Journal Entries for March 2003
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Monday, March 31, 11AM: Heard the familiar sound of multiple police cars skid to a halt out front. Figured it was something to do with 1704. Was surprised to see three squad cars right in front of my house. For a moment I thought about what I'd say, while lying face down on the floor, after the battering ram broke through the front door: "no, wrong house, you want 1704, next door down." Same line I've repeated several times through our door to addicts looking for a fix at 3AM.
I opened the window to see what was up. Two plainclothes officers had caught a young man in front of 1710. One officer said something like "if you didn't stash it here, why'd you run?" Went to get my camera and realized these were plainclothes officers. That would have been pretty stupid of me, considering many think the dealers read this site.
The uniformed backups left quickly and one plainclothes guy put the suspect in his car and sped away, too. Obviously, they didn't want to linger and call attention. The other officer walked up the street, either to his car or to continue his undercover work. This may be part of why our street market has been so subdued recently. Word must have gotten out.
I think it has a lot to do with our big distributor being in jail too. And since he hasn't been sentenced, those aspiring for his job are laying low, wondering if he'll be back. I would too. He's a dangerous man. Not one who'd easily give up such lucrative turf. And at least three of his street distributors, one of whom lives and operates out of 1704, are still in jail.
I'd rather call this permanent improvement than just a lull, but only time will tell. I know the Pedestal Gardens team and the undercover and the patrol officers are all working more here. Just a couple days ago I chatted with an officer back from vacation. We were both pleased to see not a single suspicious person on the corner at twilight. Odd how conspicuous it is not to have dealers milling about and constant traffic up and down the street.
Vaughn came in last night to say how much he loves watching the customers with no one to serve them. "Two women were walking up and down from the corner just as I came in, one was saying to the other 'they said we could get it here, where are they?'"
This weekend will be a real tell about any actual progress. The first of the month checks will be cashed and the weather's supposed to warm up.
Having the ice gone and the pothole fixed in back has increased use of the substation, understandably. Mostly just quick restroom breaks, like now as I saw one of the cars that had been out front briefly stop by. A few times a day though, I'll smell a lunch or dinner being reheated and see the take out or brown bags in the garbage. Still makes me smile.
Friday, March 28, 1PM: Small successes: As readers here know, I'm the self appointed rabble rouser, squeaky wheel, complainer, bitcher, annoyance, etc. for this block. Or as I prefer to be known, neighborhood activist. Usually, it seems a thankless, waste of time job. But sometimes ...
Today, a nuisance was fixed by a competent crew of city DPW employees. The leak down the alley has finally been permanently eliminated.
Readers know this leak created real problems for the officers using the substation, church goers and other innocent civilians, even creating a mini glacier during this hard winter. Today, this crew found the problem: New meters were installed on McCulloh a while back. When that was done, the spigot that's been leaking down the alley since the first freeze of last winter was left attached to the old water valves and meters in the alley. The valve had been covered in concrete.
They found the valve after some jackhammering and closed it. They've also filled the excavation and the pot hole that swallowed the front tire of more than one officer over the winter.
It's a case of competent, professional and downright pleasant city employees getting something done. Too often we notice only the incompetent, rude and ineffective people from all levels of city government, ditch digger to mayor. It's nice to have a chance to recognize a small accomplishment and a small success in our block.
I wish closing crack houses and drug markets was ultimately as easy as this fix, but I know many are trying. I feel like celebrating the end of the Payne Memorial Fountain, but if and when the crack house at 1704 Madison Avenue is closed, I'll want to throw a street party!
Thursday, March 27, 9:45PM: Dialed 311. The lady next door, Lucy of 1704 Madison, is ranting and raving on the sidewalk, "***k this, ***k that, ***k you!" to everyone who passes by, including the passing figments of imagination. She's high again. Commonplace. This is the same women I saw my first winter here running up the middle of the street topless in a snowstorm. The beat officers know her. She usually just needs to be asked to calm down and go inside.
"We can't tell her to go inside," says the 311 operator in an angry tone. "Do you want the officer to come to your house?!?!? What's the last name?"
"I don't know her last name," I reply.
"No, yours!" he says, as if this was some sort of threat.
"My block watch number is ..." I say.
"We'll send someone to your house."
"Thank you so very, very much."
My experience with 311 and 911 operators is you have about a 2 in 3 chance of having the call answered by someone who understands his or her job. I suggest you be ready to handle a crisis on your own. You may find the person on the other end of the line useless. I usually just hang up and try again. Thankfully, I have always gotten a reasonable person the next time. In an emergency though, that delay could be fatal.
