Journal Entries for April 2003
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Tuesday, April 30: Today, a beautiful, affluent part of Bolton Hill shared some earth with a crack ridden, poor neighborhood just across the street. A MICA student, Jacob Cecil, dug up a bit of the earth at the base of 1704 Madison and then marched down Wilson and Park to the grassy, tree lined median of Park at McMechen. There he dug up a bit of earth and replaced it with the soil from here. We all walked back and deposited that earth next to Clarence Weston's crack house. This was part of Jacob's project for his "Agitational Art" course, due Friday.
We all remarked how amazingly different the soil was. Rich, brown and fertile in Bolton Hill. Rubble, crack stem caps, dead, from the west. Watching this young Bolton Hiller work so hard was moving to us all, including the officers who participated, I think. It also had the neighbors wondering at both ends.
Lucinda from Bolton Hill, Jacob and his videographer, a fellow student, got to take a tour of the common areas in the crack house too. Officer Jester kindly showed them around, remarking how happy he was it would soon be closed.
Either it was a silly waste of time, or an interesting comment on what divides us. Where do our differences begin? We all stand on the same earth, yet across the street the world is entirely different.
I hope Jacob gets an A.
Tuesday, April 29, DEADLINE DAY: People sometimes wonder why I can't let go of the issue of the crack house next door. If I can't stand the "culture," why don't I move, build new in the suburbs? Forget Baltimore. So many have and more do every day...and I don't blame them.
Just seems like it isn't the answer.
I do take it too seriously sometimes. I let it get to me too much. I rant. I rail. In my defense, that's because there is so much wrong here. Sometimes, I do assume the worst, even when it isn't so bad.
And sometimes it's all too obvious, as with 1704 and ...
Right now I'm watching a car parked in front of my house, idling, playing loud music as an advertisement, the passenger dashes out every once in a while to attend to the customers on the corner. The driver has gone twice into 1704 to reup his supply. Everyone here knows exactly what they're doing. The overt, brazen openness of it is simple: there are no risks, they almost always get away with it. Just like Clarence Weston who provides their center of operations here.
It's school let out time. The usual start of our drug market day. I called the police about them, but it's shift change time, a problem so well documented I saw it referred to in a repeat of The Corner on TV last night. The Major has even cited this for the reason he has problems putting an officer out at the school for the hour the kids are getting out.
After 1704's inspection, I had a long talk with Mr. Halvorsen, States Attorney prosecuting the landlord at 1704. Mr. Weston had been there all morning, supervising his city employees taking the trash away from the street and pounding nails into the door to the first floor front apartment. Replacing windows that could have been replaced a year ago. Sweeping out debris, etc.
Upshot: Weston had entirely plausible sounding explanations to an impartial observer. And has avoided being hauled back into court ... yet again.
But Mr. Halvorsen did hang around with me and we watched the dealing, the business. He watched as people left the supposedly secure front door ajar on their way out. "Hey, please close that," he would say. "I don't live here." "Can you close that?" "I don't have no key."
While we were standing there, a car with two guys I know as dealers pulled up, paused. I gestured toward them saying we were interrupting business just as they decided to drive away for the moment. Mr. Halvorsen pulled out his badge and wanted to talk to them, but I called him back. He's brave. I think he has a Quixotic streak too.
Tonight, if not already, the partly nailed shut door to the stash apartment will be ajar again, as usual. Simple matter to pull it open. The house is still in business, never missing a beat.
I'm told that one of the stories Mr. Weston gave was that four currently occupied apartments are to be evicted shortly. Mr. Halvorsen says he has reason to hope I will see that happening in the next few days. I'm also informed the kids do not live there now. They're with relatives. That may be true, I haven't seen them for days. I hope they're in better hands. That wouldn't take much compared to here.
At this point, I don't care who hauls the debris away and closes down the building. It's just got to stop. And we've got to figure out how to stop it all over the city.
Footnote: The men sat out in front of the house dealing for 45 minutes. I called 911 again five minutes ago. One got out of the back seat of the heavily tinted car, saying "bye now." The car left. He is now on the corner slinging.
A Maryland Institute, College of Art student, Jacob Cecil, has a project. He would like to exchange some soil from the park at McMechen and Park with the little stretch of barren earth next to the crack house, in the vacant lot next door. He wants to do it tomorrow, Wednesday, April 30, early evening about 6PM. His class deadline is Friday.
