Tuesday, May 22, 2012

"Feud over Crispus Attucks Park" Washington Post article

Oh brother.
See this 5/21/2012 Washington Post on Crispus Attucks Park.
A number of Bloomingdale residents are referenced.
Note that this article is accompanied by a few pics, so you can click on the WaPo link below to see them.
A feud over a D.C. park pits one man against his neighbors
By Paul Schwartzman, Published: May 21

Patrick Blais had been president of his Northwest Washington community park for a year
when his doorbell rang at 9:45 on a Saturday night.

Outside was a self-styled community activist, an African American whom Blais had never
Marvin A. Rich.
Rich, accompanied by two women, came to launch another salvo in a neighborhood spat
that has turned ugly enough to draw the attention of police commanders and
advisers to Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D).

The dispute could be viewed as a clash of familiar antagonists — gentrifiers vs.
old-timers, whites vs. blacks. While some of that friction exists, the conflict
is more convoluted and bizarre, pitting one fixated man against his infuriated
neighbors. Naturally, both sides have hired attorneys.

Blais, a white corporate executive, remembers Rich telling him in his living room that
night that Blais was not the true president of Crispus Attucks Park, nestled at
the center of a block of rowhouses in Bloomingdale.

``I own the park,`` Rich pronounced, according to Blais.

Blais said that a not-for-profit organization owns the park and that it had elected him president.

``No,`` Rich replied. ``I`m the president.`` He described himself as ``the founder,``
adding, ``I report to a higher board.``

Rich confirmed Blais`s account, except he said he never told Blais he owned the park
and doesn`t remember any reference to a higher board.

Blais asked Rich and the women to leave, and they complied. But they kept up their
campaign for control of the park, a quest that Blais and his neighbors allege
in a lawsuit is racially charged and driven by intimidation and fraud — charges
Rich denies.

Blais and his allies sought help from police and city hall, both of which refused to
intervene. The reason: District documents in which the park`s president is
listed as none other than Marvin A. Rich.

Changing neighborhood
Blais and Rich are suing each other in D.C. Superior Court, each claiming control of
the Crispus Attucks Development Corp., which has owned the park under one name
or another since the 1970s.

``I was here first, I grew up here, I`m from here,`` Rich, 53, said in an
interview. ``They`re fake. They`re pirates. They should have patches over their eyes.``

Blais and his allies dismiss such statements as fable. Where, they ask, was Rich when
they were raising money, organizing yard sales, planting irises? Where was he
when they turned an asphalt jumble into a lush vista?

``Marvin Rich and his family are disrespecting the park, with impunity,`` said Blais,
who is also suing Rich`s daughter and girlfriend. ``It`s a laughable fraud.``

Burbling beneath the dispute are the jagged passions of a rapidly changing neighborhood.
A decade ago, Bloomingdale`s population was 90 percent black. Since then, an
influx of young professionals has made it 30 percent white.

John Salatti, a white Bloomingdale civic leader, said Rich has long been consumed
with the shift. At various points, Salatti said, residents have complained
about Rich driving his truck through the neighborhood blaring speeches by the
Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

``I think it`s a matter of identity,`` Salatti said. ``The neighborhood has changed
from his heyday. He`s losing his place.``

Rich doesn`t see it that way. He said he has ``no problem`` with the more recent
arrivals, ``as long as they develop my community.``

One point everyone agrees on is that Rich was there at the beginning, when the
property that became Crispus Attucks Park was a concrete wasteland, a place
kids referred to as the ``Cave Yard.``

The idea is planted

The phone company owned the land from 1910 until the early 1970s. The company left
behind a vacant brick building that inspired neighborhood leaders to start a
community center offering activities such as music and photography.

Richard Sowell, the center`s leader, told a Washington Post reporter in 1978 that he
got the idea from Rich, then a teenager who had grown up a block away, one of
12 children of a D.C. transit worker. Sowell managed Crispus Attucks, named for
the African American who was among the citizens killed by British troops at the
Boston Massacre in 1770.

But Rich was ``the guy who held the keys and opened the doors,`` said Garry Clark,
an African American who grew up in Bloomingdale. ``That was his baby.``

After an auspicious start, the center lost funding and staff. A massive fire in 1990
devastated the building, and the property became a nest for junkies,
prostitutes and abandoned cars.

By 1998, when Marilyn Lashley, a Howard University professor, moved to the block,
the city had begun foreclosing on the property. Residents tried to contact the
board, but it had not met in eight years. They held an election and created a
new board, which set out to turn the concrete into a park.

When the board purchased 10 trees for planting, Lashley said, Rich and Sowell
brought kids to ``dig up the trees.`` ``They harassed us,`` said Lashley, 64,
who is black. ``Marvin and Rick were saying they were opposed to white people
moving in, and we reminded them that blacks lived here, too.``

Rich denies ordering trees dug up and said he never expressed opposition to whites
moving in. Sowell died in the early 2000s.

