On a sidewalk in Shaw, a dozen Muslim men wearing red T-shirts gather an hour before sundown.
Half line up quietly behind an imam. Facing southeast toward Mecca, they bow their heads and read aloud verses from the Koran. The other half spread themselves out and look up and down the street. After a few minutes, they switch places.
The men have come not just to pray but to assume control over a crime-prone block.
They are part of a Muslim neighborhood watch that lately has focused its efforts on Seventh Street NW between P and Q streets, site of the long-troubled Kelsey Gardens apartment complex. Just a few weeks ago, the location was beset by drug dealers, armed assaults and random shootings.
The group is composed of Muslims who practice a more orthodox form of Islam than such groups as the Nation of Islam, says founder Leroy Thorpe.
It is a spinoff of the Citizens Organized Patrol Efforts, or COPE, a neighborhood watch established in 1988 in Shaw. Both groups dress in ample red T-shirts and red baseball hats with "COPE Patrol" written on them.
About two months ago, owners of the 35-unit Kelsey Gardens complex asked Thorpe to arrange security for the residents and crack down on drug dealers who gravitated to a parking lot in the complex, Thorpe said. The complex is slated to be razed next month and a new structure will take its place. Thorpe said that the owners want to encourage more investment in the area.
"Nobody is going to invest in a drug-infested area," said Thorpe, a former Advisory Neighborhood Commission member who also goes by the Muslim name Mahdi.
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. (MORE)