Journal Entries for May, 2003
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Saturday afternoon, May 31: Yesterday a city housing inspector came by and took pictures of the open entries to all the vacant apartments and the house itself. Today, I see Clarence Weston's car. Coincidence?
That is, assuming he's here to comply with the requirements of common sense and his terms of probation to secure the vacant apartments. He may be here to collect apartment rent or that other rent I suspect. After all, business this week has been pretty good, based on the number of people in and out and the many times people call to the remaining residents from the street. One of the officers joked with the guy who's often being called "you're sure popular with the ladies!" He's popular with ladies, youngsters, cars that drive up for three minutes, twitchy, scrawny men ... a whole variety of people. Crack and heroin are equal opportunity destroyers, don't you know?
I'm sure I'll hear from one of the officers later if Weston's actually done anything constructive. If he does "secure" the apartments, I expect it'll be the same effort he put on the long vacant ground front apartment, the one most used by the dealers: a couple nails loosely pounded and easily pulled open and shut. Yet it still satisfied the inspector, his fellow city employee. I wonder if he'll get away yet again if he is pretends to comply today. I suppose the last week, three arrests, a couple more pursuits and the continued trafficking will just be overlooked like everything else.
I do have to say, at the risk of jinxing it, this entire day has gone by without my hearing "greens out, greens out." Officer Brown, having a break in the substation, told me that he had helped Officer Atkins and other city officers catch a young dealer running down the alley from Wilson. I have noticed increased patrols here by city officers. Greatly appreciated. The dealers are having a tougher time here finally. I know really securing 1704 will go a long way toward making this improvement permanent.
Midnight: The guy from 1704 is hanging out the window. I noticed him when I looked out myself to see what a cruiser was doing when I heard its loudspeaker up the street. It's been real quiet tonight. He must be wondering why. It's nice to think he might move on because business has simply dried up.
Above all, and I mean above all, today was the first day I can remember in too long when I didn't hear "greens out, greens out" even once all day. Maybe just my luck. Or maybe a lot of hard work by the city and PGP officers.
Friday afternoon, May 30: A city housing inspector came out about noon and got several pictures of conditions inside 1704, including the still wide open apartments. The arrest reports have been forwarded to the attorney prosecuting Mr. Weston. It appears he's going back to court. This time for violation of probation. I wonder what Judge Hong will think of this. Another slap on the wrist and promise not to do it again? Or will he finally be punished for what he continues to do to this neighborhood every day? Will he ever understand some of us are tired of his games?
I'm still wondering why no one in authority with the city is outraged by his crimes and continued behavior. I still differ with the Mayor's Office: City employees do need to be held to a higher standard. And it's clearly defined: The Standards of Excellence, part of a city employee's contract with the city. Apparently these standards are as meaningless as Weston's sworn promises.
A PGP officer had the chance to meet Police Commissioner Clark last night while he was working on McCulloh. He was impressed. "He wasn't surrounded like Norris used to be. He was working. Questioning the guys hanging out on the corner ..."
Funny I would comment last night about this police commissioner being professional enough to know that photo ops and bit parts on TV are not what we pay him for. I read in the paper this morning the mayor doesn't seem to know any better. It appears he jumped at the chance to be in the movie currently filming here. The article quotes him as saying "I never came out of character." No doubt. This mayor is preoccupied with acting and image and photo ops. He needs to get on the streets more. See real problems. Be more hands on. Without pandering to the media. Word of mouth from satisfied citizens who he's served would be a very effective campaign strategy. Sometimes one's perception as an effective leader can be promoted by actually being an effective leader.
I have this same complaint about the mayor's official website. It speaks of his inauguration and his two and three year accomplishments and "practicing with the Ravens" among other things. I'm surprised it doesn't give us his band's schedule. The site could be more accurately titled "Martin O'Malley for Governor" or "O'Malley's Stepping Stones to the Presidency." His campaign treasurer should pay for it. Of course, the city's website is full of praise for the wonders of our magazine cover boy, too. For example, why is it still official city news that he delivered the Democratic Party Response to the President's weekly radio address five months ago? The website is seriously out of date even in touting his wondrous accomplishments. Or have there been so few in the past few months, other than having a part in a movie? I did read restaurant health department closings are online there now, though. That's what the website should be: providing useful information and helping citizens access city government.
I say all this even though I like him. Who doesn't? Fact is, I hold him to a higher standard than a used car salesman telling us "I'm great. Buy from me." We better like him, there's no doubt he'll be reelected with $4000 a plate fundraisers raising hundreds of thousands of dollars. Sorry, Mr. Mayor, we spent our $4000 access fee on a police substation.
A little quiet dignity and humility from City Hall, and recognition that any progress this city has made and hopes to make has a lot less to do with the mayor than it does police officers, persistent Assistant State's Attorneys, the many good city employees who do their jobs each day ... and the citizens of this city who stick with Baltimore and pay the bills.
The cynicism meter is high today so I suppose I better stop. Lack of sleep does that to me ... and the fact no one in this city can get a damned crack house closed.
Friday, 4:45AM, May 30: Another morning's entertainment courtesy of that fine public servant, Clarence Weston ...
I got up to use the rest room about 4:15 and heard some talking that seemed right outside the window. Odd since I was on the second floor above the substation. When I looked out, I saw a light on and shadows moving about in the third floor rear apartment of 1704 where the voices were coming from. I called the police. A few minutes later an officer arrived. I told him what I'd seen and the fact the four vacant apartments are under no circumstances to be occupied. He summoned backup. While waiting, I noticed the light went out. I suspect they threw the drugs out the back window when they heard the officers talking in the hall. Only one man was found in the apartment and he was arrested. You see the paddy wagon here. I don't know where the other voice retreated.
This makes the third arrest in less than a week. And those are the ones caught. I have lost count of the number of times officers have attended to this building in the past week either due to my calls or their own observations or pursuits. And that's just in the past week when things were supposed to be getting better since four of the apartments were supposed to be vacated and secured. The officers told me all the apartments are wide open -- business as usual at 1704.