Three squad cars arrived for my call within four minutes. I went out to apologize for the over response and was told no, it was just backup. "I asked her to calm down and go inside, and she did, like usual," said one beat officer I know, with a smile.
When I ask her, she just screams and argues with me. With the police, she understands drunken disorderly conduct and more than disturbing the peace are chargeable offenses. Apparently an operator at 311 doesn't understand that and doesn't care.
I talked for a few moments with the officers. One I've known for a year asked how long I've lived here now. When I told him about two years, he said he couldn't do it. "I have hope things will get better. Just across the street on Eutaw it's entirely different." He agreed with that. And mentioned he'd given his substation key to a lieutenant the other day, did I have another. I'm getting him one tomorrow.
Sergeant Kluver with the Pedestal Gardens Police went to court today for the hearing of the local distributor who's made such trouble here and now has three or more pending charges for distribution. The same one who's threatened me more than once, screaming "this is my block!" Apparently a plea bargain of three years was offered, but he refused that and asked for a public defender.
"My lawyer wouldn't come because I haven't paid him for the other charges yet," he told the judge.
Last night's action at 1704 has been explained to me. The gold stripes on the trousers and windbreakers I saw last night were bike patrol officers, though I saw no bikes. I was told the same group of officers was way downtown later, doing the same thing. A "Flex" team, I think they're called.
While I was out working in the yard this afternoon I heard a woman walk up to the steps of 1704 and ask "is this greens?" before going inside. Word of mouth in the crack and heroin business is all important.
Dealing on Wilson has picked up again tonight, though quiet for the moment, having seen three squad cars. The nice weather does seem to be bringing them out even more, though the bad winter certainly didn't hurt business.
Wednesday, March 26, 10:30PM:
Had been a quiet night. Lots of Payne Church goers, filling the parking lot they consider us. Didn't expect much activity tonight.
Looked out the window just now and saw this. Lots of officers I don't know. One I introduced myself to had never heard of the substation, didn't seem interested, whether intentionally or not. They didn't seem part of the usual shift here, not into talking to a concerned neighbor at all. They were all Baltimore Police, though their uniforms varied which had made me think some might have been troopers. All I saw were two suspects in cuffs. Both were released shortly afterwards. I don't know what happened and doubt it was effective other than as a show of force, but it certainly centered on 1704, a smart place for the attention.
From the third floor, I heard one officer say to another "this is a church, this can't be happening next to a church." I couldn't have agreed more, but he was referring to the tiny "church" at 1702. Hadn't noticed the "church" at 1700 or realized Payne Memorial was on the corner.
Suzanne brought the officers a loaf of homemade bread this morning. She reported she saw several officers and squad cars on Eutaw when she drove over. When I met her in the substation, an officer using the facilities reported it was a crack down on prostitutes over there, from Wilson up to North. We were both pleased to know that, as I'm sure residents in Bolton Hill and Spicer's Run will be.
Sunday, March 23, 1pm: I don't know if the churchgoers at Payne Memorial have noticed, but I haven't heard a single "greens out, greens out!" chant today. No loiterers on the corner. No brief visits where cars drive up, dash into 1704 and come out in five minutes. It was fairly quiet Friday and Saturday night after a very busy Thursday. It is late in the month. Checks are long spent, but with the weather so nice, you'd think there'd be more activity.
I heard yesterday from one of the Pedestal Gardens Police that a local gang leader has been arrested again. This would be his third arrest for possession with intent to sell this year. Hopefully, no bail this time. He controls several of the street dealers on this block alone, commuting in and supervising several other corners under his control too. That may be part of the disruption.
Last night, almost 4AM, there was a cruiser parked in front of 1704. I don't know what was going on. Nothing that attracted my attention. For once, I didn't call. The two officers left alone about 15 minutes after arriving. Perhaps it was a preemptive visit.
Of course, having said all this, things will go bad again. They always seem to. One day, I'd like the calm and quiet to be the norm, not the exception.
A neighbor has asked me what she can do about new tenants who may be dealing. It's a complicated problem and I will be contacting the States's Attorney and the Major tomorrow to ask what she should do. Unlike Clarence Weston, she cares about what goes on in her property. I wish more of my neighbors did.
As I finish this entry, a loud State Trooper helicopter has begun making lazy circle eights over us and toward Pennsylvania and Laurens, the big market. This is often the area Foxtrot, the city police helicopters, patrol. Assuming it has nothing to do with international terrorists, perhaps it's a sign of the new cooperation between troopers and city police. I have not seen state police cars in our area yet, but welcome all the help we can get. Perhaps this new attention is part of the reason things have been subdued for the past couple days.
