The first status entries for the site beginning July, 2002

(Most recent entry first.)

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Tuesday evening, July 30th, 10pm: Let me say first that the station is coming along. We still expect to put it in service in about three weeks or so, well before the BBQ. Today's progress was more plumbing and an argument over whether we need to cover the walls where the plaster is cracked or if we should bear in mind we need to open the room now and that so long as its clean and sound, perfect walls are not essential.

To that end, the owner's agents who run Pedestal Gardens, which includes the troubled building at 1717-1715 Madison, have generously pledged a new toilet and lav faucet for the substation. Like all of us who own property here, they stand to benefit from the increased police presence the station will provide and they want to be part of the solution.

HUD, the angry homeowners (myself included) nearby and the owner's agents are working toward finding some solution to the building's problems. We're meeting with Pedestal Gardens management again on Thursday. A ranking man at HUD also emailed me today assuring me that they were going to insist on timely progress until the situation improves. I'm hopeful, but still a bit skeptical.

This afternoon, about 5, I think it was, this was the scene at the building:

This is just a few of the cars that responded. The inset is the officers guarding the front and questioning people. I was sitting next to my neighbor's fence, the old gentleman who lives in the back first floor apartment at 1704, when we watched all hell break loose. The squad cars came out of the woodwork. According to Sergeant Kessler whom I spoke to a little while ago and who's in charge of the six man drug squad that covers the entire Central District, he was attempting to arrest a known dealer on our block, closer to Laurens when the culprit hit him and ran into the building.

Fortunately, they were able to cover the exits and trapped the guy in the building, this time. They did a door to door and found the guy hiding in the apartment of brothers who they know are regular dealers on our street. I don't know if they were able to find anything in the apartment, but at least they got their man. Unfortunately, this sort of thing happens all too often in this building, as regular readers of this "column" will know. This is exactly what we need the management of this building to fix.

An hour after these officers all left, a guy I know to be a dealer was conducting his business out of his car directly in front of our house. Same guy who checked to see if I was in back when the camera got knocked out. I called the police. Two officers showed up in about two minutes. Unfortunately, this dealer walked over to his friend at the stoop of 1704 and gave him his stash. The officers questioned him, took his ID info and searched his car. Of course they found nothing. At least they showed up quick and tried.

Sergeant Kessler told me that our block is currently the worst drug market in the Central District and that includes Pennsylvania Avenue. I don't know how many of you have driven through there, but I wouldn't suggest it. I guess its just gotten gradually worse and I didn't want to believe I could live in the middle of some of the worst problems in Baltimore. Living in a distinctive neighborhood is nice, unless its this distinction.

Tuesday morning, July 30th, 1:15am: Had a good chat with the Special Police who are charged with patrolling public housing. Three of their officers were talking with Officer Shaefer who was just here on routine patrol, rousting the dealers yet again from 1704. He had to leave us to investigate a shooting report. We chatted about the long history of trouble on this block. The sergeant had been here for seven years. Sean, one of them, has known me since we moved in. They're all hoping to get their commissions soon so they have regular police powers outside of the public housing areas too. Seems like a frustrating turf war over who's in charge. Of course, I don't care which of the good guys are in charge, just so long as someone is. I think I'm going to bed now. Officers Slimmer and Shaefer are on and these special officers are giving 1715-1717 some special attention tonight, too.

Hoping to make more progress on the station tomorrow. Will be mudding the drywall and getting ready for paint.

Monday, July 29, 2002:

About 11pm: Was sitting here answering email from yet another concerned neighbor offering help when a Colt 45 pint can, empty, flies into my living room on the second floor. I had left the windows wide open while watching the parade. I went to the window to see the dealers in front and on the stoop at 1704 smiling up at me. "Its our street" they seemed to be saying. They've definitely taken back their street. Perhaps today's hoopla has them off their quotas? I tossed it back down to them. They seemed surprised. Perhaps they've been watching as I chat with the cops in the middle of the night and the suits across the street this afternoon about the Pedestal Gardens building.