Rich, according to Lashley and others, did nothing to help build the park. He was not
around, they say, when they organized teenagers to form the ``Yard Squad,``
cutting grass and landscaping for pay.

``That`s what galls me,`` said Tyrone Goodwyn, 51, an African American IT director and a
park board member. ``Marvin says white people took the park, and he needs to
take it back for the kids. We`re already doing it.``

About a year ago, recalled Kevin Caldwell, a researcher who is white, Rich drove onto
the grass blasting Peter Frampton music. When Caldwell asked him to lower the
volume, Rich yelled ``that we shouldn`t be in the park,`` Caldwell said. Rich,
he said, called them ``card-carrying members of the KKK.``

Rich confirmed the confrontation, although he said the neighbors tried to intimidate
him. Asked about the KKK reference, Rich said, ``They probably are.`` Then: ``I
don`t remember. I can`t say I didn`t.``

Tim Clark, a black community leader in Bloomingdale, said he sympathizes with Rich
because of his role in the creation of Crispus Attucks. But he has asked Rich
to refrain from derogatory remarks.

``He`s making it easy for them not to include him,`` Clark said.

One night, after neighbors called police because Rich had driven on the grass, an
officer brought Blais a copy of a document that Rich had shown them. It was a ``confirmatory
deed,`` processed in February, stating that Rich replaced Lashley as Crispus
Attucks`s ``signatory officer`` in 2003.

Lashley said no such transfer ever occurred.

Blais then learned that Rich had filed papers with the District declaring himself
president of Crispus Attucks. At a civic association meeting, a spectator taped
Rich several times referring to the park as ``my land`` and saying, ``Ya`ll
want to go hang out on my land, I don`t care.``

Blais met and exchanged e-mails with police and District officials to complain about
Rich, only to be told that no one could intervene. ``The Executive Branch . . . was not designed or
authorized to ultimately rule on disputes of this nature,`` Stephen Glaude, the
mayor`s director of community affairs, wrote to Blais.

Assistant Police Chief Diane Groomes wrote in an e-mail: ``Mpd unfortunately cannot move
mr rich for he has a permit . . . sorry.`` Groomes wrote that police assigned
to Bloomingdale have ``been made aware of Mr. Rich.``

Police have known of Rich since 1981, when he was arrested on charges of petit
larceny. It was the first of more than 10 arrests, according to court records.
Nearly every time, the charges were dismissed.

In an interview, Rich said police harassed him and his family. His sister, Tanya,
then 23 and pregnant, was killed with her 3-year-old daughter in 1991 when a
police cruiser smashed into her car.

In 2009, Rich was found guilty of assaulting an officer. A judge ordered a
psychological evaluation, during which Rich could not say which schools he
attended or ``the last grade he had completed,`` according to the report. The
psychologist described Rich as ``alert and marginally cooperative`` but said
his answers were ``at times illogical, tangential, and contained paranoid and
persecutory content.``

During a second examination, Rich kept mentioning Crispus Attucks. At one point, he
referred to his ``long-term project`` of finding a statue that ``somehow dealt
with Crispus Attucks.`` Rich, the therapist wrote, ``returned to this topic
whenever there was even a one or two second pause.``

No one budging

From the bench, D.C. Superior Court Judge Peter Arno Krauthamer suggests mediation
to resolve the lawsuits. One side needs to give a little, he says. The other side, too.

Blais won`t budge. Nor Rich. Witnesses come and go. The morning becomes the late afternoon.

``We`re done, right?`` the judge asks.

For now.

Outside Blais says, ``Just because you say you`re president of Coke, and you file fake
papers to prove it, doesn`t mean you`re president of Coke.``

Rich talks of the newcomers in his neighborhood.

``They don`t want to deal with Marvin Rich,`` he says. ``They should be working with me.``

Then: ``They`re going to have to hire some better lawyers.``

And then: ``I can hear him from his grave.``

He does not identify whose voice he hears.

The voice tells him, he says, ``You`re not going to let it go that easy.``


  1. Washington City Paper Housing Complex reporter Lydia DePillis picked up this story in her Morning Links post this morning:

    Bloomingdalians deal with crazy racist who thinks he owns their park. [Post]

  2. It's too bad it was not also mentioned that Rich also believes he owns the long abandoned house nearest to the corner of W and North Capitol St NW. He, according to my neighbors who get to see him in the act, he often pulls the boards off the house and let's himself in. I, along with another neighbor, saw him clean up the yard trash behind that house once and then proclaimed to us neighbors that, "someone better pay me fo this!"

  3. if Marvin Rich is the president of crispus attucks park, what exactly are his plans for it? Other than driving around on it with a truck and blaring music or whatever (which tears up the ground and destroys plantings and annoys neighbors) and suing people, does he say how he will maintain and/or improve it? Or is this all about claiming 'public' land for his personal use? Does he want it to revert to prior use and status (fallow wasteland, burned out buildings, criminal activity)? I'm just not getting what his point is or where he's going with his point of view....