunfire erupted, a friend yanked her to the ground. Afterward, three people were sent to the hospital, and people "picked up bullet casings for days out here," said Holliday, 44, a mother of seven. There was more violence few days later, which prompted Holliday and others to meet with Annapolis's mayor and police officials for a talk about how they could make the neighborhood safer.
"The people who went to the hospital were all residents," Holliday noted. "The people who did the shooting didn't live here."
Terrorism feels very far away from Annapolis Gardens. Right now, homeland defense there has less to do with Osama bin Laden than it does with dodging bullets.
Staff writers Maria Glod and Nelson Hernandez contributed to this report.www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A57785-2002Mar7.htmlE-mail this article