Then I called 311. I want the cops to tell the dealers who don't live there to go home. Officer Slimmer rousts them regularly, but he's not on till a bit later. 1704 is a drug haven, though on a much smaller scale than 1715-1717. He can't be allowed to offer them safe haven either. Chris Forsberg of Bolton Hill suggests I contact the Community Law Center for this. Its on my to do list for the morning.

8:30pm: I don't know who exactly organized it, but its downright inspirational to see the good people out, unafraid, enjoying the marching bands. They've done a good job. One of the banners said it was the 11th annual take back our streets march. Maybe last year's was on a different street. I hear the big drum and the drill corps working now. Its like their noise washes out the "greens, blues, yellows" and the sound of gunshots in the west. We got out to visit with some of our neighbors, too. Like a real neighborhood. Fancy that.

This is what they're talking about taking back the streets from ...

This was in the yard this aftenoon. The colored vials are known as stems. Only "brand" missing is green. The pink one is full of crack. I think it was tossed when the cops came by. The area here is so profitable four different distributors work together, each hawking their wares. I pray the truce between them continues until we can get rid of all of them.

7:20pm: Turns out to be a "Take back our streets" rally supposed to go on at 7, though it seems to be starting late. Put on by the Payne church, we think. Perhaps they sense the tide is turning here and want to join in now. They're welcome. We need all the help we can get. Greens boys are besides themselves. They can't hang out at their usual places. The customers are put off by the activity and the guard and the many police officers. They're looking around like cats when you move their litter boxes without telling them.

Monday afternoon, about 4pm (7/29/02): Today was pretty well taken up with matters concerning 1715-1717 Madison Avenue, our neighbors across the street. At noon, it was a meeting at HUD downtown with the owner's reps, HUD, the state and other homeowners like ourselves from up Madison and those townhomes backing up to it from Eutaw, including the two that were set ablaze by fireworks on the 4th. Tempers flared, including my own, but we ended it on a note of cooperation and a commitment to making some progress. The building presently is safe haven for our dealers. Many of the tenants are their addicted customers so of course they cooperate with their dealers. There was talk of a fence, limiting the escape route often used when the police are in pursuit and better supervision, meaning a guard.

A few of the homeowners feel the only solution is tearing it down or at least withdrawing HUD subsidy for the building. That doesn't seem likely. May not even be desirable because then what would happen to the property? HUD did promise to require results from the owners. There's to be a follow up meeting in a couple weeks.

I did meet with the three owner's reps in the parking lot of the building this afternoon. They came by after lunch before returning home. They're from out of town and one hadn't seen the actual place and the damage to the Eutaw buildings. They got to see one particularly obvious dealer. He was recognized as a man who'd been evicted from the building some ten years ago for drug dealing. He's still at it. He knows a lucrative turf when he sees it. Its his career.

These guys gamely came over and walked through the house and saw the substation. I was happy to tell them about the recent contributions by our concerned neighbors. Basically, I said "We're doing something. We need you to be responsible homeowners, too."

The two security guards were there during their visit and stayed on a while after they left. One of them is back, but now, the street is being taken over again by the dealers. They were not happy to lose valuable marketing hours. They always start by 3pm. On the Wilson end, within earshot of the guard, at least four boys are shouting "greens, greens!"

A piano and chairs are being set up in the street facing Laurens. They have the street closed off. I don't know anything about it, nor do my neighbors on their stoops. Seems like it might be a Payne Memorial thing. Would be the first time I've ever seen them do anything for this block in the two years I've been here. I still wonder at the promise of the new NIMROD center. It isn't doing anything I can see. At least two floors are vacant. Where's the police substation I recall being touted as a reason for allowing them the development and providing the federal and state money? Where's a tech center to teach kids computers and stuff and maybe let them hang out until their parents get home? So many good uses for the building, but it just sits ... or so it seems. Can anyone tell me otherwise?