Thursday, March 20, 1pm: It's pouring rain and cold outside. There are two fancy SUVs, a mini van and a sedan parked in front of 1704, customers going in and out. A 7/11 convenience store on Harford Road would be happy to have so much traffic.
What do you think of our lapel tag for those attending the crackhouse owner's trial April 11? They'll be available for anyone who attends. It was suggested by a long time supporter of the substation effort and Reservoir Hill pioneer, Chris. I believe at the initial hearing it was fairly obvious there were ten of us there regarding Mr. Weston when we all got up and nearly emptied the gallery immediately after his appearance.
There'll be many more this time, I hope. And I think there will be press, too. If we wear these on our lapels, I think it'll be abundantly and dramatically clear this is a serious issue to people who've had enough of crack houses in Baltimore like ours and Anne's, whose site and plight is so similar to ours.
Perhaps the effort on 1704 can lead to the creation of a "Crackhouse Coalition" or task force to streamline the process of closing down these essential tools of the drug trade. If dealers have no where to safely stash their inventories, they move on. It's too risky to be carrying 200 vials of crack. Even the most lenient prosecutor or judge or jury has a hard time excusing that many.
I'm sure it was coincidence, but about 9 last night, a truck pulled up with a "cherry picker." A man repaired the broken old streetlamps on our block including the one in front of our house at 1708 Madison Avenue. We went out to thank him and I think partly because of that he did a very good job trying to knock ours back into shape, replacing the lens and taping the base together. He said he'd put it on the list for replacement, but it's lit and much better than it was. With all the lights on now, it's much better out there. Still not enough light on 1704. A spotlight would not be enough to discourage the dealing there and on this corner.
Our Councilman, Keifer Mitchell, called me yesterday to ask for a written letter asking him to help with the police band radio for the Pedestal Gardens Police. I believe he intends to use it to coordinate the provision of one as we requested. He'll have it Monday. This is an example a Councilman really doing something tangible at the request of his constituents. Thanks to all the readers here who called or emailed him when I asked last week, like Charlotte of Bolton Hill.
Speaking of Bolton Hill, I have not heard anything from the Mount Royal Improvement Association which voted in early December to donate $500 to the parking fund. I've emailed officers and even posted a thank you weeks ago on the Bolton Hill bulletin board, but no word at all. The deadline to pay the balance is fast approaching and this amount would leave us very little to make up. We certainly appreciate the help, but if anyone knows anyone who knows anything, I'd sure like to know either way so we can plan. And thanks again to the First & Franklin Presbyterian Church and so many individuals from the city (many individuals from Bolton Hill), the burbs and even across the country for helping with this costly but essential part of the substation.
Wednesday, March 19, near midnight: Apparently we've begun our assault on Iraq. More a time for prayer I cannot imagine, whether you're Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Budhist, black, white, yellow or any other of what makes us humankind.
Things are pretty quiet on this front tonight. Perhaps, like me, my neighbors and the dealers too are watching their TVs. I'd like to think they have an interest in world affairs.
As all readers here, I want to wish our troops and innocent civilians the best.
The relevance to this site? None. Except that insularity and isolationism, whether practiced across a street or across an ocean has always proven disastrous.
Godspeed to our troops and a quick end to this conflict, I pray. We want them home.
Where there are battles that need the same fierce dedication.
Tuesday, March 18, dusk: "I get paid Friday! Can't you wait till then? Pleeeeeze!" Two people had walked up to the steps of 1704 to ask the dealers for credit. The warmer weather means they're back to pretending to be out enjoying the day. For some reason the little yard in back is filled with the resident's garbage. You'd think they'd prefer to hang out there, but that wouldn't be good business. And the kids end up hanging out on the pavement in front until the adults decide to go in, whether that's 7pm or 2am.
A reader from Chicago, with a house here, has written me an interesting email. He would like to explore the idea of buying the tax lien and foreclosing on 1704. It is a good investment. He'd earn a return of 18% on his money if it's redeemed. If not, he owns the house. This could be done without the delays of city bureaucracy, only those of due process. A lot of cleaning and about $10,000 in repairs (guesstimated by the investigator) and it could be a few decent apartments. With 1704 closed down, the whole neighborhood will be much better overnight, as it was when we finally had luck getting 402 Wilson around the corner closed, summer before last.