Perhaps this timing is good. I'm willing to try anything. If it's the soil here that's contaminated with the germs that have caused this scourge, then maybe we should find out if bringing in a "contaminant" from a happy, thriving neighborhood three blocks away will help. If Bolton Hill starts sprouting crack houses and dealer thugs and addicts and this neighborhood becomes safe and beautiful, we'll know the cause of the problem. We seem to have tried everything else.
The mayor should be proud of this student. He wants to believe. I began to tell him what people would say about this idea, but as I said it, I realized that idealism, naiveté and youth are the only chance for hope in this city. And when I have no more of these qualities left, that will be past the time to leave.
6PM, Wednesday at 1704 Madison Avenue. Ten minutes of your time at each location. Some may consider it a prayer. Some a spell. But it's not a silly idea. It's hope. And as spring comes into bloom, any excuse to plant some hope for those who live here and in vast areas of this forsaken city is worth pursuing.
I hope you'll join us. Please email and let us know if you can.
Tuesday , April 29, 9AM, DEADLINE DAY: I have to hand it to Clarence Weston, like the drug dealers he enables, he knows how to play us all. This morning, as predicted, he had his employees come out and remove this pile of trash he put on the street last night.
A call or two to the Sanitation Department for whom he works turned up a call to 311 reporting the need for a solid waste pickup at 1703 Madison Avenue. Everyone here knows that's the NIMROD Center and a vacant lot. Mr. Weston's car was here, and someone directed them to his pile of "solid waste." Who might that have been, I wonder?
He's now inside hammering and working on something, to put on a good show for the inspector who is due in ten minutes.
I've put in calls to the State's Attorney handling the case and to the Fox45 news crew following this. You can bet I will not let this drop. I hope you won't either. I don't know who to suggest you contact if you have the time. I've always thought the mayor would care, but his office has never seemed interested. Ken did email him though and that seems a good place to start. The mayor's number is 410.396.3100. Calls and/or emails to Fox45 TV's Jon Leiberman at 410.467.4545 x3059 will help, too.
It seems this city is a place where the dealers know how to play the system and city employees do too. Between the drug profits and good 'ol boys network, it seems Baltimore is just a sucker waiting to be conned. No wonder the city is broke and the quality of life for so many here stinks.Tuesday, April 29, 1AM: Mr. Weston and a helper were here for an hour or two this evening. Left the last time about 11. I was looking to report some effort on Weston's part, however infuriatingly last minute. Instead, I have this to report ...
Dumped on the street. Imagine what would happen if he did this in Bolton Hill? By morning the kids on their way to Eutaw Marshburn Elementary will have the filthy garbage all over.
The ground floor front apartment, with no legal tenant according to Weston, is supposed to be cleared out with a proper door and "tamper proof lock."
This is how it looks now ...
Virtually no different. Based on the volume I saw on the street versus what I saw at almost midnight through this gaping apartment door, I'd say he'd need at least a 30 cubic yard container for the contents of this one apartment.
I called 311 to report the illegal dumping. An officer responded to tell me that there was nothing he could do, not even write it down. "I suggest you call city hall in the morning, but I don't think they do anything about dumping. Maybe send someone out to remove it." While we chatted on my steps, no less than six of our street dealers went right in the building, re-upping from their stashes and went back out to continue business, oblivious, immune. The officer wasn't fazed either, even though I told him they were going right into an apartment that we know for a fact no one should be in.
I suppose Clarence thinks this will show effort. Or perhaps he's planning on having his city employee colleagues and city taxpayers pick up the bill for his trash removal, pretending this is an eviction. We had to pay $400 a container. But then I'm not a city sanitation supervisor.
He's also supposed to have secured the front door and to put proper doors and "tamper proof locks" on all the apartments. Obviously no effort on both counts.
Do you see a lock on this apartment door?
The back apartment windows are still broken out, the yard a dump, the stench of urine and feces permeates the house. The list of current tenants and legally operated apartments is mostly inaccurate. The people who live there are not the ones he says he's renting to.
In compliance with the order, he has put bare bulbs in the sockets on each floor. I doubt they'll last the night considering how much traffic the place is getting.
It's after midnight. The deadline of his terms of probation is past. In my opinion he has made no good faith effort at complying with the terms of probation he agreed to in lieu of jail at his trial on April 11.
He is as much a criminal as the drug dealers who continue to use his building. He should go to jail.