No one could possibly calculate the burden for the city this building has been for years, especially this last. All courtesy of a city employee. It is truly unbelievable. And that's part of the problem and the reason he continues to get away with thumbing his nose at us all.
Afterward I talked with two of the officers, gave one the tour and keys to the substation, and thanked them for their work.
I just hope one day soon 1704 will not create so much work for them. There's more than enough police work to do in this city.
I hear the morning call to prayer from the Mosque around the corner. Dawn is breaking. Looks like a beautiful day. I'm going back to bed.
Thursday afternoon, May 29: I've gotten over my outrage about the flag and what's going on at 1704. I'm just trying to work on the problem now. No choice.
And there's this encouraging little news: The flag recovered from 1704 is on it's way to Swift Flag Repair of Reno, Nevada for restoration. I wrote them based on a web search. Here are excerpts from her reply ...
This appears to be a beautiful flag and so far as I can tell it can be fixed. It would be a pleasure for me to do your flag for nothing and perhaps in return you could hand out my cards to companies who fly large flags in and around Baltimore and tell them about us. ... I believe in what you are trying to do and if infuriates me that these people have the control that they do over a once beautiful neighborhood. I can tell you what worked in a section of Reno. They built a small police station right in the middle of all the drugs and put a park right in from of the building. 25 mile an hour is strictly enforced and you would not believe this neighborhood at this time. No drug dealing. Thanks for your interest in my company and God bless you in your endeavor, April Dison
Hopefully she can restore it, though I suspect it won't be flying very often. At 45+ years it's not as limber as it used to be. I sympathize.
Dealing and traffic in and out of 1704 continues fast and furious, however, the arrests by Pedestal Gardens Police (PGP) on Sunday and daily visits by the city police as well have them on their toes more. Tenants in the second and third floor front apartments have taken to harboring the dealers and users when the police do come by. Just a little while ago, I watched as officers pulled up in front fast, dashed in for a few minutes, came back out and drove off. Either they were looking for a specific suspect, or they're doing their best to discourage the illegal activity. Same effect. I wonder sometimes if it's not so bad Weston has left the unoccupied apartments open in violation of his Terms of Probation. The better to snare the bad guys and gals. Of course, there are plenty of other places to catch them around here.
I have word that not only is it obvious to officers the apartments are being used for buying, selling and using, but there's evidence that prostitutes are using them too. Makes sense. Couldn't ask for a much nicer place. Unlocked apartments, now swept out even, with doors for privacy. Word's gotten out fast. When there are no officers present (obviously they can't be here 24/7), I've seen prostitutes get out of cars with johns, no doubt fresh from Eutaw Place, and go in for 20 minutes to an hour. And the new little bordello is nicely catered by resident crack and heroin dealers.
Weston could charge by the hour now. Perhaps he could use that money to pay down the $25,000 this city employee owes the city taxpayers on his five income properties, including the now $13000 on 1704 alone.
Suspicious activity is on the rise at 1717-1715, no doubt thanks to the warm weather. It seems to be working together with 1704 based on the known dealers I see walking between the two buildings. This could be in part because more than one of the former tenants of 1704 seems to have moved across to 1715. The door on the Madison side, supposed to be a fire escape, is always left unlatched unless the PGP have just come through. In the opinion of several officers, those doors should be removed and the common areas opened up to the street to make dealing and complicit apartments more obvious. Last summer, I used to watch as the dealers would bash the lock so they could come and go through that door to access their stash and hide from the police.
The common areas there would be a free for all, like 1704's have been, if it weren't for the PGP officers frequent patrols. They're doing a good job, but I would like to see more commitment from the property management company there. They need to help us in our protracted lobby for better emergency backup for the PGP (radios). And they need to install monitored cameras, something I discussed with a VP of the company back in January and has yet to materialize. This is such an obvious and cost effective deterrent, the new police commissioner commented on the lack of them when he first toured the area back in February.
Friends on the block noticed a meeting at the school last night that appeared to include residents of Eutaw Place. According to what I heard, there was a lot of pointing this way by a man whose description matches that of the leader of the new Eutaw Place Improvement Association. Readers here will know that I have little sympathy for this group who pretend to be interested in the welfare of the neighborhood, but simply want the Section 8 housing gone and even the school closed down so they can have more Spicer's Run and an "upscale shopping center" where the school used to be. Bottom line for them is not people, at least not poor people, it's property values. I told them at one point last year to drop me from their emails because I did not want to be part of their duplicity. With that attitude, it's no wonder I wasn't invited, huh?
Interesting to note I watched a resident from the affluent north end of the 1700 block of Eutaw Place last weekend as he brought trash and what looked like a five gallon paint bucket over to the private dumpster for Pedestal Gardens. Apparently, he couldn't be troubled with disposing of his own trash and paint. I wonder if this was one of those neighbors we met at the HUD meeting last summer when they falsely accused the residents of the Pedestal Gardens of "firebombing" their "homes," even calling it their "September 11th." More info here.
I expect the new Madison/Wilson Neighbor's Association will find itself at odds with their agenda in future. More about this new association of residents and concerned neighbors from across the city will be announced here soon.
9PM: Was in the substation, cleaning up and making some fresh coffee. An officer was organizing his citation book. He had just come in from seeing the commissioner around the corner on the 1700 block of McCulloh. Apparently the commissioner was working, being a policeman, not a bureaucrat. And this is not a photo op as our previous commissioner so frequently arranged. Somehow I have the impression Kevin Clark is a professional who won't be taking bit parts and embarrassing us as a wannabe actor on The Wire, either.
Not the first time we've seen and heard of the commissioner around here working. Same with our Major. Both are known among their officers as hands on leaders. Nice to know they're here again, taking an interest.
Sunday, 7PM, May 25: I'm incensed. I'm sure you're not surprised.
A little while ago, I was talking to Officer Vogt and Sergeant Kluver of the Pedestal Gardens Police about 1704. Not an unusual subject for us. This afternoon, within the last few hours, someone had tacked this flag inside over the broken window of the ground floor front apartment, obviously to cover their business. Same window used by the dealers with such impunity for so long.
