Shaw activist Leroy Thorpe has been organizing civilian crime-fighting activities in his historic neighborhood for years. In recent weeks, he and a group of fellow Muslims have concentrated their patrols on the crime-plagued Kelsey Gardens apartments near 7th and P Streets NW. They came at the request of the complex’s owners, who wanted to clean the place up.
The Washington Post saw a news story in the developments, and a positive one at that: “D.C. police, who say they know of no other religion-based citizens patrol operating in the District, credit the Muslims with rousting the drug dealers and restoring a measure of public safety to the neighborhood. ‘There was an overwhelming difference,’ said Officer Earl Brown of the 3rd Police District.”
Thorpe, a former advisory neighborhood commissioner in Shaw, comes off as a no-nonsense booster for the ’hood: “‘They see us, they are going to flee,’ said Thorpe, who carries a cellphone to call police if he needs help,” reads the Aug. 28 story by intern Omar Fekeiki.
That’s about as complicated as it gets, in the Post’s telling: Leroy Thorpe is out there cleaning up the streets with his Muslim brethren. The paper saw no merit, for instance, in discussing the history of Thorpe’s work in Shaw. “I know that some people think he’s a divisive character in the neighborhood,” says Carol Morello, the assignment editor who worked on the piece. “The city’s got a lot of characters.”
Good point there. In 1999, this particular character testified before the D.C. Council. In the process, he referred to openly gay At-Large Councilmember David Catania as a “faggot.”
Regarding the 9/11 attacks, Thorpe told The Hill newspaper: “It’s a great day in America….the chickens are coming home to roost.”
Thorpe also commonly uses racially loaded rhetoric to shout down his opponents in Shaw. A recurring theme has Thorpe denouncing his African-American detractors as “house negroes.” In a letter last year to Washington City Paper, Thorpe used that term to describe Clarence Thomas, Condoleezza Rice, and Sen. Barack Obama.
Fekeiki insists that details such as these weren’t appropriate for his piece. “The story was not about him, it was about the group. I was not profiling him, I was writing about the whole group,” says Fekeiki.
It’s a fair defense, except that the tendencies of a group sometimes align with the prejudices of its founder. Years ago, a D.C. police officer testified before the D.C. Council that Thorpe didn’t want gay officers, female officers, or white officers walking the beat with his anti-crime group. Perhaps these are among the people to whom Thorpe refers as “undesirables” in Fekeiki’s piece.
But surely the Posties knew of Thorpe’s own criminal past, right?
Fekeiki: “I think he was accused twice of some sexual harassment.”
Morello: “I know there had been an allegation of something, but my understanding was that it was never proven.”
Thorpe has two assault convictions, one from the mid-’90s, when he got into a brawl at a local playground, and the other from the mid-’80s after being arrested for assault with intent to rape. Those episodes don’t present Thorpe in the greatest of lights, but they by no means would have prevented the Post from running its puff piece on his group. In fact, the assault angle only enriches the story! Former thug now works with the cops, not against them.
Morello and Fekeiki point to their police interviews in justifying the story. Two cops familiar with the area concur that the crime fighters are improving things. Whoop-de-doo: Police officials are virtually trained to say great things about citizen patrols.
A more telling metric comes from the police department’s own crime stats. During the past two months, there’ve been 11 incidents of violent crime around 7th and P. During the same period last year, there were 11 incidents of violent crime around 7th and P.