But then what?
Monday, April 28, Noon: Regular readers here know I have been critical of the "real" church of the four on this block, AME Payne Memorial. I've been surprised and dismayed that such a large and affluent congregation has done so little to help right where their very church and large "community center" are located.
The woeful waste of resources at NIMROD Center, paid for in part by taxpayers, has always rankled me. I see three of five floors vacant from my window. However, it's been brought to my attention that at least for a while each day, a small part of the facility is being used for day care.
Here you see the kids being walked over from school, while their lunch is delivered. As we found with the BBQ, children around here often don't get decent meals. This is the first regular use of the building that does something other than provide office space for the church. I'm glad to see it. There's so much more this building could be doing. I hope this is the start. There's also regular NA meetings at the church's sanctuary now. A definite help. Perhaps new direction.
Dealing out of 1704 continues pretty much as before even with the ground floor front apartment boarded up. Very little has been done by Clarence Weston under the terms of his probation. Plastic signs were put up. A window in front was fixed, the ones in the rear remain broken out. I did see pipe going in last week, perhaps to fix the sewage leak in the basement where two feet of water had pooled. He did provide a list of tenants, which was later supplied to officers in the sector. Those who know the building know it is mostly inaccurate. At best out of date, but certainly useless, thwarting the effort to differentiate residents and their friends from the dealers and customers.
I would have expected a small army of workers or at least some serious effort in the weeks since the trial. Nothing happening today either. He has until tomorrow at 10, officially. I suspect Mr. Weston still does not believe that anything will happen to him. Makes sense. He's gotten away with three consent decree violations and only got in trouble this time because he became high profile. Same attitude as the dealers he accommodates.
He's almost certain to be found substantially in violation of the terms of his probation based on the inspection tomorrow. I wonder if he'll find himself back in court, and when, and if he'll really get the six months in jail to which he was sentenced, but avoided by agreeing to the terms. If he doesn't get jail, he'll be proved right: There is nothing the system can do. He plays it too well. I really thought he'd finally take his moral and legal obligation seriously, but now I'm worried. If he does get jail, what happens then?
Sergeant Kluver and I were chatting over the fence. He was just back from court. He looked inside 1704. The boardup the city had done was gone. The old, broken door back on it's hinges. The junk and debris still piled high inside. Not surprising. We both agreed there's no way short of that small army he could possibly clear that by tomorrow.
While talking, he saw a young man run around the corner, up the street near the church. The Sergeant ran to intercept him, chasing him hard around the building at 1715 and into the alley, other tired undercover officers hot on his heels. The Pedestal Gardens Police Sergeant was able to stop the suspect with his night stick. He was in the substation after, bandaging his knee, scraped in the scuffle. Not the first time an officer has used the substation for this purpose. Not the last. But one of the best. I'm putting a good first aid kit on the wish list. Foot officers don't have a car to keep one in.
He's back out at the corner now. School's letting out. Duty calls.
Friday, April 25, Noon: Heard someone in the parking area of the substation this morning yelling loudly for "Kirk, where's Kirk!" Pedestal Gardens Police sergeant Kluver was in the substation and when he came out, three young men were screaming at him about why their car was towed.
It was sounding serious, so I called 911 to ask for city police backup. A pleasant surprise, the operator only asked for clarification of the address. She didn't ask me what a "special police officer" was or give me a hard time. Fortunately, it's been a long time since I've found myself with a phone in one hand and a shotgun in another. The three guys looked like they were angry enough to do anything.
Four officers pulled up. The thugs had walked away, but no doubt saw the solid backup Sergeant Kluver got. I called down to apologize for the false alarm, but heard back a chorus of "better safe than sorry."
Sergeant Kluver believes they are dealers who didn't appreciate having their car towed while conducting business in the Pedestal Gardens community. Just a couple days ago, Ms. Dixon, Pedestal's manager and I had discussed her clamping down on the rules of the community. Towing dealers seems to be part of that.
This is yet another example why the commissioned officers of the Pedestal Gardens Police need a police band radio. A police officer needs fast backup to do his job well and safely. I know the officers backing up their colleague this morning agree completely.
Wednesday, April 23, 7:30PM: Got a call from Sergeant Kluver. "Do you have that list of tenants for 1704." "No, but here's Weston's phone number. If it's supposed to be vacant, he should be interested."
