Monday, October 16, 2017

Regarding the petition to close Shepherd Parkway

Dear Friends,

On October 10, Nikki Peele, author of the Congress Heights on the Rise blog, launched a petition on to “CLOSE Shepherd Park (corner of MLK Ave SE & Malcolm X Ave SE) in Ward 8, DC.”

The petition includes the phrase “Congress Heights Residents To Restore Community Safe Spaces.”

I want to make clear that the Committee to Restore Shepherd Parkway is not involved in this effort. We oppose the closure of the park and urge our supporter to NOT sign the petition.

The text of the petition identifies serious, longstanding issues in the heavily used picnic area, a small strip of Shepherd Parkway that juts into the center of Congress Heights. It lacks an official name but has been called many things by residents and is known within the Park Service “Parklands.” It's where we meet for our monthly clean-ups.

We share the author’s frustration with the littering, public intoxication, fights, and other illegal activities in park. The petition calls for meetings to “establish a plan of action that involves NPS, DC Government, local law enforcement, community groups, local businesses etc. to establish an action plan,” and we agree that this is long overdue. She calls for the opening of a day-time facility for residents of the 801 men’s homeless shelter, which is a great idea.

Unfortunately, Ms. Peele also makes sweeping generalizations and uses loaded language to dehumanize and justify the removal or our most marginalized neighbors.

The petition was launched without the input of ANC commissioners or leaders of the Congress Heights Community Association and without regard to discussions taking place between between National-Capital Parks-East and community leaders.

Her proposed solution- is to fence off the entire areas for at least 90 days- is a simple, answer to problems that have no simple answers.

The people she dismisses as “the criminal element” are Washingtonians, and human beings we complex stories. The problematic behaviors she describes are symptoms of poverty, addiction, mental illness, and homelessness, with roots going deep in the history of our country, the structure of our economy, and the polices or our national and local governments. 

Closing the park might temporarily move some people and their problems to another location, but would, but it would send a terrible message about the type of community we want to be.

Contrary to what Ms. Peele (and Mr. Trump) say, erecting fences will not heal our social ills  or create a safe, vibrant public space.

We hope that the attention generated by the petition will lead to constructive discussion of the future of the park that includes all users as partners in community.

In Peace and Unity,

Nathan Harrington
Chair, Committee to Restore Shepherd Parkway

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