I've heard today that the management of Pedestal Gardens is willing to buy the police band radio to back up the newly recommissioned Special Police Officers. Central District Major Gutberlet and Chief Jackson (he told me that personally) say they think that would be a good idea, but they're concerned about who could pay for one. With that question solved, I'd say we only need someone to arrange the transaction. Perhaps that could be our Councilman who offered to see what he could do last week.
Our new street lamps, installed early November, finally got powered up last week. Amazing difference. At least up the street, where prostitution is a larger problem. On our street, two of the old lights are out including the one in front of our house, which also happens to be the closest to the crack house. Coincidence? Yeah, right. Since we moved here, the dealers have done their best to break that lamp and have succeeded several times. When BGE was powering up the new lamps, the tech said he couldn't touch the old ones, they're the city's. The city says they belong to BGE. Convenient. Both tell me to call the other.
Not two weeks ago, I caught the kids who live next door trying to break the floodlamp we have over our sidewalk with a basketball. They couldn't explain why they thought that was a good game -- it's on the second floor window -- but the adults on the step of 1704 seemed to be their cheering section. I put that lamp up two years ago to silence the sound of the dealers kicking the lamp every 20 minutes through the night to knock it offline. Thought it was going to be temporary. And I thought having a streetlamp in front would be a good thing.
Speaking of 311 failures: The water has begun to run out of the fountain up the alley again. Such a surprise considering DPW's solution was to stick a broom handle in it. <g> Five and half months this time. Running about a year if you consider the winter before when the owner of this property allowed it to run until a responsible DPW foreman finally stopped it. If you haven't read about it, check out this file I've been emailing to every city bureaucrat I can ... to no avail.
DPW wants 9% more for water and sewer soon. The question will be before the Board of Estimates on April 23. Yet they can't seem to open the water meter cover and take an accurate reading here. Instead, they guess wildly. First water bill I was here, we had a bill for $700+. Our real consumption was about $80. Still at issue. I'd sure feel better about paying a bit more if the DPW could show us they can handle their work effectively. And we won't even go into snow plow drivers who visit our block to buy crack from the market and somehow find it against policy to plow out a police substation.
Interesting that the crack house slum lord works for the sanitation department, which is part of DPW. Perhaps there's a department wide problem with management there? I still wonder why the city can't demand responsibility of one of it's own. His conduct is in violation of items 40 and 55 in the Standards of Excellence which I understand to be part of a city employee's contract. Of course, it can't seem to require doing the job, either. Look at the city police cars. We're always short one or two and those we have are wrecks.
I spent some time in the yard today, enjoying the sunshine, trying to weed out the bottles and cans and other garbage leftovers from years of being the unofficial neighborhood dump. I'm going to plant flowers this year. There's something civilized about flowers. And we need all the civilization we can.
Later: Vaughn was listening to NPR earlier and relayed their report that with the new budget, the USA will be spending more on defense than all the other nations of the world combined. I don't know what that means, good or bad, on the eve of our invasion of Iraq. I do know that while we police the world, we don't seem to have the resources to police our own cities adequately.
While out with the dogs, I heard geese way up and was privileged to see them fly in formation across the light of the full moon. I had forgotten their sound since the fall. It was a nice moment, tempered only by "greens, greens, greens out!" from down the alley.
March 17, Midday: Several emails this morning bringing my attention to an article, opinion piece and a discussion thread in the Sun about the new commissioner and how he's changing the Baltimore Police Department.
In the article, the new head of Detectives said in an interview that that he shares Clark's ideas about police work and would try to shift the agency's focus from statistics to individual cases.
"We want the efforts geared toward the problem, not the numbers ..."
The Opinion piece was about the Judge who recently slammed the department for sloppy case building, which I mentioned here last week. It also discusses other changes in direction for the department, generally sounding an upbeat, encouraged tone. An attitude I share.
The "talk" thread has several comments from officers, expressing concern about changes and waiting to see if they're for the better. One understandable area of concern is putting rookie officers out on foot patrol with less supervision, rather than riding with experienced officers.
I do not know if the action last week against the entrenched and famous drug market at Pennsylvannia and Laurens, just a few blocks west of here was a direct result of the new commissioner or something that had been in the works. I do know it was something we had not seen around here in three years.
Arrest stats do not make convictions. We have a distributor here who supervises probably half a dozen slingers in this block alone. He was almost caught last week by the SPS sergeant with a baggie of 200+ vials. I'm not surprised. I see him drive through regularly, stocking his inventory at 1704 where the dealers keep their stashes. And that's just here. And he's on bail while being on bail for another charge. That's two arrests that have had no effect at all on reality, least not yet, but look good at Citistat meetings.