I said "Let's go in. No one is supposed to be there and the owner has given you permission to enter when you need to." We did. No one was in that apartment.
We then went to the second floor rear apartment, and much to our surprise, found a woman. The officers passed me and took charge, arresting her, showing big concern for my safety. They then went to the back room and found a man. A fresh pipe and vials were found, including on at least one of the suspects, from what I heard. I could smell the smoke from the pipe.
I left the building and called 911 to ask for a city officer to back these officers up. I had to explain repeatedly what I was asking and that these officers were not city officers, yet they were sworn officers like Housing or Transit Authority officers and I felt they needed a city unit for backup, at least the paddy wagon, and they didn't have radios.
For some reason, it was dispatched as a Signal 13, which means "officer in distress, all available officers must respond." That was exactly what I stressed I was not asking. The 911 tapes will verify this.
This illustrates all too well that the Pedestal Gardens Officers have a horrible problem with communications. They need those radios to prevent false reports. They need to be able to communicate with their fellow officers on the city force directly. They do not need to waste valuable time explaining themselves to uninformed clerks. Especially when their lives rely on fast and efficient communication, though thank God that wasn't the case ... this time.
None of the vacated apartments is secure. Neither are the supposedly legally occupied apartments. I knocked on the door to the second floor front apartment to say hello. The door swung open. There is no knob or lockable lock. A guy rushed to the door to greet me. Another was torching his crack pipe on the couch across the room. "You need a door knob, don't you," I said. He replied "Oh yes, I've got to fix that," he said while hastily closing the door. All of this is gross violation of Weston's terms of probation.
Back to the symbolic thing that's hit me like a ton of bricks. I took that flag from 1704 so it could not be abused again. I strung it up against my door for the picture, assuming it was now a rag. You know something, it still has life in it. Like this house. Like Baltimore. As I write this, I am teary eyed. I feel like Officers Kluver and Vogt did something as patriotic as any soldier ... and a flag was captured. Ours.
I am going to repair this flag or find someone who can. And then I'm going to make sure it's flown. Whether at Eutaw Marshburn Elementary or in front of this house. It's going to find the dignity it deserves.
There's a reason this flag came to me today, though I don't understand it fully. As you know, tomorrow is Memorial Day. It's a wonderful excuse to BBQ and drink beer. It's also a good day to remember those who give us the liberty we take for granted, often with their lives and so often by giving their careers: Whether Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard ... or the Police, both city and specially commisioned, who fight a thankless, never ending war across this country each day.
Addendum: I guess it can't fly over the school. Might confuse the kids. I just counted this flag's stars. She carries 48. This flag is at least as old as I am. It has survived more than 40 years, only to find itself used as a drape to hide drug dealers. It is now, to me, the most important flag I have ever had the enormous privilege to hold and to fold.
Saturday morning, May 24:
Yesterday, just before school began letting out, a small army of solid waste personnel and equipment converged on the block to remove the 100' wall of trash Clarence Weston had put on the street the day before.
Several times while the crew was working, large rats dashed out, sending the staff scurrying. In less than 24 hours an amazing number had taken up residence. Naturally, with a pile of food, clothes and shelter put out for them. After a weekend, the rats would have been raising families. Same place the kids were playing the night before and this morning on their way to school, seen in the background.
It was an impressive showing. Kids and neighbors stood watching. A dozen city employees, two rolloffs, a small loader, two city garbage trucks and at least three suited supervisors. Probably $2000 in time and equipment, according to a staffer I spoke with. They worked with great speed and efficiency. In an hour it was all gone. You would barely have known it was there.
The head of the Dept. of Solid Waste, Joe Kolodziejski (known as Joe K), ordered it. He received an email from the Mayor about 1:00 yesterday and calls from Ms. Dale Thompson, Sanitation Enforcement Department and Sheila Dixon's office, that I know of, likely more. I think he got the message it was important to take care of now. That response took me about three hours of phone calls and emails yesterday morning.
Wardell Jones, Pastor of the tiny church at 1702 was as bothered as I've ever seen him. "That can't be there for church!" It practically blocked his doorway. The members of AME Payne Memorial would have been angry today, too, as they assembled for a big service. It took up at least six parking spaces in what they consider the church parking lot.
It should never have happened. For a Baltimore city solid waste professional, like Clarence Weston, you'd think he would have been able to anticipate what equipment would be needed and not subjected us all to it. But then Weston takes every opportunity to show Baltimore how he feels about us. Making our street a landfill, if only for a day, is a good example. From what I heard in calls yesterday morning, it might have taken through to Monday to get it removed had there not been a really annoying squeaky wheel living next door. By then, the trash would have been spread for blocks.
Thank yous to The Mayor, Council President Dixon, Joe K, Dale Thompson, and the other city employees who want to show us they're not like their fellow city employee, Clarence Weston. They agreed there was a serious problem and took action. I just wish they could be so effective in dealing with the root problem, irresponsible and in some cases, like Weston's, criminal landlords who let their buildings destroy neighborhoods.
I mentioned earlier about how seriously these boys take the business of selling their poison. They have no sense of morality or how could they destroy people in such a cruel and tortured way? We all know it's why Baltimore continues to have such a huge murder rate. And face it, when we read about a young black man killed in the West or Eastern Districts or near the Central District's Pennsy and Laurens, where there's no witness (who's willing to talk), we all assume it's drugs -- it usually is. And though we don't want to admit it, some small part of us thinks "that's what they get for leading the life." As if this diminishes the value of the life lost or justifies it.
But in each case, there's family and friends, moms and less often dads, brothers, sisters, grandparents. An article in today's Sun reminds us of this. The article is entitled Leader of gang gets term of 30 years. You can read it here.
A 26 year old got 30 years for murder. Here's an excerpt ...
"A friend of some of the gang's leaders, Griffin was shot to death in a wooded area off Clifton Road because they believed he had stolen drugs and money from a stash house they controlled.