Sunday noon time (7/28/02): Got some plumbing and electrical done yesterday. Stuff that needs to be done before walls are closed up. Mostly just replacing old and poorly done work. My contractor buddies will be double checking it this week.

Last night the dealing was very busy until about 11. Officer Slimmer and colleagues came on about then. I watched him clear a big group of dealers, prostitutes and addicts off the corner from 1704 to Wilson. There was a fight going on. The officers came by irregularly and often, no doubt while tending to Artscape security. It did wonders. I went to bed at 2. Woke up at 4 and found the deserted street you'd expect (but we seldom see) at that hour. It was wonderful. This morning, the street is packed with the parishoners who drive in to attend their church on the corner, AME Payne Memorial. Other than them and Vaughn and me, very few park on that street unless they're selling or buying.

Going to check on a couple things offered to the station this afternoon. Might even get in some Artscape. Work on the station will resume tomorrow.

Saturday morning, about 1:30am: Just met the officers involved in the chase early Tuesday morning. Officer Shaefer was the tackler and Officer Yates was backing him up, trying to secure the cars. They were telling me they still don't know what the guy was doing. He was booked for resisting and battery on an officer, which I witnessed. When they caught him the final time he'd apparently thrown away his stash, though he had $400 cash on him. These guys actually use my floodlamp to count their wads sometimes. The officers seemed very pleased and surprised by our efforts and the involvement of our neighbors. It was a pleasure to stand on the sidewalk and chat with them after the tour. The street was empty. 30 seconds after they left, at least three dealers are out again and now others are milling about. We're already hearing the telltale "greens, blues" and the car horns asking for service, just like in an old A&W soda drive through.

Friday evening, about 8pm: Just finished putting in the room air conditioner donated by Jonna from Bolton Hill. Its older, but 11,500 btu and working well. As we said, if it only lasts through the rest of the summer, it'll be great. I was afraid we'd have to cough up a $300 for one big enough to handle the room as well as this one does. Thank you again, Jonna.

The street is pretty quiet. Rain slows down the prostitutes and other customers. We just have a few dealers hanging around the corner at Wilson Street across from the school. I don't know what effect Artscape will have on business. It does increase police activity at least on Eutaw. That can't hurt.

Today we had the offer of a drafting table and help with the station and BBQ. Thank you Ken of Spicer's Run and Donnie.

I had some work to do today, but the crew and I will be back at it over the weekend. The new AC will sure make the work more pleasant. Anyone who'd like to see it is welcome to stop by. Just call Bryan or Vaughn at 728.2725 beforehand.

Thursday afternoon, about 2: Just got off the phone with Nan Rohrer in the mayor's office. She's going to help in several areas including scheduling the mayor for the BBQ, a nice toilet she happens to have in her basement, possibly some city gravel to fill the low spots in the parking area and most importantly to see if she can help light a fire in the BPD to get them to take us up on the offer of a sting conducted from our third floor vantage point.

The dealing this afternoon is back in full swing, with a vengeance. One of the dealers woke me late this morning by bouncing a basketball on our front door repeatedly. He'd come to work early. I answered, pretending I thought it was a knock. He said, "oh, sorry man," with a sarcastic smile and walked over to his fellows on the stoop of 1704 where at least ten deals an hour are going down at this very moment. With what I know and a few hours observation by the drug officers, we could take at least two mid level dealers off the street and arrest a dozen street vendors.

Any calls to the central district asking them to take us up on this offer would be appreciated. We've offered it since last summer. Now that they've succeeded in knocking out the camera, they're all cocky and full of themselves, really being blatant about who owns the block. Now would be a good time to act. Particularly Friday and Saturday, the busiest nights.