The officers had chased a dealer into the ground floor front apartment where they barricaded the door. With Weston's authorization, they broke the door down and arrested the two inside. Apparently Mr. Weston confirmed no one should be there and is pressing charges. He even thanked the sergeant for his efforts. Of course, it may only be a trespassing charge. The drugs are no doubt stashed in amidst the tons of trash and debris.
This is one of the few times when 1704 has not protected its dealers and customers. I hope this sends a message.
A city crew promptly responded to the police request, very securely boarding the doorway to the apartment. Of course, Mr. Weston is under court order to empty the vacant apartments and put in proper doors and locks on all apartments by next Monday anyway. I'm surprised there isn't a container like ours on the curb out front today. He has that much to dispose of.
Spoke today to a Goucher College student doing a paper on urban renewal. He got to chat with a couple officers too, mostly about the value of community policing in urban renewal efforts.
Then had a meeting with the new property manager of 1715-1717, Ms. Dixon. We spoke of a new management and security office in one of the apartments facing the drug market corner. She's enforcing a zero tolerance rule with Pedestal Gardens tenants. Several people have been warned and many evicted for harboring dealers or dealing themselves. Trash in common areas is not being tolerated either. A definite move in the right direction.
The improved security and proper supervision of the tenants in the 1715-1717 building, including a staffed office, should pretty effectively quash the argument of those on Eutaw who want the building torn down and replaced with more Spicer's Run. That effort got underway after the fires of last July 4th. They used to complain it was unsafe for the tenants. Of course, they never had real suggestions about what would be better for those families. Just "not in my back yard." The only valid argument of that group to remain will be that Section 8 housing isn't good for our property values, the true motivation behind their efforts.
Ms. Dixon asked if the dumpster was still being emptied in the middle of the night. I thanked her for having the schedule changed. Used to be about 2 or 3AM. Last time was 10AM Saturday. Nice not be awakened so rudely. She's also had a larger dumpster brought in. I'm sure the tenants of 1717-1715 and those on Eutaw who back up to it must be thankful for this "quality of life" improvement, too.
Tuesday, April 22, 1PM: Charlotte, a neighbor and supporter from Bolton Hill, reports that on the 17th she gave birth to a new Baltimorean, Andrew Reed Murray. This birthday reminds me why we try. The confidence in the future required of all new parents is good reason to keep at it. To never give up. A youngster from Spicer's Run came by the substation one day, his dad in tow. Ari brightened my whole day. I had been in a blue funk, feeling that nothing was better. It wasn't worth the effort. Why try? But then I saw a spittle ridden smile. All doubt was gone. The reason obvious.
I just spoke to Judge Motz' secretary. A couple officers told me last night they were encouraged by his comments, as I was. I wanted to make sure he knew. A rather high ranking BPD officer and I discussed it out on the street yesterday. As I listen to the midday call to prayer from the Mosque a few blocks over, I'm reminded that perspective is everything. If you live in terror and hell, as do many right here, your whole view of the world is different. It seems fitting that a judge might observe and comment on what is obvious to those of us who live it. There's a war right here we have forgotten.
Earlier today, Foxtrot was circling overhead. I don't know what was going on, but it was intense. I realized I've become hardened. The thropping didn't bother me. I told the dogs to worry only if they saw someone in the yard.
Just now I reported a young man talking to himself and occasionally hollering "greens out, greens out" while fingering a wad of cash and baggies bulging out of his jumper. I don't know who he works for. He's not a regular. Just a whacked out crack head, apparently free lancing. Amazing that the sexton from the church and I don't even find it unusual. We just go about our business, as if his behavior was the norm. It is. Here.
Monday, April 21, 2PM: Good news. One of our local drug gang leaders was caught today. He'd eluded officers for some time. This is the same man who put a bounty on Kirk Kluver, including the Dark Side gang's logo and the tear drops which are the fellow's signature. He has them tattooed on his face. Pretty distinctive.
There was an article in the Sun a couple days ago, reporting the sentencing of one of the conspirators of the Memorial Day 2001 murders of eleven rival gang members and their friends.
U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz is quoted as saying "Just as Iraqis must take responsibility now for their own freedom, so must the people who live on the streets of the inner city," Motz said. He added, "We've got to work together to make the city a place where freedom can thrive and people can live happily."
In wide-ranging remarks from the bench, Motz said the burden of fighting violence and drugs in Baltimore must be shared by officials in positions of power as well as residents of the city's affluent suburbs and people who live on the city's drug- infested and violence-ridden streets.