To Griffin's mother, who helped raise and often cooked meals for some of the young men eventually implicated in her son's death, it was a loss that crystallized the senselessness of Baltimore's violent street culture, in which victims frequently know their killers well and the smallest slights can prove deadly."
I'm glad no one tried to steal the inventory from the stash house Weston's been providing at 1704. I'm sure it's just stashed nearby, but at least less of it is next door. I say less, because there was dealing there last night still, out of at least one of the remaining two occupied apartments.
All we can hope is to push them out, one house at a time. Or, in this case, one room at a time.
Friday, 2PM, May 23: A troublesome day on Madison Avenue.
Officer Brown with the Pedestal Gardens Police was patrolling near the corner a couple hours ago and saw a 3 or 4 year old child hanging out of the third floor front window of 1700 Madison Avenue. He prevailed on a passerby to stand beneath her, possibly to catch, and ran up the unlocked entry steps to find the apartment door wide open, the child still hanging over the window ledge. No one else was in the apartment.
He snuck up on the child and snatched her from the window. The paramedics and police responded quickly to his call. The child was taken by child services and the police are looking for the parent(s) who have been no where to be found. Officers continue to wait nearby to speak to her. Hopefully, they will also be here to keep the children from Eutaw Marshburn Elementary School from playing again in the filthy trash Mr. Weston left out for us all last night.
I'm not sure if this was one of the children who formerly lived in 1704. Quite likely from the glimpse I got of her. A few of the children and adults from 1704 have moved into 1700, no doubt intent on continuing their dealing and their abuse of the children.
The two apartments on the second and third floor front of 1704 remain occupied by people who want to stay until they're thrown out, too. They were watching from the window. Apparently they don't mind living in a hell hole that's now totally unsecured.
I've been calling and emailing everyone I can think of to get this huge pile of stinking, slimy rubbish off our street and now. At this point I don't care that Weston should have had it removed, at his expense, not using the city staff he supervises. Waiting for Weston to do the right thing is what has gotten us to this point.
The Madison Avenue landfill. Come, dump on us. Everyone else does.
Weston visited last night in his shiny expensive car. Brought the Mrs. She'd never been here, according to what she told Officer Freund when they spoke out back. She was frightened by a stray cat on the steps. Scurried over under my window. I hollered down to her, "if you're afraid of a cat, imagine living with the rats your tenants do!" Her name's on the deed. She didn't go in. Big surprise. The stench grabs you before you get to the door.
Weston seemed proud. Took pictures, surely to prove that's he's doing his duty. As he spoke to the officer out back of the substation, I asked across the fence if the back gate was still locked. He didn't answer me. He never does. He told the officer that would be against fire code. It isn't. It's away from the house. I checked. It's wired shut. Some local do-gooder must have done it. Good thing. Officers chasing dealers through the building would easily lose them out back since the house is wide open now.
All last night scavengers sifted through this trash. I noticed several times as hooded young men went into the building, walking up from around the corner or stopping, engines running, in front and dashing in. I know very well they were looking for their stashes and/or talking with the remaining tenant there who deals for them. "What happened to our stash house? How long can you still work for us here?"
Thursday, early afternoon, May 22:
I feel bad. A bit sick to my stomach. Part of me knows this is the right thing, but the other is unhappy to see anyone's belongings on the street.
However, what you see here is the junk from the apartment in the ground floor front that's been there for a year or more. Lots more was put in, obviously trash, to give the dealers more nooks and crannies to hide their bags of product. Just like they do with vacant lots. Just like the illegal dumpers, dealers create trash lots. Perfect hiding spots.
This apartment hasn't been officially occupied in many months but Mr. Weston has contrived to make it appear to be an eviction so the city can pay for the hauling, like he did a few weeks ago. He plays the game so well.
Shortly though, the crew Weston hired to empty the apartments will be emptying the three rear apartments. Those will be people's belongings. James, my neighbor who's roommate just got back 90 days in jail for selling again, has taken all his important stuff away. He's arranged to have me store the refrigerator we gave him last summer, when we were angry to learn that Weston never provided one for an apartment (more like a closet) shared by two adults and a few children. That was back when Weston surprised me with his lack of concern. Now, I expect nothing from him but the worst. He never disappoints.
Another tenant, the one who appeared at Weston's trial April 11 and thanked me, has made arrangements to live with a cousin across the street at 1715. At least that's a decent place for her and child to live. The landlord gives a damn there.
Everyone knew this was coming yet insisted on waiting to the last minute. Most have not been paying any rent for months. The ones that have been putting it in escrow as they fought eviction are the two on the second and third floor front. They will have until the end of June. They have been told repeatedly Weston has no choice. The building must be vacated.
It still amazes me that the official reason is not because it's a crack house, but because of housing code violations. Just like getting Al Capone on income tax evasion.
Two neighbors at 1712 have reassured me this is the right thing. One was the woman who's lived there since 1974. She was in the back alley the other day when the weather was nice. We always chat like neighbors do. She said she'd never felt safe to venture back there in many years. We talked about her putting lawn furniture and a BBQ in the building's backyard this summer. She thanked me. I don't know that things are that much better yet, though several assure me they are. I know I will never take feeling safe enough to sit in the yard for granted again.
Yesterday, Sergeant Kluver, with the Pedestal Gardens Police, told me he and his Officer Freund arrested two women smoking crack in the hallway at 1715 Madison. The Sergeant heard it on the police band scanner they use and responded immediately. Apparently, someone who lives there called the police. That seems amazing. I want to think it's because someone there now feels they shouldn't have to live with crack in their lives if they don't want to.
One of the tenants being put out today and a few of her friends are very angry with me. It's my fault she thinks. She's been arrested twice in the past few months for selling. She's been videotaped on the steps of 1704 bouncing her toddler on one knee while selling from a stash in her crotch. She screamed something about what her boyfriend was going to do to me. I expect our drug gang will be disappointed to lose this sanctuary. It'd be nice to delude myself that they'll move on to where no one believes things can be better.
Addendum: I called the number that handles the city's removal of eviction junk piles on the streets. "Oh yes, sir, we've had many calls about that. We're going to try to get to it tomorrow." When I told her it was an enormous pile about to be scattered by the rain she said "that's because it's several apartments."