The commissioner's style seems to be quiet leadership, not photo ops and grandstanding and pointing to numbers that sound good but have no bearing on the reality of life in blocks like this. Manipulating statistics to build a resume has been too important to a couple city leaders in the past three years, one of whom found the job he wanted last December.
An emphasis on changing what hasn't worked seems the right direction to go. The new commissioner is making changes. Whether they will be good ones remains to be seen. He commands a force of capable and dedicated men and women, many of whom I've come to know. They just need real leadership. I know he listens to people. He listened to me for 45 minutes, which says a lot for his patience. Some of his changes and staff selections echo what we discussed and what he's heard elsewhere. So, I'm hopeful, especially that we can hold out long enough to see the results.
March 14, 5PM: Sorry to see them go. The operation is over. The Mobile Command Center is heading to East Baltimore where they need all the help they can get, too. Was nice having them here for a time, though. As I was saying good bye to the many officers, hearing them all thank us profusely for the use of the station, I remarked to the Lieutenant this was one of the few times I've felt comfortable out on this section of Wilson Street.
He did say that he knows more about our troubles now and will make a point of targeting this market soon.
A detective visited in the substation earlier today. He was one of those who investigated the Dawson murders. Saw the bodies, described the way the place was torched in vivid detail. Said he's noticed some changes for the better in the department since that event. I know this encampment of officers was the most impressive show of force I've ever seen around here. I think he took a Dawson sign. Several were picked up from the stack on the water cooler.
I hope the quiet lasts for a bit. Later, I expect the dealers will return and the usual rituals of a drive through open air drug market will start up again. At least for a few days, the kids leaving school got to see that many people do not see the ways of this block as normal or acceptable and are working to make things better.
March 14, 1PM: The Mobile Command Center is back again today. We got the officers some donuts and put a little flyer on the side of the van telling them about it. I think they're like some of our beat officers used to be, unaccustomed to neighbors being so glad to see them.
I walked over this morning to tell them about it and heard the stats: 62 arrests in two days. As I was chatting with the lieutenant, I saw them loading the shields and door rams into a car, assembling a parade of rag tag vehicles with plainclothes officers inside. They were off to "knock down some doors" with warrants in hand. Looked like the set of The Wire, which had been filming on this same street not two weeks before. This one for real.
Yesterday, an officer was admiring the dogs. Related that just the week before, they'd had to shoot a Pit Bull that surprised them during a drug raid. "Two bullets in the head, at least it died quickly." He looked a bit sad about it.
It's almost hard to grasp this isn't a police drama. These men and women have real guns, real warrants and real risks. A few donuts and coffee seem a pretty inadequate thank you. Odd, we pay the actors who pretend on TV 10 and 20 times more than those who actually do the job.
March 13, 1PM: The woman next door, who had taken to selling as a means to support her habit, got 90 days in jail today for each of the two recent charges of possession with intent. Hopefully, she'll have time to consider other pursuits, though I wish we had better ways of discouraging users and petty dealers than jail. I've seen her. She's not happy in that life of shooting up heroin and selling crack to make a brutal, violent young man rich.
I'd like to think she'll have time to dry out in jail, but Vaughn tells me that Patrick Allison House, a successful home for people to find new direction in their lives, requires new residents just out of jail to do a 28 day sobriety program because drugs are so easy to get in our jail.
Her convictions do add to the growing list of verified criminal activity that goes on at 1704, where Clarence Weston, the city employee, continues to allow egregious health and safety violations and a thriving crack market.
But today, I had an odd feeling. One of safety and security. And for a moment or two I pretended it was the norm around here. No constant chanting "greens out, greens out, greens out." No furtive loiterers wandering from the corner to their stashes. No junkies foraging the sidewalk for tiny remnants of their chosen poison, left by over eager addicts. No $50,000 SUVs pulling up to 1704 every hour to drop off inventory and pick up the cash.
As I was out with the dogs, a choo choo train of preschool kids walked up to the school, with teachers leading and following the kids each holding the other's hand. They paused to look at the doggies playing in the yard. Dogs and children = big, contagious smiles.
At that moment, it was easier than I thought to imagine a time long ago and a time perhaps yet to come, that this was a home and not a war zone. Of course, I have three dozen officers and a million dollar mobile command center a stone's throw away today. That might have something to do with it. Still, it was rare privilege to imagine this a different place than it's been.
When I went down earlier, five plain clothes officers were using the restroom. They were very thankful. All sharing one key. I guess since they won't be here regularly, they don't want keys, though we'd be happy to provide them.