The article is online at Sunspot.net.
I'm not going to get into a political discussion here of the merits of our recent action in Iraq, but I will say this: I wish we applied even a tiny bit of the same attention to our domestic terrorists as we have to those abroad. It seems human nature that if we can't fix our own problems, we should work on other's. Thousands die across this country each year from this domestic drug terror that pervades entire neighborhoods of this and so many other American cities. Often it's innocents caught in the crossfire. Countless more live in constant fear. Yet our national leaders seem uninterested and our local politicos merely cite improved statistics that are meaningless when we can't even close down open air drug markets. Hit TV series chronicle it without the need for embellishment. We watch as though it's fiction, yet for way too many of us, it's like home movies.
OK. I'll stop ranting and take some satisfaction in knowing that thanks to our soldiers here, several dealers are off the streets. And at times now, things are quiet, like yesterday when most of the dealers took the holiday off.
Just now, as if on cue, the Foxtrot helicopter is buzzing overhead. A pursuit must be going. The war outside continues.
Sunday, April 20, dusk: Was out earlier, planting a small bed of flowers I hope will encourage the little Japanese Maple to say hi to spring. Realized for a moment that the quiet was downright loud. Then, almost reassuring, someone chanted "greens, greens, greens, greens, out!" down the alley. They weren't talking colored eggs.
It is very quiet today. All the fine Payne church cars are gone. I'm sure many hams and feasts are happening. I love it when it's quiet here. Always amazes me. In the middle of the city.
Yesterday I happened on a couple of officers surfing the internet, one crouching, bringing the other up to date about 1704. "You posted the terms of his probation!" he said with some amazement. "I have nothing more important to do. Unfortunately for Clarence," I said.
This is a nothing entry. Just one so I don't get emails asking if I'm still alive. I have hope this glorious Easter Sunday that the time is coming when my friends and neighbors and I won't give such worry to our friends. When quiet and civility will be the norm. Who could ask for more?
And I hope for all my readers that you enjoy the same quiet and reassuring Easter Sunday. This afternoon, my heart reaches out to you with thanks and joy, for all the support you've given during the darkest days here. Until I posted our plight on the Internet, I had no idea how not alone I was. If there is a victory to be enjoyed, and I'd like to think there's progress at least, it's thanks to the efforts of many. No one can do it alone.
There's a squad car just pulled up. An officer taking a break. I take that for granted now. Thanks to you.
Friday, April 18, 11AM: Busy again. Surprising considering how quiet it was near the first of the month and the fact it's cold and wet outside. But it is Friday.
About 10:20, Pedestal Gardens officers noticed a flashlight in the window of the ground floor front apartment at 1704. Likely someone checking his or her stash. When backup responded they went inside. No one in that apartment, but hurried steps and voices from upstairs. Lost in the "legal" apartments. An officer on the sidewalk afterward said "they should board up this place."
Can't get that building closed down soon enough for me. 104 days is better than not knowing, but I sure wouldn't mind if it was tomorrow instead.
The woman arrested in the ground floor back apartment of 1704 was home today. Her 90 days for possession with intent to sell must be up or she was released for good behavior. I said hi, but she ignored me. The children seemed happy to see her. I hope she's aware time is running out and will make some plans for a new home for her and the kids.
This afternoon I visited Francesca over in Bolton Hill and picked up her donation of a much better computer than we had in the substation, plus another monitor. A very kind and generous gift. The machine is expertly configured and set up. Francesca is LadyLinux of the Internet. I saw very up to date equipment and have seen first hand her professional skills. Those needing computer services or web hosting should give our kind neighbor a call at 410-669-3379.
Thursday, April 17, 11AM: He's here!
Mr. Weston is here putting up signs, front and back, as he was ordered to do. Course he was supposed to do that Monday. I'm wondering if the prosecutor had a talk with Weston and/or his lawyer and maybe read the website after talking to me. I called to ask what would happen, and when, if he doesn't comply with the order.
I'm wondering if city taxpayers are paying him to come and do this or if he's taking personal leave from his job with the sanitation department. I notice he didn't drive up in his fancy red Volvo or his city pickup this time. Since he claims to have no money to maintain this slum or the five other income properties he owns, he should stick to the little jalopy he came in today.