Regardless of the fact this is a city employee playing the system yet again, I don't see why the city should pay for any landlord's evictions. That's between the landlord and the tenant, if you ask me. And putting it out like this and waiting for the city to take it away results in kids playing in filthy, needle, rat feces ridden debris. And it gets spread for blocks while it waits for the city crew.
He should have been required to put a 30 cubic yard dumpster out there and pay to have it taken away.
Just a few minutes after publishing this, I leaned out the window to see how much more stuff was out there. A lot. Three neighbors from one of the good buildings here was talking to the guy clearing out the junk while picking through it for salvage.
"You'd find a lot of good shit in that pile!"
"Oh, yeah, a bunch of guys came by this morn' and took away a big baggie." He gestured with his hands indicating the size of a football."
I wonder who warned them?
"If I'd found it, I'd have taken off with that so fast, been set!"
"They'd have killed you, man!"
Any doubt I had about what I've helped do is gone.
Tuesday, early evening, May 20: The kids of 1704 have never really left. I finally caught a photo this afternoon.
Same steps we have videotape of a mom selling crack from her crotch while bouncing her toddler on her knee.
Supposedly, these kids were all moved, some to 1700 Madison, where we have video of a third floor tenant dropping what's pretty obviously crack in a baggy to his cohort on a bike. Headed for sale at our Wilson Street Market. I think their relocation was a sham to appease DSS workers too quick to want to cross another case off their list.
These kids and their moms are still at 1704. Regardless of a court order. Regardless of appalling health and safety violations, including the stench of sewage. Regardless of dealing and violence and arrests.
It's obvious they are not going to move until they are removed. They are banking on yet another postponement by the Sheriff due to rain.
Why can't the city do something? Why can't authorities come and remove these children to someplace safe, work with or force the parents to find acceptable housing, empty the building of the fire hazard junk, and close it down and secure it for use by drug terrorists? The city should bill Clarence Weston for it, though he already owes over $12,000 in back fines and property taxes on this property. And take it all out of his city wages!
We have got to stop playing this game with Clarence Weston and the dealers he houses and harbors here. Same with all the Clarence Westons and dealers in the city. We've got to stop playing this game on their terms.
Or find leaders who know it's not a game at all.
A reader just wrote ...
You've probably already seen the responses before, but I sent e-mail to all six e-mail addresses you posted about the police band radios, and I figured I would pass on what they said to me. The attachment is the DOC file that Lauretta Brown sent to me; I'll paste the letter I sent at the bottom of this one. I didn't bother to mention to either of them that I'm 800 miles away in another state; I may be one of the few, but I'm one of the David Simon fans who doesn't believe that what's going on in your neighborhood is fiction or reason to flee.
And this was her letter to the city officials ...
The privately hired Pedestal Gardens police at 1708 Madison have made thirty arrests of drug dealers, their presence reduces the selling of drugs just a block from Eutaw Marshburn elementary school, and the city has already commissioned them with police powers- so why don't they have police band radios yet? They're willing to pay for them on their own, this costs the city absolutely nothing, and the city gains willing, capable officers to fight the rising tide of crack and heroin sales, so who loses here? Just last night, they had to call the police by phone, waiting quite some time before city police responded so they could take in a drug dealer, John Gregory, who already had three felony warrants on him. Certainly Baltimore can't prefer a three-time felon walking the streets. The city police work hard and do a wonderful job, but they can't be at all places at all times. If the Pedestal Gardens police can clean up -this- neighborhood, if they're willing to risk their lives with no hope of the same kind of pension and benefits that the city police can have, shouldn't they at least be afforded some of the same protection?
Thankfully, the Central District Major has agreed to meet with the Pedestal Gardens Police commissioned officers tonight. Hopefully, we can put this issue to rest. Either we must get these officers fast communication with their colleagues on the city force via radio or find some other solution.
Tuesday afternoon, May 20: Yesterday afternoon, The Wire TV show people took over the block as they've done several times during my tenure, including when I let them use the house for an interior shot. Not going to happen again here, even though I put the site fee to good use. I did not appreciate their attitude and the fact the city is letting David Simon capitalize on our plight, literally catering to him as he uses the carnage of this drug war as a backdrop for dramas based on our reality. No, I don't agree he brings substantial money to the city. And the attention of the show's many viewers does nothing to help. Most his viewers either think it fiction, or consider it validation of their abandonment of the city.
Apparently, Mr. Douglas with the funeral home around the corner has been enjoying the site fees. I suppose he thinks he should profit from the drug dealing here if the bad guys and good guys do too. Can't blame him. Mr. Douglas has a very elaborate video camera surveillance system and hours of tape of the real thing happening on his corner, Wilson Street and McCulloh, half a block west of us. I often hear "greens out, greens out!" from the alley between us or tires squealing from police chases. Sometimes at 2AM officers will get on their PA system and announce, "if you don't live here, move on or you're spending the night in jail." Neither of us minds being awakened to hear the police out doing the job. It beats waking up the sound of hawkers, fights and gun shots.
It's interesting to note that during The Wire's occupation, the dealers pull back. Too many cameras and police officers on foot. Perhaps that should be a clue to someone about what we need to cancel the real show we see here every day? I also find it odd that we provide not only prompt, thorough city services to a TV show, like snow plowing the alley for actors though for an entire winter we couldn't do the same for police officers, but we're also providing equipment ...
This in addition to officers with city band radios to protect actors and their property, people with their own security, while we can't seem to authorize city band access for specially commissioned officers who stay here to protect hundreds of people and kids on these blocks every day.
When I say protect the people here, I realize not everyone here wants it. Way too many want to be left alone to indulge their addictions and to keep the crack and heroin market open on Wilson so they can make easy money off the self torture of others.
Yesterday, I spoke to James, the old gentleman from next door, about his impending eviction from 1704. He asked about when that might happen. I made some calls. When I opened the window to tell him, I heard him in conversation with a loud young man, telling him "they can't throw you out in the street when it's raining. If they do, you can sue the city, man. They can't do that." Last Friday's eviction was postponed due to the torrential rain.