Keifer Mitchell, one of our Councilmembers, stopped by yesterday to visit and see the substation. He's been keeping up with us through this site. We discussed conditions here, two blocks from where he lives in the 1700 block of Linden, on the good side of the tracks.
He offered to help in any way he can. I mentioned the successes of the SPS officers lately. "There is something. Can you get these sworn officers the use of a police band radio so they have faster access to backup?" He said he'd see what he could do. Perhaps he knows someone. That would sure be real, practical help. I hate to see them doing police work without police backup, which I know the officers on the street are anxious to provide.
Concerned readers can help by calling the councilman and telling him you agree with the value of a police band radio for these special police. They cost $3500, but that's a small price to pay for backing up someone not afraid to strap on a gun and protect a neighborhood, especially when it does not cost the city anything otherwise. The Councilman's number is 410.396.4816 and his email is firstname.lastname@example.org. I think he might like to know how many people are concerned with the happenings of our little block.
The Councilman then got the tour of the Mobile Command Center. It is impressive. The Foxtrot helicopter can send high resolution images direct to it, where the lieutenant can direct his men and women in the field. The lieutenant told me yesterday that it was amusing to watch the dealers scurry over toward Fremont. They're so much like rats. You can't get rid of them. All you can hope to do is make it less hospitable where you live.
There's a touching entry in the guestbook today. From Ontario. People from all over follow this website now. And it still amazes me how universal is the terror and carnage of the illegal drug trade.
March 12, 1PM: Early this morning the Baltimore Police set up their mobile command center on Wilson Street, next to the school.
We're not the target of this operation, they're after Pennsylvania & Laurens, which is the big market we're just part of. I heard last December when the Mayor was at that corner for a photo op about opening the homeless shelter during a code "blue" freeze emergency that a dealer tried to sell to the driver of his SUV. Apparently, this really got his attention. I don't know if the recent operations there are a result. Whatever, that market has been a notorious and dangerous place for a long time.
Officers are coming and going to the station, using the restroom. Their Lieutenant gave them the key. They prefer not to use the restroom on board because that has to be pumped out. We've stocked up on coffee. They're going to be here for a few days.
Sergeant Kluver found our local distributor in the laundry room of the building under his charge yesterday. He had a huge bag of "green tops," which is what his staff sells on all our corners. He didn't want to go quietly, not with that much in his possession particularly when he's already out on bail, and got away after a fight. Unfortunately, Sergeant Kluver does not yet have a police band radio to get backup. I know this distributor carries a gun. Last summer he showed me the butt of his revolver as part of his argument that this was his block, not mine. We still have a difference of opinion there. Anyway, I'm glad Sergeant Kluver didn't get hurt. This guy will slip up again and I'd like the Sergeant to be around for it.
This is an example of the litter in front of 1706 Madison Avenue, the vacant lot between our house and the crack house at 1704.
The blue, red, yellow and green pieces are the tops of "stems" of crack cocaine. Often customers are seen lighting up the crack the moment they get out of 1704 as they walk up the street, pausing only to discard the vial.
But not today. Today 1704's door is closed and so is the corner market ... for the time being.
March 10, 3PM:
Looks for all the world like an innocent conversation. Perhaps she's giving directions to a passerby?
Except for what happened moments before and the conversation I heard quite loudly from my third floor window.
This is in front of 1704. Moments before, the truck honked it's horn in the middle of the street. Not getting a response, it backed up and honked again and again. Finally, this woman came out. After a brief conversation, she took some wadded up cash from the passenger and went in. Quickly out she came with an almost empty soda bottle in her hand, pausing on the steps of 1704 to look up and down the street, but not up.
She hands the passenger the bottle. He opens it, and empties a couple little blue tops into his hand and tosses the bottle back out the window. The bottle is a really smart little contrivance.
I called 911, as the mayor keeps exhorting me to do, reported the tag and transaction, but the officer did not arrive for 20 minutes, as if a marked car could do anything. The deal was long gone.
During the exchange, which took 5 to 10 minutes, I heard that this woman's sister is the one who has been arrested three times lately and is currently in jail under $30,000 bail.
"They ain't gonna come up with that. We told her. She ***ked up."
Apparently the local supplier will bail out his dealers when they get caught up to three times. Cost of doing business and all. After that, you take the rap because you screwed up and got caught. After all, you can be replaced easily. With a sister in this case.