Yesterday, he was supposed to submit a list of all legal tenants and their children, including which apartments they have. I have a call in now to verify that. I hope he did it and it's accurate.
From my window I watched as Sergeant Kluver, with the Pedestal Gardens Police, chatted with him. I heard the sergeant ask if there was a number he could have when they want to prosecute loitering and trespassing at 1704. Weston gave him the number. The sergeant also went on to explain that the dealers use his building as a stash house and that they were trying to discourage that traffic. I didn't see Weston's reaction to that news. It would have been amusing to see him act surprised. He's known it all along. His reaction has always been "no worse here than other places."
Still, even this tiny, coerced effort on Weston's part is good to see. I wish he'd fix those broken windows, especially in the apartments where the kids live. That doesn't cost much either. He doesn't have to do that until the 28th though. Not so important now. Would have been better to do it before this cold bitter winter.
Next up, after the list of tenants, is to drain the two feet of standing water from the basement, put lights in the common areas on all three floors and put numbers on each apartment. These will sure be helpful to officers when they pursue dealers into the building. That's supposed to be done by the 28th according to the Terms of Probation. His inspection to be sure he's done everything required is April 29th at 10AM.
Officers tell me it's very quiet all over our area this morning. Perhaps this sudden change in the weather has the dealers starting later than usual. I know the prostitution on Eutaw and the dealing over a few blocks usually begins at dawn. Our market usually starts up in earnest when school closes about 2 each weekday. I invariably hear the school bell and then "greens out, got greens, greens, greens, greens."
Update, 5PM: Mr. Weston has complied with the requirements to date and even replaced the broken glass in the front apartment. He provided the tenant information on time yesterday. The list of tenants will be given to the officers on our beat soon. With the signs and a list of legal tenants, it will be much easier to expose those who frequent the house for dealing. The ones who say "I'm just here visiting my friend." Not very convincing if you don't know your "friend's" name. Also, the information can now be used by social services to help the kids and the moms relocate, something they have 105 days to do.
I also have an explanation for why Mr. Weston's tax lien certificate might not be on the list slated for auction next month. The city may be trying to discourage the vulturous speculators who might use the lien certificate to tie up the building and leave it to rot, land banking. That's a problem holding back many a neighborhood in the city, including several parts of Reservoir Hill. Let others do all the work reclaiming a neighborhood and then cash in on it.
It'd be far better to find some good use for the building, whether that be as a private home for someone willing to join us here or as a community center. One proposal being considered is temporary housing for the homeless clients of HERO upstairs with a community center on the ground floor. A use I would support. Anything that keeps the building in use, maintained and supervised and out of the hands of the dealers.
A little later: Officers Vogt and Brown visited inside 1704 and found the hall cleaned up. Mr. Weston apparently removed the feces, urine, vials, needles and other debris in the common areas while he was here today. All the tenants and dealers must know there's change in the air now.
On this Maundy Thursday, I like the thought of the poor kids who live in 1704 having the floor where they often put their bare feet cleaned by a man now forced to care. Reaching for the symbolism, aren't I?
I wonder if the churchgoers at Payne, all parked up and down the street right now, realize what's happening there. I've often wondered if they care. Their NIMROD center, just across the street (to the left in the picture below), still sits mostly unused, never living up to its promises.
Wednesday, April 16, 1PM:
A police car has been perched at the intersection of Madison Avenue and Wilson off and on today. I think the officer is making it his or her parking spot in between calls. This presence closes down the market on the corner, which is directly in front of the car, keeps the dealers from using the school grounds, closes down the drug market at 1704, discourages the prostitutes on Eutaw and protects the kids who play on the block, enjoying their spring break. As Martha Stewart would say, "it's a good thing."
I have to wonder, too, if this is a result of a conversation I had with some police officers about possible retribution for my personal crusade against Clarence Weston's crack house. For sure, the man has every reason to hate me. But in my defense, I gave him every opportunity to help, not hurt, this block. I used to call and leave voice mail offering to provide trash bags and a rake and another pair of hands to clean up his property. I offered glass and putty to help fix the windows. I wanted to work with him a year ago when I thought he was a reasonable man who would care about the problems his building created for the good people here.
The final straw was the night I called him about 11PM and said that if he didn't do something about the Pit Bulls being housed in his garage, I would. I had just seen a bloodied, limping dog dragged back to Weston's broken down garage that night and was seething with anger. As I told him on his answering machine that night, "there are a lot of things I will put up with, but child or animal abuse, NO!" He didn't even have the courtesy to call back. I got Animal Control to deal with it. And gave up on him.