Thursday morning, 2am: I just spoke to Officer Slimmer who is on night duty and whom I met the night of the 4th when the houses were burning. He said he notes that my calls seem to increase on nights he's off. I think he's doing his best to help us here. Right this very moment he's outside not 40 feet away questioning a guy I told him was dealing and the friends around him. He's got a zero tolerance attitude toward loitering on this block at hours like this. It helps enormously. I'm going to go to bed shortly, as soon as I know he's done his thing. And I know he'll be back several times through the night.

Expecting a good day's progress on the station tomorrow. I think I'll be getting some rest thanks to Officer Slimmer. BTW, he's quite impressed at the outpouring of support from BHers too. I told him about the furniture, vanity, micro and fridge.

Wednesday night, about 11:30pm: The commissioner's announcement of increased patrols in troubled areas apparently includes this block, thank God. Of course, they're still working hard here. Its very easy to duck into 1715 Madison, close the door and wait for them to drive by.

Early afternoon on Madison Avenue ...

This is the usual cast of characters dividing up this evening's distribution of crack vials and other assorted goodies. The door to the right is the door to 1715 Madison which is certainly part of the problem though the slumlords on my side of the street are no help either. Three of the boys pictured are people known to me to be dealers. People I see daily selling. Fortunately, the picture is pretty blurry or I suppose they could sue for libel.

The green door to the right is like a status alert. If its closed, there are police nearby or on the way. If open, the market is open too, unless an officer is actually inside.

Another picture of today. Same thing happens a few times on a good day ...

Looks pretty civilized unless you saw the breathless young officer running in to answer the call. Often its domestic disputes. Like alcohol, crack does not help families get along better.

The best progress on the station today was Julie bringing us a brand new microwave, fresh from Best Buy. The officers couldn't have asked for a better one, as if they would. I'm amazed at how inexpensive they've gotten, but also so amazed that someone would go out and buy a microwave for the station. Not an extra, garage sale, one. A new one. And a good one. I think things like this will show our officers we care. As does the donation of the very nice things we've had pledged that have real value, even if not actually new, like the refrigerator. The station is not a hollow gesture.

Julie took the entire house tour and let us tell her the whole story about the house. She said she should have brought along her husband so he could get some perspective on the condition of their house on Bolton Street. Three blocks over perspective and priorities are a bit different.

The station looks pretty much the same this evening. I apologize for this. I ran into a snag or two rerouting some plumbing and the ductwork for the restroom exhaust fan. I did get to some figuring on the wainscoting and the tile and some needed cleaning up. Tomorrow I should have the necessary parts and some help from Patrick who's coming to help again.

On a personal note, as if I haven't been personal enough previously, I did sleep in this morning. I was up late, watching the comings and goings on the street last night, a bit concerned about more overt retaliations than just knocking the camera out. I'm on the crack dealers shift: 3pm to 3am now. I think the full moon does have an effect. It was getting pretty crazy out there the past couple nights. Tonight, thanks in part to more drive throughs by our officers, its much better.

Tuesday evening, about 10PM: The main room ceiling is completely done. We even have a light in, as you can see below. Now its on to the bathroom ceiling, light and fan.

While I was working, the dealers succeeded in knocking the little camera out of the window. They do not want to give up this turf easily. Amazing how irate it made them and how effective it was in herding them from one end of the street to the other as the camera angle changed. Interesting to see the neighbors on their stoops who didn't mind the camera and those who avoided it like the plague. I knew something was up when a dealer drove by through the alley real slow while I worked this evening. That way they knew I was in the back not paying attention like before. Wouldn't you know, I hadn't left the tape on. Oh well. Another camera. This one a bit sturdier. But not before I get the Central District Drug squad to finally take us up on our offer of doing surveillance from our third floor. They'd net a dozen dealers on a good night.

Today I heard from another neighbor in Bolton Hill who has an extra kitchen set she'd like us to see. And we saw an almost brand new refrigerator offered by Theresa and her father from the apartment complex he manages. A big one, less than five years old. Perfect.

A few steps forward. One back today. Not bad.

