Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

In US Capital, Numbing Fear Seeps in ; Outdoor Cafes Sit Empty as Sniper Attacks Add to the Region's Lingering Anxiety about Terror

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

In US Capital, Numbing Fear Seeps in ; Outdoor Cafes Sit Empty as Sniper Attacks Add to the Region's Lingering Anxiety about Terror

Article excerpt

Sitting outside Starbucks and sipping lattes is no longer an option for many people in this city. And suddenly, the wait for treadmills at some area gyms is extra long - while lines at banks are especially short.

It's part of the newest "new normal" in the Washington, D.C., area, where a series of sniper shootings has kept residents on edge for the past nine days.

Already, this city had seen an influx of police barricades and newly visible antiaircraft guns after Sept. 11. Now, the line between paranoia and precaution has gotten thinner. Starbucks "suspended" outdoor seating at 143 shops. Merchants bemoan their lack of customers. And outdoor runners are migrating into packed gyms.

Residents are grappling anew with fears of random violence. "On the day of the first shootings, I had patients coming in saying they immediately felt the way they did on 9/11," says Anita Gadhia- Smith, a Washington psychotherapist. "This sniper is reopening the wounds of vulnerability."

The latest incident came Wednesday night - a gas station slaying in Manassas, Va., that, at press time, had not been definitively linked to the other attacks.

Washington has never been a particularly safe place - at least statistically. But there have always been wide swaths of the city where gun shots were practically unheard of. And many D.C. suburbs are among the most privileged - idyllic enclaves of upper-middle- class families and good schools. Since September 2001, though, the city known for its easy way of life has become a place of subdued tension.

In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, using the city's subway system became a tricky task. People began to consider escape routes from town. Terror alerts had a special meaning here: On the drive past the Pentagon, roadside antiaircraft missiles were nearly impossible to miss. Adding a sniper to the mix of perils in daily life here has put some people very much on edge.

Eric Sterling, president of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, moved the group's headquarters outside Washington after Sept. 11, in part to escape the danger of Washington life. But the group's new home in downtown Silver Spring, Md. …

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