Thursday, August 31, 2006

Shattered Glass, Shattered Peace

(CLICK TO ENLARGE) Glass shards from a shattered bus shelter litter the ground and bench while an amplified group disturbs and disrupts the residents and businesses in and around H and 8th Street NE. The photo was made on Saturday, Aug. 12, 2006. The familiar scene also happened in June, and one man berated my wife and me for cleaning up the broken glass. (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

Four bus stops—for the east-west X2 and X1 lines and the north-south 90, 92, and 93 lines—populate the confluence of H and 8th Streets NE. Three woefully inadequate shelters offer to waiting passengers refuge from the sun, wind and rain. About once a month, someone smashes one of the large glass plates lining the shelters.

Designed for safety, the glass disintegrates into thousands of tiny—yet sharp—pieces. Unless someone calls the city or the Metro Transit Authority, the debris lingers for at least a day. On my way to catch a bus early one Saturday morning in late June, I encountered yet another pile of broken glass, which spread out in all directions. It was as if the plate glass fell backward out of its moorings and smashed onto the concrete.

Glass crunched underfoot as I passed. I telephoned Metro while I waited for the westbound X2. As always, there is confusion about which shelters are maintained by Metro (the bubble-topped ones) or the city (flat-topped ones). Since the damaged shelter had a flat roof, the operator said she would notify the city.

When I returned home nine hours later, the mess remained. People crowded the bus stop. Children wearing flip-flops and sandals played and chased each other, while their parents gazed north in the afternoon heat, watching for the southbound bus. Frustrated, I called the city again, and then went out to the southeast corner to document the usual noisemakers. I returned home in an hour.

No city or Metro cleanup crews. Broken glass. Kids running around. Finally, my wife, Kara, and I grabbed two brooms, a dustpan and garbage can; we marched the 50 steps to the bus stop. We started sweeping. Almost immediately a man, apparently waiting for the bus, stormed up to us and started shouting.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” he screamed among the other adults and children. “This isn’t your neighborhood! You crackers should go back to where you came from!”

Kara and I were taken aback. Instantly I recognized him as a frequent listener to the amplified rants of the Israeli School of Universal Practical Knowledge (ISUPK), the group at that moment still using their amplifier to blast the neighborhood with racial and homophobic diatribes. He appeared completely pissed—almost threatening—and kept screaming. People stared. Then my anger boiled over.

“Fuck you!” I yelled. “We live here, too!” I gestured to the children gathered at the bus stop. “This broken glass has been here since this morning and the city hasn’t responded and these kids are running around in sandals and we just want to clean it up!” I could feel the words pour out of my mouth, and soon was aware that the assembled kids were getting quite an earful of the word “fuck.”

Suddenly my shaking voice wasn’t alone. Mothers and grandmothers came to our rescue. They yelled at the man to shut up and to think about the children, while two men stepped in between the upset man and us.

Soon the angry dude’s friend pulled him away from us. The two men who had stepped in between offered to help. They grabbed one broom from my hand to help Kara sweep and the other maneuvered the garbage can while I scooped up the piles of glass with the dustpan. Together we made quick work of clearing glass shards from the sidewalk.

A southbound bus hissed to a stop and most of the waiting people—including the angry fellow—boarded. The two men who had helped us stayed behind. The bus pulled away from the curb.

“Thank you,” I said to the men.

“We’re all human beings,” one of the men replied as we shook hands. “Yes,” I said. “All human beings.”

Kara and I lugged home our heavy garbage can. We went inside, followed by the angry, amplified ranting still audible from the corner. We collapsed on the couch and looked at each other: On one June afternoon at H and 8th Streets NE, we had experienced within minutes two sides of humanity—one extremely ugly and the other utterly beautiful. We cried.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

On This Date in History: City, Residents Met About Noise

It was one year ago today, on Aug. 30, that 19 residents and city officials gathered at Sherwood Recreation Center to discuss how to deal with ongoing noise issues at H and 8th Streets NE (Community, D.C. Agencies Meet About Noise Issue). The noisemakers were invited to attend, but declined at the last minute.

Fifty-two weekends and 110 decibels later, nothing has changed.

During the meeting, all attendees agreed the amplified noise was the focus of the problem. Working together, the city agencies initiated a plan to tackle the problem. It included weekly decibel meter readings by the Dept. of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs.

As a result, the noisemaking fellows were cited and fined on three separate occasions for exceeding the legal decibel limits--or at least for what everyone thought were legal decibel limits.

In December, the District of Columbia Office of Attorney General discovered a loophole in the law. It allows for unlimited decibels levels of amplified, non-commercial speech anywhere in the city. The noise hasn’t stopped since.