I interrupted, "That's true. They won't put you out in the rain."
I then went on to say the lawyer prosecuting the crack house slumlord informed me the Sheriffs would be here on Thursday, the 22nd ... unless it's raining again.
The young man so busy lawyering James said "since they set a new date, you get a new notice, you go back to the judge, man, you could get another month at least!"
"James, I don't think you're going to get a new notice. You got notification of last Friday's eviction. Neither you nor Mr. Weston can argue with this eviction. He has to evict everyone. He's under court order to do it. You've all been here rent free for six months or more. If it isn't raining, be prepared for them to put you and Wanda [the woman just out of jail for her second selling conviction in three months] and your things on the street. And the other three apartments, too."
"That ain't right. That ain't fair. He got rights! And they say you did this. You're getting him thrown out. You _ucker, you should _uckin' mind your own business! You lucky I don't live here or I be beating on you. I don't give a MFin _hit about the police. You should mind you own _uckin business!"
My reply: "Everyone except James has been dealing here. That is my business. This is my block, not yours. I live here, you don't. Why don't you get the _uck out of it."
We continued our screaming match as the guy backed out of Jame's yard. Utter contempt at 180 decibels. Not unfamiliar to me here.
This while the film crew watched, waiting for us to finish yelling so they could film their own version.
The forecast is for rain on Thursday.
Friday afternoon, May 16: Last year, when I didn't make entries for a few days, I would get calls and emails asking, worried about me. It's been a few days since my last entry and I've had those emails again. Nice to know someone would miss my musings.
Thanks to the rain, some of the tenants of 1704 scheduled for eviction today have a reprieve. They can stay on yet another day or ten, rent free, selling their heroin and crack. It seems the Sheriff's Office is loathe to throw people out on the street in bad weather. I'd be sympathetic if these were innocent, poor people. With the exception of James, the old man, they're dealers for our local drug gang. Why not? It's easy money. There's a steady clientele. And there doesn't seem anything anyone can do to stop them.
For some weeks now, I've been lobbying anyone who'll listen about having police band radios authorized for the two commissioned officers of the Pedestal Gardens Police. These are the sworn officers who are making arrests here, pursuing dealers, hassling users, protecting the kids after school and generally helping make this a better, or at least less horrible, place to live.
Night before last, both the commissioned officers called the city police on a regular phone, waited a long time, and together they arrested a very unwilling drug dealer, John Gregory, who had three felony warrants. Officers have been looking for him for months. He was busy doing business in the school yard when he was sighted this time. This was the same guy with the tear drops tattoo like the one signed on the laundry room door of 1715 Madison, offering a $5000 reward for killing Sergeant Kluver.
The circle with the D/S is for the "Dark Side Gang." Our local drug terrorists.
He did not want to go peacefully. Officers Kluver and Freund made this arrest possible. They were here to see the suspect. They know him. They know this neighborhood, like a beat officer should. And they fought, literally, to take him off our streets.
I've spoken to the Commissioner, the Major, a chief, two lieutenants, three sergeants and several beat officers. None of them have said they didn't think radio support for these officers was a good idea. The only concern I heard was the cost. That's no longer a problem. The property managers of Pedestal Gardens have said they'll pay for them.
But for some reason, we can't get their use of police band radios authorized. Even Council President Dixon has conveyed our request to the City Police management. And we've still gotten no where.
Someone suggested city police brass don't want to help the guys who are showing them up, doing the work one would expect from the city officers. 30+ arrests in three months is far more work than we've seen in this neighborhood in the three years I've been here. But these guys are here every day. This is their beat and they know it well. They don't have an entire sector to patrol like the regular city officers.
City officers I've spoken to appreciate their work. Who wouldn't? And they're not on the city payroll. They cost us nothing. They're paid by the property managers of the Section 8 housing of Pedestal Gardens.
These are not lazy security guard yokels, police man wannabes we're talking about. These are experienced, trained officers, with arrest authority granted by the city police commissioner after a lengthy process. If they are worthy of this authority, they deserve the prompt backup and support we provide other officers.
It's possible one day, one of these officers is going to get hurt because he couldn't get immediate backup from willing city officers. When that happens, I wonder how many millions of dollars the city will have to pay because we were negligent. The city has sworn these officers in, given them commissions, police authority. We ask them to take risks on our behalf. The city needs to give them fast, effective means to get help and support to do their job.
The dealers on the street have scanners tuned to City police bands. Why can't the sworn, armed officers of this public housing community's police department have the fastest possible access to proper backup and help when they need it? It only makes sense.
If you'd like to encourage the powers that be to get this simple, logical thing done, not just talked about, please email them:
Monday afternoon, May 12: Just got in from talking with two "Flex Team" officers who'd caught a young man in the alley behind 1704. He had been distributing from his bike. One of the officers was a former beat officer here and knew the guy. They observed him at work, came up on him and the chase was on. Up and down both alleys and the avenue in front, squealing tires, "stop!" One officer chased on foot and another stayed in the car. They were a well orchestrated team. Impressive to watch their ability and determination. They recovered a rubber banded roll of stems thrown onto the garage of 1704 while running up the alley and a wad of singles on the suspect. It was early in the market day.
Officer Brown of the Pedestal Gardens Police, who helped with the chase, and I agreed this was the same young man we filmed catching a bag of something from the third floor window of 1700 just a couple days before. It appears they're bagging product up there now. Definitely time to talk with that landlord.
While the paddy wagon took him away, we looked for something else thrown into the backyards of 1710 or 12 during the chase. Talk about a needle in a haystack. I said I wish my big dog was a drug dog, we could find it a lot sooner. "In this neighborhood, he'd be alerting all the time" was the reply. True.
