Picture it with me ... Friday Night. Midnight, maybe a few minutes past. My roommates and I were hosting our annual Santa Costia party, but it was snowing outside so the numbers were dwindling and only about 35 people remained. The iPod-con-speakers was playing holiday and party favorites, and Home Alone was muted on the TV. Christmas lights, garlands, ribbon-wrapped columns, the works. General merriment all around.
Then Bam!, the front door swung open and four guys, early twenties, in ski goggles and scarves barged in, one waving a handgun (the other three concealing theirs). Turned out they had already robbed some guests on the porch, and even pistol-whipped one in the head. They start yelling "Empty your f***ing pockets!" and "give us everything!"
Freeze the frame and take a step back - this is Anacostia, sure, but this is not the neighborhood I've come to feel really safe in over the past two years. I know almost everyone on my block - and if it hadn't been snowing there would have been a handful of people hanging out and I'm fairly certain the break-in wouldn't have happened. They have my back, and, presumably, I have theirs. Then again, maybe someone I don't know alerted their friends of the glittering target house. Lots of people who usually never come to the neighborhood. Lots of potential goods.
Unpause. "Give us everything!" was their repeated demand. By now most of the party-goers have either escaped out the back door and over fences or are huddled in the corners of the living room floor in varying states of purse and wallet-handing and fear-induced body freeze, only their eyes moving across the scene.
This is my house and these were my guests, so I did my best to take control of the situation by confronting the gunman. "What are you doing?? Everyone just calm down", to which he yell-replied something like "No we taking Everything!" [editor's note: gunman was a broken record with the "We taking Everything" line] and knocked the drink out of my hand with his gun.
Me: "Dude, put your gun down." Him, while lifting his gun: "You want me to put a bullet in your f***ing skull? Give me Everything!" Me, not giving him anything: "Are you serious? This is a Christmas party." The gunman, wearing a purple houndstooth scarf, ski goggles, and gray jeans, thought for a second then asked me where the liquor was.
I think he had the wrong idea about who he was robbing, because this had been a "bring your favorite beverage" party, so the mix included more peppermint schnapps hot chocolate, rosemary martinis, and homebrewed honey wheats than the Grey Goose I'm sure he was hoping for. I held up a few bottles, offering up the Pimm's (my most sacred, the British lawn drink value of which he did not recognize) and a few plastic-bottled tequilas. Unimpressed, the gunman walked back to the front of the house and with the other three left through the front door. His last words as he exited were, like some cornball line from a movie: "Merry Christmas, Bitches!"
In all, about fifteen people had their stuff stolen. The iPod had been ripped from its cord so there was no soundtrack to the frantic 911-calling that ensued. A couple of housemates and guests had called the police from the backyard so they arrived within a couple minutes, and after hearing each victim's testimony and dusting the liquor for prints, left at around 4:45AM. (The next morning I received kind emails from both Police Chief Lanier and Assistant Chief Groomes) Fortunately, aside from the pistol-whip, nobody was hurt, and everyone made it home safely in the deepening snow.
There isn't a lot of analysis that can really be done at this point. It happened. It was completely unexpected, and it's over. Two of the guys got into a car at the top of the block, so there's no telling where they are from or where they went. As the night unfolded I was most frustrated that this happened in the presence of my guests, and that they would no doubt think differently about a neighborhood that they had grown comfortable with. And frustrated that my own trust had been breached.
But the thing is, if that incident was typical of the neighborhood, I would have left a long time ago. On my way to the Metro yesterday with two housemates we were invited to play snow football, got a tour of soon-to-open Big Chair Coffee, and engaged in an impromptu snowball fight in front of the Morgan Family Fish Fry. Today, the neighbors on my block banded together to shovel out the snow-marshmallow looking cars. These are the people that live in my neighborhood. It ain't perfect, but it's pretty okay most of the time.