As you may recall, the district surrounding the Mall was ranked the 13th most dangerous city in America last year.
The green expanse of the Mall evokes many emotions, but wariness has never been one of them. Over the years, the lack of crime has created an aura of safety that allows joggers and tourists, children and couples to drop their guard and stroll in the day and even at night.
"There's no question that the Mall has been off-limits to thugs, and it's no surprise that they found it," said Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.). "But it should only be for a split second."
Norton, a race walker who strides across the Mall when the sun goes down, was angry that the U.S. Park Police did not double up patrols on the Mall after what happened Thursday. Twice that night, bandits brandishing a semiautomatic handgun robbed a man and a woman, assaulted the woman and fled. A similar attack happened early Sunday.
In the first, a couple walking along the Mall near the Museum of Natural History about 10:45 p.m. saw three young men wearing black ski masks and dark clothes approach. The men asked for the time, the male victim said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
The robbers grabbed the woman's hair and pulled out a handgun, the man said. One groped the woman, she told him. They took about $100 and a checkbook from her purse, and a wallet and cellphone from the man, he said.
The second attack, which happened about 11 p.m. three blocks from the first, was similar in most respects, police said. But in that incident, the woman was beaten and kicked in the head and back, police said.
Then early Sunday, shortly after midnight, a group matching the description of the assailants in the Thursday night robberies resurfaced. Again, a couple were robbed on 12th Street. This time, the 17-year-old female was sexually assaulted, police said.
After the Thursday night incidents, police added a scooter and a patrol car to the stretch of Mall between Ninth and 12th streets, near where the attacks happened, Norton said.
In the dark, the Mall is a mix of elegantly lighted buildings, flags and monuments, with dim stretches illuminated by old-fashioned-looking street lamps. Figures can loom abruptly out of the shadows and vanish just as fast.
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