That was 52-Saturdays-of-amplified-noise ago. Apparently the D.C. City Council thinks nobody is counting. Actually, the residents and businesses of H and 8th NE are rudely reminded of the tally each and every weekend.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Neighborhood Is Collateral Damage of Amplified Battle

(CLICK TO ENLARGE) A fellow from the Israeli School of Universal Practical Knowledge (ISUPK) tries to grab a campaign sign from a supporter of District of Columbia Mayoral Candidate Michael Brown (right) as she waives it in the face of an amplified screamer. The ISUPK fellows used the amplifier to call Brown a “faggot” and the female supporter a “prostitute” at the southeast corner of H and 8th Streets NE Saturday, Aug. 26, 2006. The supporter—without the aid of an amplifier—exclaimed the ISUPK were “scum” that needed to be removed from the sidewalk. The neighborhood residents and businesses could hear the racket inside homes and buildings. “We don’t want anyone removed—we just a little peace and quiet,” said one neighbor, whose toddler has a difficult time napping on noisy Saturday afternoons. (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

An amplified battle erupted Saturday at the intersection of H and 8th Streets NE between the usual self-proclaimed religious group and supporters of a D.C. mayoral candidate. It was a scene where freedom of speech was guaranteed to only those with an amplifier. Everyone else be damned.

Meanwhile, helpless residents, businesses and bystanders caught in the crossfire of the hours-long barrage of piercing racket became “collateral damage.”

On this particular afternoon, the amplified ISUPK gathered in their usual spot on the southeast corner while supporters of D.C. Mayoral Candidate Michael Brown assembled signs and banners on the southwest corner. A Brown supporter stood near the curb with a bullhorn and shouted “Michael Brown for Mayor!” in several different directions. This attracted the ISUPK group’s attention, because soon they were excoriating Michael Brown and his supporters.

One woman carrying a yellow “Brown for Mayor” sign marched across 8th Street and began shouting back at the amplified ISUPK. Her voice was surprisingly strong but little match for the powered amplified. She shouted “Michael Brown for mayor!” and waived her sign while the ISUPK called Michael Brown a “faggot” and her a “prostitute.” She called the ISUPK “scum” and said the sidewalk needed to be rid of the group.

She waived her sign in front of one of the yellers, while another, apparently thinking it a threat, made an unsuccessful grab for it. More screaming and yelling ensued. By this time, I thought my ears were bleeding, so I retreated back to the southwest corner to speak with Brown’s supporters.

I explained to one fellow the city loophole allows the chronic amplified noise problem to shatter the peace every Saturday for residents and businesses of the neighborhood—the speech can be heard inside the homes and buildings.

He seemed to dismiss my concern as a freedom of speech issue. I don’t think he was able to hear me reply that Michael Brown should stop and chat with my neighbor whose crying kid was just awakened by all the unreasonable noise.

The D.C. City Council must fix the noise law loophole to protect residents and businesses from hours of such behavior every Saturday afternoon.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Some Skip the Amplified Bus Stop

(CLICK TO ENLARGE) A resident boards the trusty eastbound X2 Metro bus at the H and 8 Street NE intersection on an early Sunday morning. Some X2 riders tell me they exit the bus a stop early Saturday afternoons so they can avoid walking in front of and being called racial and homophobic slurs by one group using a very loud, battery-powered amplifier. (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

An amplifier-less Saturday, Aug. 19, blessed the residents and business around H and 8th Street NE. It actually felt like a serene Sunday, and I was lulled into an afternoon nap at home after enduring a grueling morning of class work. I’m not sure why the usual Saturday noisemakers did not appear. Was it too hot and humid? The temperatures were in the upper 80s. However, the Rev. Dallas Williams spent an hour preaching--at times with an amplifier--on the southwest corner on Sunday afternoon.

Ward 6 Councilmember candidate Curtis Etherly and several volunteers stopped by our neighborhood Sunday to ask about the noise problem. He and two other Democratic candidates vying for the seat said they would fix the city’s broken noise statute.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Randolph Harris: Poet

(CLICK TO ENLARGE) Randolph Harris at H and 8th Streets NE. July 29, 2006. (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

The photography component of Quest for Quiet typically garners the most stares and questions at the intersection of H and 8th Streets NE. I’ve met and spoken with many people, most of whom I meet again at the bus stop or walking to an H Street store.

During a rainy—and amplifier-free—Saturday in April, one fellow watched as I knelt in the gutter to make a photograph. As I clambered back onto the sidewalk, we exchanged hellos. His name was Randolph Harris.

His question about why I photographed in the rain was difficult to answer in the absence of the familiar amplified men. I explained simply that I was a writer and photographer working on a community project.

Harris was not a big man. The water wrung from his soaked tennis shoes each time he shifted his weight from one foot to the other. I’d not seen him in the neighborhood before, and asked where he lived.

Harris said he was homeless at the moment, staying in shelters and on the street. He went to prison in 1985, and was just released after serving a 21-year sentence for trafficking heroin and cocaine. He didn’t stay in touch with family or friends while incarcerated. When he got out, Harris discovered most were dead or gone.

“They just opened the prison door and there I was—in a strange, new land,” he said. “I didn’t know what to do.”

Harris wouldn’t disclose his age, but said he grew up in the H Street area during the 1950s and “wild” 60s. He had no better place to go than old neighborhood. “It’s all changed.”

Then he said, “I’m a writer, too. I write poetry.”

I asked what his poems were about.

