I have been robbed so many times, in broad daylight, in Franklin Park I have lost count! I have even seen people hit, from behind, on the head by brick cinder blocks. Numerous scenes of yellow tape alert the public that they cannot enter the park after something like that happens. Many of those in the park are afraid to go to the police for fear they will be branded a snitch. I had to start carrying a knife to feel less threatened and, of course, to actually protect myself.
This extra measure of protection accidentally led me to violate the law by carrying a concealed weapon. When I inadvertently walked onto the White House grounds while talking to a potential Street Sense donor, Secret Service agents recognized me from years on the block. It occurred to me a few minutes later that Franklin Park is only a few blocks from the White House, so I had my knife on my person. And the agents had to charge me for that.
The case was quickly dropped, however, when I explained to the judge that the reason I was carrying the knife was because of my experiences in Franklin Park. Whatever the reason was for going to Franklin Park, whether it’s because of a five dollar a day drug habit, to eat lunch, or potential corporate business, anyone entering the park needs to be careful and alert.
One day in mid-August a couple of weeks ago, I visited Franklin Park early in the evening as I frequently do.
To my surprise, a certain gentleman called me over to him. I declined to answer him immediately and motioned I would come back and engage him after I had engaged the people I came to meet. I was getting ready to start my “British banter” with someone else, when the gentleman who had called to me came over, jumped six feet in the air and, coming down, landed what I can only describe as a solid killer-of-a-punch to my right eye, causing it to blacken and put me in a four-week period of healing!
I was horrified, shocked and completely appalled by this unprovoked and brutal behavior at the hands of my fellow countryman. I have no idea what caused him to do this. I didn’t owe him any money and I simply had chosen to spend my time somewhere else.
The behavior of some of the park “regulars” speaks to the mental issues not addressed by the health systems of our city or country. It is for this very reason that I have been an advocate during my time at Street Sense. We need to re-educate those that commit actions like what I experienced in Franklin Park “Sorry” means little to nothing to a victim and becomes part of the “problem” in trying to solve mental health issues. Franklin Park is a good barometer of the tensions in this city.
To demand respect, you have to give respect. But how can you get respect when you are guilty of assault? Franklin Park operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on a poverty, homelessness, and drug spree. The only thing that hasn’t happened so far is D.C. police and Park Police coming out of the helicopters. They’ve come out of every single direction but that. The public should know that the mode of sleeping by the under-privileged in the park is sitting with one eye open.
There is hope anyway. Jim Vance, the former TV news anchor, who recently died, was an addict who reformed himself, saying, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” Franklin Park can be reformed. That starts with each and every person who visits or lives there.
I remember one time I was in the park and a Caucasian gentleman came into the park exclaiming “I am a retired police officer,” holding a badge and a pilot’s license, and then promptly bought himself some crack and proceeded to smoke it in front of me, to my amusement.
I would like to mention that I’m pretty sure that downtown D.C. (the tourist information service), since they clean sweep the park every day can testify to the sheer levels of what goes on in the park every day. One wonders if it is the profit motive or the level of addictions that drives this madness.
As an individual, I have been speaking about this crisis and I believe what would help improve the moral fabric of the Franklin Park attendees and cut down on needless assaults and thefts, would be an increase in doctrines, formulas, and practices of piety. In 10 years I have seen lots of people praying and giving food, but I have never seen anybody with a simple bowl of water, a chair, soap and towel and some oil, offering to wash people’s feet. Because one thing the poor and homeless people need in Franklin Park, is a place to bathe or wash off the mud and caked dirt from soiled feet. This act of piety will encourage a spiritual rejuvenation of those in need of so much.