We talked about the article in the Sun today on the Commissioner's new approach to dealing with drugs. These officers will be performing a different role soon. They'll be the ones responsible for dispersing loiterers in known market areas, vacant house trespassers and other seemingly innocuous crimes that are part of the open air dealing in so many places like ours. Another team in plain clothes will target the distrbutors like the ones who drive the $50,000 SUV in a circuit all over this area, supplying dealers and picking up cash. These officers might prefer to have more interesting assignments, but we all agreed with the new commissioner. Dealing with these nuisances is more important and effective than it might appear. When there's no place for them to roost, it's hard to deal.
The "Drug Squads" in each district are being eliminated. Staff and approaches that have not worked are being scrapped. Seems like a good sign.
The full text of today's Sun article can be seen at http://www.sunspot.net.
There are a couple of interesting posts in the guestbook today. The most recent is about the fact there are many good areas of Baltimore. It's not all The Wire. True. But there are vast areas of this city that are wastelands of people and houses as far as the eye can see. And good people in these bad areas live with it daily. Her comments about this being terrorism ring loud and clear on the 1700 block of Madison Avenue.
Friday, May 9, 4PM: Last night, a resident of 1704 was selling crack from a baggy stashed in her crotch while a toddler sat on her knee. I have it on video tape. She was inside already when officers responded. This morning, a guy pulled up in a four door steel blue car, idled for a while and yelled "greens here!" to a woman passing by. He then went inside 1704 with a bag and spoke to the same woman. I heard her voice as they yelled to each other. While I got a picture and the plate number, the guy came back out without the bag, and was gone by the time officers arrived.
Nothing's changed at 1704 ... yet.
I got an email this morning from Assistant State's Attorney Halvorsen updating us on the status of things at 1704. The woman arrested in the ground floor rear apartment of 1704 last January and again a few weeks later for possession and selling was sentenced to three years in jail today, suspended on condition of three years probation, drug screening and treatment. She's also been forbidden to be in the 1700 block of Madison for those three years. She's still serving the 90 days in jail on her first charge. I thought she was out last week, but it turned out to be her twin sister, who is a dealer, too.
Mr. Halvorsen also informed us that four evictions are scheduled at 1704 for Friday, May 16. Evictions as in the Sheriff removing people and their stuff. I hope they're out before that. Two other tenants have been formally notified and must be out within 60 days, including the woman who tosses crack and heroin from the third floor front apartment at the signal of the guy who collects the money downstairs and at the corner. Whether it's Weston's intent or not, the dealing there is being carried on just as long as it possibly can, just as every compliance with his terms of probation has been done at the last possible moment and only under threat of going back to court.
On the same video tape, we have footage of a young man tossing "product" down from the third floor Madison side apartment of 1700. Time to talk to that landlord apparently. Since the pressure's been on 1704, it was inevitable that the dealers would work to find new places to stash their inventories so they can continue to supply their market here. I do not look forward to a new crusade against 1700, but that will be up to the owner there as it was up to Clarence Weston last year. Let's hope 1700's owner makes a better choice.
Just spoke to an Officer Feaster, with Deputy Commissioner Blackwell's office. The answer to our request for city police radio use by the commissioned Pedestal Gardens Police is "no." The city does not give police band access to security guards. An understandable point of view until you understand that the two officers we're referring to have been commissioned by the City Police, sworn in and make arrests on their own. They serve in what I would call the mini sector of Pedestal Gardens which surrounds Eutaw Marshburn on three sides and the adjacent streets of Madison, Eutaw and over to McCulloh, including several churches, apartment buildings and private homes. As readers here know, they've been very effective at helping dampen the market at the corner of Madison and Wilson and have made over 30 arrests since getting those commissions earlier this year.
Officer Feaster listened, asked questions and agreed to investigate the matter further. I told him the Commissioner (just before he was confirmed), the Major and Chief Jackson have said to me it seemed like a good idea, but the city couldn't afford it. These radios will be paid for by the property owners of Pedestal Gardens so the only thing being asked of the city is to program them. All the beat officers I've spoken to about it agree that Officers Kluver and Freund should have these radios so they can summon backup quickly to help assure their safety and effectiveness. One beat officer even communicates with the special police officers via his own Nextel phone, especially during hot pursuits of dealers.
Council President Dixon sent a letter to the Deputy Commissioner in response to an email I sent everyone I could think of. Her letter got the attention. And I thank her very much for this effort. Now, hopefully, the matter can be cleared up and we can see these officers do their job with the full support and backup of their city colleagues. No one in the city would begrudge these officers fast communication with the city police if they understood that they do police work and don't cost the city anything. I know many beat officers who use the substation are glad these guys are here to deal with this hornet's nest and keep them informed.
Perhaps we need special police officers assigned to the corner of Pennsylvania and Laurens, too, and some of the other notorious and long standing open air markets in the city. The detailed knowledge officers develop when working a regular beat is invaluable. They know the good guys from the bad guys. They know the where and how. And when they're ready to strike, beat officers need prompt backup to be effective and to help assure everyone's safety.
Tuesday, May 6, Noon: Dealing continues rather briskly around here when city officers or Pedestal Gardens Police are not present. Of course, business still goes in and out of 1704, too. The dealers and users intend to use it right up until the last possible moment. I'm told there's more activity a few blocks over now as a result of increased attention here.
Read this article in the morning's Sun: "Ehrlich order targets state corruption: Md. workers must report any legal action..." (click here to read it at Sunspot.net) The new governor has ordered that all state employees must report, and I would assume, answer to their supervisors about legal actions. I don't know about reporting divorces or other personal matters, but I think being found guilty of contempt of court for operating a hell hole slum in the city which employs him should apply. Last November, the mayor's office was asked about a city sanitation supervisor who owes more than $25,000 in delinquent back taxes to the city during a TV news investigation. The answer was "we don't treat city employees any differently than we do other citizens."
Maybe we should.
A ranking leader of the city police department said to me that if any of his men conducted themselves as Weston has, they'd be investigated and forced to pay the money and/or lose their jobs. We should hold city servants, whether elected or employees to certain standards. In Baltimore City, they call them The Standards of Excellence and they are considered part of one's employment contract. Articles 40, 55 and 56 all forbid Mr. Weston's behavior, but there have been no consequences for him. Apparently the Standards of Excellence are a hollow gesture.