“I write about what I feel,” he said. And off the top of his head Harris closed his clear brown eyes and recited a poem he said he wrote in prison in 2000 after watching a television program about reparations.
40 Acres and a Mule

I’m I the blame for what I do
Or should I look at the psychology
of this slavery thing too—
Slavery labeled me three-fifths of a man,
that’s the thing I can’t understand—
Do I not walk upright as he do—
Do I not put on my clothes the same way too
So our sisters’ hue are darker than yours
But that does not give you the right
to label them whores—
You see I know
you once passed a law
so our children wouldn't read
because you wanted them to pick
your tobacco and grow your feed
and your prostituted our children,
our mothers and our wives—
But when the males complained,
you took their lives—
But if I was the animal
you so viciously claim
I’ll have a knife and a gun
and draw blood from your veins—
But being that I come from civilized land
with superior knowledge
I somehow understand—
You see I will forgive but never forget
How we were lied to and cheated
and how you never paid your debt…
forty acres and a mule.

(Copyright © 2000. Randolph Harris. Reprinted with permission.)

I was amazed that Harris so easily could recite the words from memory. He said he'd written others, but couldn't remember those as well.

We chatted in the rain for a while longer, and Harris mentioned that he was hungry. Then I proposed an idea: Would Harris allow me to pay him for the right to publish his poem on Quest for Quiet? He was thrilled about the idea of the business transaction and being a published poet.

Neither of us had paper or pen, so I advanced Harris the money with the commitment that he’d write out the poem for me. We exchanged goodbyes and Harris headed to McDonald’s with his poetry money. As I walked the few steps to my house, I didn’t even want to think I’d never see Harris again or that he wouldn’t make good on his poem.

During the next several months, I’d bump into Harris at the bus stop, on the bus or around the neighborhood. Each time he reminded me that he owed me words to his poem, but we never had time for him to write it down. Then I didn’t see Harris for a long time—until one Saturday in July, while I photographed the usual amplified fellows.

We exchanged hearty greetings, and Harris explained that he’d been sick and was hospitalized at Howard University Hospital. He’d had a bout with pneumonia and some other complications. Then he asked if I had some paper and a pen. And finally we both had time.

Harris sat in the din of the amplified ranting and recorded his poem on paper as I made a few photographs. When finished, he asked that I mention others could reprint his poem in exchange for donations. I assured him I would ask people contact me so I could put them in touch with Harris to make arrangements. If interested, please email me.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Classic Hits of 2004

(CLICK TO ENLARGE) This photo of the Israeli School of Universal Practical Knowledge (ISUPK) was made on a Saturday during October of 2004. Obviously the amplified issue remains a long-festering problem for the residents and businesses at H and 8th Street NE. Meanwhile, the recessed city council mulls over a legislative fix to the broken D.C. noise statute. Friends and neighbors don't mind the scene—just the disruptive amplifier, which blares for hours each and every Saturday afternoon from about 3-7 p.m. (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Amplifier, Money and a Broken Qur'an

(CLICK TO ENLARGE) One group’s obnoxious amplifier blares among posters, a jug of donated money and a smashed Qur’an. The items littered the H Street NE sidewalk Saturday, Aug. 5. (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Doesn’t Anyone Want to Listen?

(CLICK TO ENLARGE) Despite a serious lack of an audience for the hours-long diatribe Saturday at H and 8th Streets NE, these noisy fellows blasted businesses and homes with hours of amplified speech. Perhaps people were driven away by the extremely loud amplifier. It was a long day to be sure, as one yeller reaches into the cooler for a beverage. This photo was made at 6:15 p.m. (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Ward 6 Dem Candidates Support Noise Law Fix

On the issue of fixing the broken D.C. noise law, it wasn’t much of a debate: Ward 6 Democratic city council candidates Curtis Etherly, Leo Pinson and Tommy Wells all support a citywide quest for quiet.

During a Washington Post Radio (107.7 FM and 1500 AM) live “Candidates Debate” Thursday night, each said he would pursue a fix to the broken statute, which permits unlimited decibels of amplified non-commercial speech between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. anywhere in the city. Their answers were in response to a query from ANC6A Chairman Joe Fengler.

Noisemaking groups routinely take advantage of the loophole to assemble on the corner of H and 8th Streets NE and blast the community for more than four hours nearly every Saturday.

Etherly called the noise flaw a quality of life issue, which requires a citywide legislative fix. He said he would work to close the loophole, but cautioned that First Amendment protections must be upheld.

Pinson said, as a volunteer reserve police officer, he tried to deal with the H and 8th Street NE noise issue more than two years ago. He said he would work with the Office of Attorney General to fix the statute.

Like Pinson, Wells said he had witnessed the noisy action at H and 8th. He called the Saturday noise “intentionally obnoxious” to both residents and businesses, and that he would do “everything in his power” to close the citywide loophole.

The D.C. primary election is Sept. 12. Learn more here.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Assault by Amplifier Billboard

(CLICK TO ENLARGE) A prototype poster developed by the Quest for Quiet team. (Copyright © 2006. David Klavitter)