Today he is under court order to provide the full names of his legal tenants to the city housing department. Since he hasn't even bothered to post the signs he was supposed to put up on Monday, I expect he will not do this either. We'll see. You can bet I will be calling the State's Attorney tomorrow to see if he has complied. Mr. Weston seems intent on pushing this as far as he can. Maybe he does need jail, and I don't wish that on anyone lightly. He's gotten away with it for so long I don't think he believes anything will ever happen to him. Perhaps his friends with the city, the ones who conveniently seem to have forgotten to put his tax lien certificate on the list, tell him not to worry. I guess bad city employees could be expected to look out for each other.
Bitter? Yes. I admit to it in case you had any doubt. But I'm only bitter about Clarence Weston and the drug dealers he accommodates. I temper that with the knowledge that more of my neighbors right on this block sense a trend in the right direction and have reason for hope. I've had two emails and a phone call to that effect in the past couple days. This on top of a tenant of 1704 coming up to shake my hand and thank me after court Friday. Also, I have word that an air conditioner and a better computer are being offered for the substation by some of our neighbors in Bolton Hill. Hard to be bitter when there are so many who want to help make this little part of Baltimore a better place.
Sometimes I think this beleagured corner has simply wanted for someone willing to ask for help during all these years of abuse. God knows I've been asking. And there are those who've been answering.
Update, 4PM: Met Harriette at the substation. She had some soda and snacks for the officers. Got to meet a couple of them at shift change. I like it when supporters get to hear thanks directly from the officers. I'm fortunate to hear it often.
I've been informed that the School Police made a good arrest there this afternoon, working with the Baltimore City officers apparently. A large bag of marijuana was found in a car that has been cruising around here for some time, obviously selling. Unfortunately, they didn't get his stash in the front apartment of 1704 where so many dealers keep their heroin and crack inventories, like a bank with safe deposit boxes. I guess he likes to keep the serious stuff well protected and was willing to risk the pot. When he gets out on bail in a few hours, he can always go back and sell from his inventory there. The drug business does have overhead: bail, lawyers, cars and crack house landlords can be expensive.
Tax Day, April 15, 1PM: Violation count #1:
You see any signs?
"1. By April 14, 2003 - Post "No Trespassing" & "No Loitering" signs, each sign no smaller than 81/2" by 11" and no larger than 6 square feet, on front and rear of building and in the foyer and lobby of the first floor of 1704 Madison Avenue (the "subject property')." For full text of terms of probation, click here.
Officers on our beat have asked for No Trespassing and No Loitering signs to help them try to discourage the dealing in front and in the hall of 1704. I conveyed this to the prosecutor and he included it in the order signed by Judge Hong.
They're not on the back either. The defense will be "I put them up but the dealers tore them down." Only, I checked every few hours yesterday. No signs. No visits by Weston. Only the parade of visitors who stop for a moment to pick up product, often doing the deal right on the sidewalk when the dealer, loitering in the hall or lounging amidst the trash in the front apartment, sees the customer drive up.
89¢. That's what these signs cost at any hardware store. There's a hardware store across Eutaw.
The only visit by Weston so far that I've seen is when he ventured across the parking pad Saturday with something on his mind he didn't want to share once he saw the neighbor. You'd think with such an extensive list of things to do, supposedly to avoid jail, he'd have been here Friday night and Saturday morning working feverishly. Anyone who gave a damn sure would have, but then we're dealing with Clarence Weston.
Tomorrow, the next requirement is to provide a list with full names of all lawful tenants and children to the Department of Housing. This will also help the officers differentiate between those who belong and those who don't and those who are pretending to know people in the building. On busy nights, about a 100 friends visit 1704 ... for about 3 minutes each.
Speaking of officers doing their jobs, this morning I saw this in the alley that runs between Madison Avenue and McCulloh Street, behind the Payne Memorial Church. Plainclothes officers jumped out of a very inconspicuous car and nabbed an unlucky user. I was careful not to publish the photo showing the plainclothes officers or their very unmarked car. I noticed their concern as they drove away when they saw the camera in my hand. Our uniformed officers are always proud to be seen doing their work, as they should be.
