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D.C.'s Fast-Changing NoMa Grapples With Crime As It Grows

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Alvin Judd Sr., a lifelong resident of the area now called NoMa, stands outside the brand new NPR headquarters on North Capitol Street NE.
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Alvin Judd Sr., a lifelong resident of the area now called NoMa, stands outside the brand new NPR headquarters on North Capitol Street NE.

A few years ago, the the area just north of Massachusetts Avenue near Union Station was a no man's land of warehouses and parking lots, with a handful of public housing high rises. Today, it's called NoMa and it's a sea of construction cranes and scaffolding.

It's home to the new NPR headquarters, a Harris Teeter, many cafes, even a Bikram yoga studio, but it's also been the site of some brutal gun violence. This past weekend, District resident Walter Goode Jr. was found dead from multiple gun shot wounds. Detectives from the Metropolitan Police Department are continuing to investigate the homicide. In the past year, at least 23 people have been wounded in shootings nearby.

The most notorious incident happened in March, when 13 people were injured in a drive-by shooting outside low-income apartment building Tyler House. That shooting was traced back to a nightclub nearby, called Fur.

According to Tony Goodman, ANC commissioner in the ward, much of the neighborhood's violence is connected to Fur and another club nearby, Ibiza.

"At 3 a.m., both of these clubs close, and you have 2,000 people, some of them drunk, looking to get into fights that do cause crimes," Goodman explains.

From the time he moved here, six years ago, Goodman says there's always been a sense that you didn't want to walk down these streets at night. Slowly, he says, it's gotten better. Even though there are more people in NoMa than ever, there is less crime per capita. But those statistics can be less than reassuring when you hear of 13 people getting shot just blocks from your home.

And even for people who've lived in the neighborhood their entire lives, like fellow ANC commissioner Alvin Judd Sr., the random shootings are still shocking. "The community is tired of it," Judd says. "I feel everybody should be able to walk the streets. The elderly should be able to go on the street and not feel like they're going to be mugged or robbed."

Nowadays, Judd says, too many people are looking the other way, which leads, he says, to rampant violence and crime.

Tony Goodman, on the other hand, pegs the violence on the nightclubs. A recent hearing by Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration found more than half of Ibiza's security cameras weren't working. "Further, they couldn't actually tell the board which cameras they were, so they don't even know what they're not seeing," Goodman explains. "The city has invested millions of dollars to turn this vacant industrial land into a real thriving neighborhood, and it's important that we take the next step and ensure these clubs follow the law."

But both Ibiza, and Fur are facing tough times. Fur is slated for redevelopment, and Ibiza has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. We reached out to the owners of both clubs; neither responded to our interview request by our deadline.

In September, all the nightclub licenses citywide will be up for renewal. And you can bet NoMa's new residents will be making their voices heard.


[Music: "Esther's Vice" by Bexar Bexar from Haralambos]

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