She's pointing to the school grounds where the dealers have now taken to sitting on the nicely hidden steps of the Police Athletic League room in the middle of Eutaw Marshburn Elementary School after hours, especially at night. They have customers drive up on both ends of the walkway, McMechen and Wilson. If an officer were to show up and come down one way, they can escape the other direction.
Sunday, about 8AM, Vaughn was walking around to the back of the house through the Payne Memorial Church parking lot. A woman getting out of her car saw him and asked if he was the one with the web site. He said yes.
"You and your brother, I agree with a lot of things you write. Even though I'm a member of Payne, they should be doing a lot more for this community and I've been saying that for years. I'm glad for what you're doing and I enjoy reading what you write."
In the news: The Sun reported yesterday about a new "Reason to Believe" campaign. That would be good. I've been hard pressed to "believe" lately. An excerpt from comments quoted in the article: "I think that when the Dawson tragedy hit, that however much we might have been patting ourselves on the back for improvements in the past few years, it made a lot of us in the city realize ... we need to subordinate our own private agendas to what the city needs at this critical juncture." -Mayor O'Malley.
About time! Though throwing money at the problem is not the answer alone, as this article describes. Better management of current resources, from the mayor on down, is essential.
The article can be found online here.
Also, in today's Sun, a Federal judge has lambasted the Baltimore Police for failing to adhere to legal standards in their work. The article involved the second major case in a week being thrown out of court due to defects in the investigation. He said it's not so often the State's Attorney's fault as the BPD might like to imply.
Readers here know I have not been without criticism of the State's Attorney, but the blame game continues to be a major reason this city is where it is. It is up to our leaders during this 20 year crisis to rise above passing the buck, something that seems as much a part of Baltimore as drug addiction and abandoned houses.
I agree with the judge. "It's sad. We deserve better." Those words apply to a lot more than a police department. It applies to the mayor, the council, the bureaucracy and all the property owners in this city who refuse to be responsible for their part of it, like Clarence Weston.
About 4:45: Officers are seen here in front of 1704, as they try to get the attention of the 3rd floor front tenant who this young man insists he's visiting. The problem of vacant crack houses is much more easily fixed, or should be, than where dealers and addicts can say "I'm just visiting my friend." I'm sure the dealers thank you Mr. Weston, for continuing to provide safe haven for drug dealers here, even as you face criminal charges for your contemptuous failure for over two years to make your building safe and liveable.
March 7, Noon: Mr. Weston did show up at his first appearance this morning. It was clearly conveyed to him that the charge of contempt of court he's facing could result in jail. Since he's known of the charges since being served February 3, the judge granted him one continuance to find an attorney, making quite clear that he should be ready for trial on April 11.
Mr. Jesse Halvorsen, prosecuting the case as an assistant state's attorney assigned to city housing, did a good job, including making it clear the house was in such bad condition it was home to other troubles beyond just poor repair. I hope the judge understood what that meant. He will at trial if testimony is introduced.
Five of our neighbors were there, including Julie, Mike, Paul, Ken and Michael. Two representatives of Pedestal Gardens, the apartment building at 1717-15 across the street attended too, along with Vaughn and me.
While there was no show of hands, the prosecutor referred more than once to the community's interest in this case and the judge mentioned it too. I think seeing nine people rise and leave at the conclusion of the brief hearing, practically emptying the room, may have sent the message we were hoping for to the judge and defendant: this is a serious matter and not one the community is going to allow to be ignored this time.
I regret that none of the neighbors on this street cared enough or felt safe enough to show up, but then again if more of them cared or felt safe, the problem wouldn't exist. Those who did come prove there are those who understand the problem of Baltimore's drug market is everyone's. I appreciate them coming very much.
I hope we can get even more to attend the trial on April 11, including the press. A city employee who openly runs a crack house and slum where children live in squalor should enrage us all.
Ken's a fan of real life shows, like "Help, I'm a Celebrity - Get Me Out of Here, Surreal TV and High School Reunion." I hate 'em, but 20 million viewers can't be wrong.
He has a good idea for a show. Since fictional shows based on real life like The Wire are doing so well in the ratings, why not Celebrity Crackhouse? In our version, people would be made to live in a crackhouse in a neighborhood of drug gang dealing, with it's terrorism, tension, drama, absurdity and despair. My first suggestions for "guests" of the crack house would be Clarence Weston and Martin O'Malley. I think both could do with a dose of reality TV like that.
