Veteran Police Officers Marcus Thomas and A.I. Harrison serve food hot off the grill to residents gathered for National Night Out at Kennedy Recreation Center in D.C.

By Deborah Bailey,
AFRO D.C. Editor

The 39th Annual National Night out celebration was a mellow event this year  at the Kennedy Recreation Center in the Shaw Historic District in NW D.C.    

Children played on the Center’s wide-open grass field, tucked amidst the garden apartment buildings and row houses that define the neighborhood. Men and boys worked on their basketball game on the Center’s outdoor courts.  

The only way you could tell there was something special about this first Tuesday night in August at the Kennedy Recreation Center was to come closer.  

Next to the basketball courts, hotdogs and hamburgers seared on the grill. Veteran 4th District Officers Marcus Thomas and A. I. Harrison flipped burgers and served up plates to children and adults who ate at nearby tables.   

Walking toward the field, a giant moon bounce rocked from side to side, filled with children in the back of the recreation center’s field.  A colorful clown, who doubles by day as 4th District police officer Evelina Rivera, blew life into countless balloons for a line of waiting children.  

This year’s National Police Night out is unfolding in the wake of a rash of shootings in the District’s N.E. Ward that left the entire city rattled. One person was left dead, and six others injured with gunshot wounds after a man opened fire outside the Azeeze-Bates apartments off 15th St. NE, Monday night.  

Although the shootings happened several miles away from the Shaw neighborhood, for the police gathered at Kennedy Recreation Center for the Shaw community, it brought the lesson home about the need to connect with their residents.  

Rivera, who uses her alter ego as “Evelina the Magical Clown” to connect with residents said the community, needs to know their police officers.  

“Now more than ever residents need to feel connected to law enforcement. The children especially need to know we are here to serve the community, to work with our community,” said the 16-year police officers.  

Residents visited information tables to see the faces behind city services like Danielle Dromgoole one of the voices behind D.C.’s 911 and 311 emergency services. 

Veteran Police Officers Marcus Thomas and A.I. Harrison serve food hot off the grill to residents gathered for National Night Out at Kennedy Recreation Center in D.C.

“In the District, the police have done an amazing job of making sure they are very present in the community, and we are they are community helpers. As partners with them from D.C. 911, we all work together to make sure the District is safe,” said Dromgoole.   

“We’re here to help. Events like this just reinforce that message,” she added.   

Uniformed police moved effortlessly among their neighbors.  Neighbors brought their children over to connect with, to be served by their neighborhood police. 

There were no speeches, no presentations. Just people and police together. 

Byron Roberson, who lives near Kennedy Recreation Center with his 3-year-old son Bryce, stopped at Evelina the Magical Clown table to get a balloon.  

Roberson believes the burden is on police to keep working with area residents after Police Night Out is over to sustain community connections.     

“The police do a really good job, but it would be much more improved if all of our policemen and women actually lived in the community,” said Roberson.  

“If police officers lived in the neighborhood, they would know the residents from people who come into the community from the outside,” Roberson said.  

Roberson added that crime in the Shaw community comes when people from outside come in and disrupt.   

“But if you don’t live here, you don’t see us from day to day, you don’t know that” Roberson continued.  

Thomas, who has been with D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department for 28 years, took a minute from hot dog duty to add that after a generation of service with the D.C. Police, it’s still important for people to see the police as people.  

“They can see that we’re not all about crime and punishment. We’re about helping and serving. Efforts like this are always important.  

“I think the love is still there,” Thomas said about the relationship between the District’s police and the people of Washington D.C.   

With dusk approaching, the last hot dogs were scooped up by a gaggle of young boys, the Evelina the Clown a.k.a. Officer Rivera handed out the last balloon, and parents walked their children out of the gates of the Kennedy Recreation Center toward home. 

All were thankful for another ordinary night in Shaw.

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