The PJ Tatler

In D.C., Street Crime Returning to Capitol Hill

Oh, the humanity:

Sarah Pitluck used to walk her dogs before dawn, among the early risers exercising on Capitol Hill. She now waits until first light, and for the streets to be busier. It is just one way the young man who robbed her, ripping the smartphone from her hand and scratching her neck, has changed her daily routine — and her life.

Ever since the Oct. 13 robbery just two blocks from her home, the pharmaceutical executive goes to work later and comes home before it gets dark. Lost time at her office is made up at home, on the phone with her overseas staffers and answering e-mails. She drives more often and pairs with others on neighborhood excursions. Her poodle, Lenzi, and Chihuahua mix, Pedro, get walks only during daylight hours.

A recent wave of street robberies has scared residents of this neighborhood that stretches out from the U.S. Capitol, spilling into Hill East and the Navy Yard neighborhood and up to the H Street corridor. Attackers have stolen not only cellphones and money, but also a sense of security.

In other words, it’s back to the future in the waning days of the Obama administration, a time when even northwest Washington was dangerous and Capitol Hill practically a no-go area at night. For the newcomers, who don’t remember those days, it means a lifestyle change:

Pitluck, 40, who moved to Capitol Hill a decade ago, still won’t walk past the spot where she was robbed. As she was outside one recent morning, neighbor Marsha Edney and her terrier stopped to say hello. Edney, who moved to the neighborhood with her husband after their last child went to college, said she never makes it home from work before dusk. These days, her husband wants to come meet her at the Metro station. “That’s silly,” Edney said. “I don’t like living in a place where I feel afraid to go out.”

Pitluck concurs. She moved here to walk, to mingle, to use public transportation. Now, she drives to her downtown office instead of taking Metro, fearing walking home from the station. Last weekend, her friends refused to walk home with her after a soccer game at RFK Stadium, so the whole group used Uber to call a car.

Similar chatter echoes over Capitol Hill — in community meetings with police, in coffee houses with members of the D.C. Council, in newsletters that have dubbed the robbery surge a “reign of terror.” They are stories of fear, of anger, and of daily lives upended.

“It shouldn’t have to be this way,” Pitluck said.

Oh, but it is. And you probably voted for it.