March 6, 5PM: Tomorrow is Mr. Weston's first real appearance in court ... finally. A long time in coming, thanks to the snow and other excuses. And this time with real charges and real jail being threatened. The State's Attorney handling it has told Vaughn the appearance of neighbors, whether next door or across the city, can help make a judge more critical and perhaps put the pressure on this guy to give up his crack house so it can be closed down. We may have a reporter from Fox 45 there, too, to finally confront him with the questions he successfully avoided during their investigation.
Another SPS officer has been cracking down lately. Two arrests last night. It's quite likely the rampant dealing I saw was during the time he was doing paperwork at Central Booking. Without a serious effort at covert operations designed to convict the drug gang leaders who operate here and several markets all night long, there will always be the less than savvy street slingers and the unfortunate buyers waiting to be arrested here. At almost any time there's a dozen of each around the block.
Baltimore City Officers Hittle and Owens of our sector, now on in the afternoon, have been particularly diligent about keeping an eye on things, but being in uniform and squad cars, it's tough for them to make arrests, though they do. The dealers are too well organized, with lookouts on most corners.
Progress on paying the parking pad bill lately: Sue Glickstein, Michael Pumphrey, Marlin Ricketts, Jennifer Spiro and Joseph Snouffer have each made individual donations. The First & Franklin Presbyterian Church, many of it's members have helped the substation project, has made a $300 donation. To all, thank you. There's still a lot to pay, paving isn't cheap, but the contractor is being patient, in itself a contribution. The parking pad has been essential to keep the station open most of this winter.
Trucks from The Wire TV show are parking on the street again, both in the alley and the front. They haven't asked me about it so I hope they don't think they're using our house again, certainly not without notice. I was very mixed about the experience: it's exploiting the situation here for commercial gain. Yes, I know, it brings revenue and jobs to the city. But it does nothing more than that while making a rather arrogant bunch of Hollywood types rich. I don't think it serves to illustrate the crisis. Anyone who does not live here or in a similar neighborhood thinks it fiction.
I found the actual experience of whoring out the house as a set for this exploitation troubling. It does not feel good to be thought of as an extra on a set where the real life hell is ignored and the ratings of the same thing on TV soar.
At least while the Hollywood show goes on, the real version won't ... on this block.
March 2, 5PM, 2003: Dealing has been absurdly brisk. People driving up, leaving the car idling, going in and out of 1704. A black SUV I've often seen keeps driving through the corner, stocking up the street dealers. One guy's keeping his inventory in a Savalot grocery bag, pretending to be coming from the market. Been pretending for hours. There are ten cars parked out there right now. Two are going to the tiny church on the corner. Two live here. The other six are doing business either on the corner or in 1704.
It's the first of the month, don't you know? Government checks are arriving, getting cashed at those high priced check cashing places and pawn shops and turned into crack. Not all such checks, not even most, I'd like to think, but around here check time is a feeding frenzy for the dealers.
Many believe that the great statistical progress against crime in this city is real progress. Some believe that the problem with the city right now is not that we are plagued with crime and drugs, but that we perceive ourselves to be. You need only read the Mayor's "Believe" campaign report to see that in print. In the preface: "Facts alone do not change habits of mind and pessimism of expectation long worn into the public psyche."
An example of some attitudes in Baltimore
The new commissioner at his endorsement ceremony before the city council spoke of quality of life. "We have to attack the little things, quality-of-life issues, such as littering, by people we know have a long history of narcotics." There's an excellent column by Michael Olesker in the Sun today on this.
The fact is the quality of life for those of us in vast areas of this city is no different. We may have had a few less murders here and there, but no less deals, no less fear. No less an occupation by drug gangs who will scream at you over your own fence "this ain't your street, it's ours!" To toss a Molotov cocktail bomb in on a sleeping family is not a quality of life concern. To hear a woman arguing with her dealer about today's high price for a "(gel)cap" of heroin" or "greens out, greens out!" yelled over and over again under my window is not a quality of life issue. It's about ending a seige. The same siege that exists through vast areas of the city.
I was speaking to our Central District Major earlier. He said efforts in neighboring districts, like the West and East, are having the predictable effect of driving business to other areas. Like ours. He said the new commissioner has pointed out that until we can bring all aspects of law enforcement into cooperation and effectiveness: police, prosecutors, judges and probation officers, all we can hope to do is keep it moving. I think the county would be a good place to move it too. The tax base is better. See how long they'll put up with it.
He advised me our sector has only four cars tonight. An officer on our sector 3 just told me they have enough officers tonight, but agreed they are short cars. Cars! I'm ready to volunteer my Honda. Perhaps the city should strike a deal with Enterprise Rent-a-car? Have the bad guys wondering just who's driving what from day to day.
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