BY SAM MANUEL
AND BRIAN TAYLOR
WASHINGTON, D.C. - City authorities have stepped up police presence at the Potomac Gardens public housing complex recently following a series of confrontations between members of the Nation of Islam (NOI) Security Agency and some residents.
Under the guise of fighting drug trafficking, police and city officials have imposed restrictive measures on residents of the city's public housing. Residents and visitors are now required to show identification to guards when entering the housing grounds. Several of the complexes have been surrounded by eight-foot iron fences, which also divide the interior grounds, preventing free movement from one section of the complex to another.
A series of confrontations on May 11 ended with an NOI guard being rushed to the hospital with a stab wound in the chest.
The confrontations began when a member of the patrols was struck by an object said to have been thrown by a resident. About 40 mostly young people jeered and yelled at the guards.
Hours later a young man had to be hospitalized for a gash on the back of his head after members of an NOI patrol attempted to "question" him and a friend about the earlier incident. Nation of Islam spokespersons said one of the men drew a gun, but no weapon was reported confiscated.
Police and city officials claim the confrontations resulted from the effectiveness of the patrols in reducing drug use and distribution in the housing complex. "They have just about stopped the drug sales," declared police inspector Clarence Dickerson.
Some residents also support the rent-a-cop patrols. About 20 mostly elderly residents recently held a march around the building complex in support of the NOI guards, saying they had significantly reduced drug-dealing.
But a number of young people at the housing complex charge the NOI guards with abusive conduct. The day following the confrontations two young women who live at Potomac Gardens described the situation. "They instigate conflicts all the time," said one of the women. "Sometimes it is with drug users, but also with people just walking around."
"When they start fights no one is here to expose it," said the other Potomac resident.
The two women also complained that the eight-foot iron fence put up around the complex three years ago is dangerous. "If someone is being chased or there is a fire they can get trapped in the gate and can't get out," one explained and told the story of an elderly resident who died of a heart attack when doctors were delayed in getting to her apartment because they had to go around the fence.
During a press conference outside the housing complex Abdul Arif Muhammad, general counsel for the NOI, charged that the housing complex was a "major distribution and manufacturing point for drugs in the city." He said this information had been obtained by "undercover NOI agents."
Muhammad added that while they have gotten "good" support from police tops, local cops on the scene were hampering their efforts.
Guards from the NOI Security Agency began patrols in the
complex early this month under a 30-day, $30,000 emergency
contract. City public housing officials have extended the
contract through mid-June. Muhammad said the security agency
will vigorously bid for a permanent contract at that time.
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