The film crew never showed up. Probably the rain. I'm so disappointed. I was going to offer them the house as a prop. It could still be a crack house from appearances, though it's the antithesis of that now. <g>

Heard back from the mayor today. He emailed that he's turned over our invitation to his scheduling secretary. He'd like to attend the BBQ. We'll see if we can coordinate a date that works. His presence would help drive home the message that this block no longer belongs to the dealers, with the wide reaching damage that does all around our area.

The public housing has put up new, very bright floodlamps facing onto Madison. This after not replacing burnt out bulbs for months at a time. Could this be because the HUD meeting is Monday?

Tuesday morning, about 4:30, July 23: I was finally drifting off in my chair watching my version of Cops on the camera we have mounted out front. It had been a very tense day. Many, many dealers, a knife, and swarms of customers. Maybe the full moon? I wasn't able to sleep. I noticed several patrol cars and then heard tires squealing and watched an officer tackle a young man who looks like a regular dealer here. He was having a lot of trouble holding him down. The guy was screaming for help, pretending to be victim, like the guy on TV. I was putting on my shoes to help the officer keep him until back up arrived when he squirmed out of his hold and seemed to get away. Twenty minutes later, I watched as the officers walked the now handcuffed young man to their cars, precariously parked in the middle of Madison Avenue here. They worked very, very hard to get this guy.

It would have been great to offer them a cold soda in their substation while they filled out the paperwork and waited for the paddy wagon. And to congratulate them on the work they do while most of us sleep. I'm going to have a cold beer myself. I'm not on duty. After I get some sleep with what's left of the night, I'm going to get right back on the substation work. Seeing them in action day after day, as I do, especially tonight, makes me all the more determined to see this substation opened.

During earlier events this afternoon, Officers Gordon and Johnson and another whose name I missed (sorry) but I'm sure I'll come to know, came in to see the substation. They were very pleased and even took notes as I ticked off the block dealers and what they drove. Like the other officers who've visited, they all said they'll be happy to use it. That's a half dozen who've personally assured me they will and thanked me for our work.

A sign on the street lamp in front of the house says no parking because of a film from noon to midnight today. I heard nothing about this and will be interested to see. I'm sure it has nothing on the real life dramas our officers see.

Sunday, early morning, July 21: Yesterday we began installing the new ceiling. Its complicated since of course nothing is exactly square here but is coming along well. We hope to have that done in the next couple days. Then work on the drywall and trim will begin. There'll be a photo here this evening.

We went over to Greg's on Park in Bolton Hill yesterday afternoon to see a refrigerator he offered. With a little cleaning and perhaps some paint, it should work quite nicely. Its a small full size one with a real freezer. That'll be good for ice and frozen dinners. With Julie's microwave, they'll be able to keep their lunches there and zap them too.

This morning, about 12:30, officers Slimmer and Mitchell responded when we had a ruckus amongst some dealers and a neighbor in front of 1704. After, they came around to see the new space. Both said they will be happy to have it. It was nice to have them see it and comment on how they'd use it.

This afternoon, Louise and John of Bolton Hill showed us an old vanity/sink and sofa, both of which will be useable, though we do need a new faucet for it.

We made a lot more progress on the ceiling today, but its not quite finished. Another trip to Home Depot and this part will be done, hopefully tomorrow. There's still the bathroom ceiling, but that's much smaller and now that we have some experience perhaps it won't take so long.

This is Friday afternoon, July 19, as I write this. The sub floor is completely done and rock solid. A new steel rear entry door is in as well as a door to the house which will be locked most of the time. Tomorrow, Vaughn, Bryan and Patrick, a friend and volunteer, hope to be installing the new suspended ceiling. We've got all the parts here, just need to install them. After that, it'll be some wall patching and paint, then floor tile and then we'll be ready for fixtures and furniture. After that, its the fence, clearing the parking area. I have a couple trucks there right now that'll be moved by opening.

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