The block captain asked me not to use her name.
She and her husband worried that if they did, someone would launch another Molotov cocktail at their front window.
Because that’s what happened last week on their small street right off Kensington Avenue, where the couple and their neighbors engage in an endless dance with the dealers who have staked out the corners of their block.
It started the way the dance always starts: Dealers, most of whom are from outside the neighborhood, show up on the block captain’s corner as if they’re punching a time card, and the neighbors say, Please don’t sell drugs here.
They say the same to the people using drugs on their steps: This is our street. There are kids on this block.
The dealers mumble a few words of affirmation, then ignore them. And waves of people get off the Somerset El, a few blocks away, and the dealers await them.
The block captain didn’t recognize the men who came by her door last Tuesday. They asked if she lived there. She did, she told them.
‘A freeing thing’
She and her husband had moved there five years ago and bonded with their neighbors over the back fence almost immediately. They didn’t want to remake the neighborhood: They wanted to be a part of it.
He’s an outreach worker. She’s a community organizer. They live there with their dog and cat. And when the neighborhood launched a block-by-block cleanup plan last year, they sought her out to become a block captain and speak for a small swath of the community.
Last summer they and their neighbors notched a small victory: The children on the block were able to play in the street without fear of being surrounded by people selling drugs.
“It’s a freeing thing to be able to sit on your porch,” the block captain likes to tell people.
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A day before they met the block captain, the men from the drug trade spoke to a neighbor sitting on his step, surrounded by his young grandson and other kids from the block.
They were going to use the block, the men told the neighbor. There would be no problems, they told him.
They didn’t say the words, but the neighbor knew. He’d lived there 20 years.
“Look around you,” he replied. “You see all the kids? We don’t want that.”
They asked him where the block captain lived.
They met her and her husband outside, beneath their security cameras. Her husband was carrying a box of tools for some repairs at his church.
“Are you the block captain?” the men asked. And then they stammered, trying to ask a question they couldn’t finish.
The block captain and her husband had lived on the block long enough to know what the men were getting at.
“Are you asking if you can sell drugs on our block?” the husband asked. It wouldn’t be a problem, they told him.
His answer, No, sounded more like a plea.
‘Somebody was just trying to throw something on fire in your window’
The next night, he and his wife were coming home from dinner. As they turned onto their block, a man ran past them and then they saw their neighbors running toward their house. Another neighbor was banging on their front door.
“Somebody was just trying to throw something on fire in your window,” that neighbor told them.
A brick lay on their living-room rug, surrounded by broken glass. Capt. Stephen Clark of the 24th District, showed up as his officers found a rag soaked in gasoline and a Corona bottle out front. The bomb never made it through the window.
East Detectives is investigating the incident as attempted intimidation by dealers who were trying to move onto the block.
The block captain is now installing wire-mesh screen on her window. At Monday’s block captains’ meeting at IMPACT Services, the neighborhood development group that oversees the program, all anyone could talk about was the brick and the bottle — and the fear of other block captains.
“We have an obligation to turn the tide here,” said Casey O’Donnell, IMPACT’s director. “If you have citizens ready to step up here and organize the block, then we have an obligation to protect them.”
The couple and their neighbors wanted to tell their story, even if they live in a place where it’s too dangerous for them to use their names, because there is small power in speaking, too.
“I am shaken,” the block captain said. “We were targeted. But I don’t want people to be discouraged to not stand up.”
The block captain wanted people to know she’s not going anywhere, and neither are her neighbors.