Irresponsible property owners, those who abandon their property or even worse allow it to be used by crack dealers, are direct accessories to the drug trade that overwhelms this city. They have created the huge burden of 30,000 vacant houses and lots. The City should prosecute these people aggressively. If you allow your property to be a tool for the drug trade, you should forfeit it and be punished.
I truly wish we could put together a task force to coordinate the process of identifying properties, occupied and vacant, which are used in the drug trade and expedite getting them closed down. The current process is absurdly complicated and time consuming, as in the case of 1704.
Saturday, May 3, 3PM: An amazing sight ...
I've never seen anyone clean up the yard at 1704. It's always been strewn with junk and glass and garbage. Until it was taken away, the dog was fed there with food scraps thrown from the back windows. What the dog didn't eat, the rats who nest in the debris got. I notice Mr. Weston is wearing some heavy plastic gloves, a mask, and long sleeves. I guess the swarming rats and filth are an issue when it's his own health at risk.
He's only doing this because of the court order. The attorney prosecuting the case specified it to Weston's attorney in a follow up this week. It still amazes me that it took a court order to get this man to do anything here, but at least it's getting done. Will be amusing to see how he disposes of it. I wonder if he'll use the city employees he supervises again. I'm told that the evictions are proceeding and that more apartments will be vacant soon. The ground floor front apartment is still filled with debris, but perhaps that's being worked on this weekend, too.
1712's yard has been cleared out, 1710's rear yard has been mowed. And now 1704. Between containers, I've been putting demolition debris in my basement to discourage rats and so it wouldn't make the side lot look like a dump. Often wondered why I bothered since the neighbors didn't care. The view out my back and side windows won't be trash anymore. I can't tell you how much that means to one's attitude. The Mayor often talks about cleaning up the city. Living among filth and debris does not help your self respect. Seeing it being cleared up out there really helps motivate me to try harder here.
Even though it's a nice Saturday afternoon, near the first of the month, there's little dealing out there. I see Officer Melcher with the Pedestal Gardens Police patrolling in his van every once in a while. He must be discouraging it. He and his senior Officer Freund made an enormous difference when they patrolled last night. Friends picking up Vaughn remarked how quiet the street was. I hope they can keep up with it tonight, too. We sure appreciate that.
Friday, May 2, 7PM: Dealing's been pretty brisk all day. Silly me. Forgot it's the first of the month. The Pedestal Gardens Police must be working down at Madison and Mosher, near the larger complex a bit more. They can't be everywhere at once. Lots of activity down there and it's apparently gotten the ear of the BCPD Major too.
Business here is a bit more subdued, at least at this hour. Not quite as blatant as usual. I think the players all expect the cops back at any moment. As it should be..
1704 is doing a good business right from the steps, with two toddlers playing next to their moms. I don't know if they're back, after the state made them move the kids out of that hell hole, or if they're just visiting while their moms make a living.
I suspect it was someone from there who put the human feces through the mail slot this afternoon. I saw someone run back over there from the window shortly after the slot banged. I put a can there after the Dawsons tragedy to contain any incendiary devices. When I went out, the people on the steps there smiled wickedly, I just smirked and mumbled "your time's running out."
A follower of the Techbalt group posted a message on their board asking about a coop purchase of a single house, sharing the expenses and equity. Good for those not ready to take on an entire house, which I can attest is a daunting task alone. 1704 immediately sprung to mind. Probably because I'm obsessed with it, don't you know? I'd enjoy helping three or four young people acquire and renovate that house. And in all ways, from procuring it from the city to pounding nails. I'd love to see it a happy productive home in some way or another.
Strange realization. As a response to her posting, I ticked off the possible benefits of living here. There are a few. Maybe I should have been a real estate agent. Here's the list I came up with: we have walking access to Mt Vernon and the Light Rail, the subway, a good restaurant, a fine coffee shop, a Savalot, a hardware store. We're next door to a police substation <g>, 5 minutes from Penn Station, etc.
With the good tenants at 1712 and their improved management, a good homeowner returning to 1710, good landlords at 1700 and 1702, the improved supervision of the housing across the street and the increased activity due at NIMROD Center, there really are all the makings of a decent neighborhood here. Might make three or four years of shit worth the effort. Please excuse the language. Having just cleaned it up, literally, it was the word that came to mind.
Friday, May 2, 8AM: "Rhonda, Rhonda, Rhoooooondaaaaaaaaa!" at 6 this morning. Not unusual. Sometimes it's midnight. Sometimes 3AM. I don't know why the resident of the third floor top apartment at 1704 has so many visitors who yell to her night and day, but I think everyone in the neighborhood who wants to buy crack does. The inspector who was here Tuesday, noted her window was broken. I suspect from "visitors" trying to get her attention. Baggies are thrown from that window. After someone's been paid on the corner I suspect.
I've often said David Simon, author of The Corner, Homicide and The Wire, has no need for imagination. He's simply watched. I'm sure people who don't live in cities like Baltimore think it's all great fiction. The new season of his current show is coming up soon. The first episode or two will feature our neighborhood and this house. Whooopeeee! I'm so thrilled. (How does one emote sarcasm?)
At least in 1704's case, I have reason to hope the show will be over in 90 days.
It looks like the contractors are here to repair the broken up sidewalk out front. Tough to shovel broken up concrete. It's been three years since I first asked, but I'm not complaining. I've seen worse around town.
My neighbor at 1710 is making preparations to move back in along with a friend. He said one reason she thought it would be OK was because there's a police substation next door. The house has been vacant all the time I've been here, at least three years. Vacant, but supervised and maintained. Nor has 1712 ever been a problem, even with six occupied apartments with long time tenants, including Ida, who moved there in 1974. See, Clarence, it can be done and it ain't that tough. Again, proper supervision. They have new owners and property managers now. Y & Y is the name of the company. I met the young men running it. They're already cleaning out the basement and the yard and fixing things up over there. Good to see.
All this cleaning up, hope that the crack house is soon to close and the new soil from Bolton Hill can't help but make things better ... right?
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