I asked a Policewoman who took a restroom break in the substation about the bust. She told me and then added "I really appreciate this. It's so nice to have a clean restroom in the area." I was reminded of Sergeant Jackson, a two years ago now, who stood in the wreck of what became the substation, saying she would sure appreciate one.
Sunday, April 13, 1AM: The smile didn't last long. They seldom do around here. I've been watching the usual traffic in and out of 1704 all night. They're also visiting 1715-1717 regularly again, too, the past couple nights. We've had several visits from squad cars on calls there. One resulted in a three car chase out of here. I don't know how it ended. Foxtrot has been making frequent passes overhead. Haven't seen but two Baltimore police officers at the substation tonight and then only here long enough to use the toilet. It always means they're busy when our regulars can't take a lunch break.
When I haven't seen officers around, I've been hearing the familiar call of the Baltimore crack dealer "GREENS OUT, GREENS, GREENS, GREENS, GREENS!!!!" as loud as he can yell. Another calls "blues, blues, blues." I sure hope they don't get into a battle for territory like so many animals do.
Beautiful, warm, nearly full moon, lots of stars. And we're heading for more of this wonderful weather I hope, though I'm mixed about that.
I can tell myself 1704's days are numbered. That helps. 111 to be exact. But I admit I worry what will happen if Weston doesn't perform. Will the city really make him live up to the timetable or will they let him bend the dates and requirements or find some loophole so he gets to continue providing a safe haven for drugs here? I still wonder if the reason he's been content all this while not to collect rents or make even the minimal repairs to keep paying tenants is because the building provides a commission of some sort. Of course I don't know, but judging by the volume of business, I'd guess 10% would be at least $3000 a month in cash. A lot of money is sure being made by someone.
I suppose we'll have an indication of how it's going to go with 1704 on Monday when he's supposed to put 69 cent NoTrespassing and No Loitering signs up conspicuously. Bad sign if he can't even do that on time.
And then I wonder, too, about what's going to become of 1717-1715. When better supervision last summer made that less hospitable, 1704 really opened for business. From what I've seen tonight, it appears 1717-1715's management is becoming complacent about security. If that's so, I'm afraid that building will slide back into being a drug warehouse like it was last summer. When the commissioned officer is on during the weekdays, it's secure and safe, but supervision during the night shifts is becoming sporadic. And the dealers are always watching for their chance.
I'm going to see if there's something on TV that will help take my mind off this. I can't sleep until the greens chanting and after bar drive through customers are done. Let me see, I don't suppose I should watch The Wire. Perhaps I can find a movie about sailing in the tropics. A fantasy of someplace far from here would be nice.
Saturday, April 12, 5PM: Spent the afternoon cleaning out the alley where the glacier was all winter. Got all the gravel I'd used to provide some traction, back where it belongs on the parking pad. Got two big bags of trash off the street, too. A chore, but I had help. Shank, the five year old boy who lives at 1715. He loves Boo, Vaughn's little black dog, and between throwing empty soda bottles for her to fetch, he wanted to help. A quarter shovel full of gravel was a bit much for him but with an extra hand we got it. He learned steering a wheel barrow is harder than it looks, too. If we worked together often I'd have to get wheel barrow training wheels.
While I was out, the neighbor I met yesterday from 1704 waved from her window to say hi. She's calling the numbers she got from us in front of the courthouse yesterday for help to get her and her little boy moved.
Shank and I looked up just in time to get out of the way of a full diaper that landed below the second floor window of the Druid Heights/HUD building that backs onto the alley across from the substation. At least one of the tenants there thinks their kitchen window is a trash chute. "While you're at it ...," I imagined them saying before they slammed the window down.
Greg from 1710 came out in his back yard. He was still in his mailman's uniform, just after work. We chatted. He's trying to find a mysterious leak. Asked me if I knew there was a big dip in my roof.?While Shank and I were standing up a step on the side fence chatting with Greg, I turned to see Clarence Weston walking across the parking pad toward me. Seemed an odd place for him to be, especially since he had either a big scraper or a crow bar in his hand. When I stepped off the fence and turned to say hello, he averted his gaze toward his house, turned around and walked back over to his property. Can't imagine what business he had over here. Perhaps he finally wanted to take me up on my two year old offer of help but chickened out when he saw the boy and the neighbor just over the fence. Witnesses can be awkward.
Someone told Greg about the TV report last night. Probably something like "Greg, your neighborhood was on TV." I asked him if he was still considering moving back into the house at 1710. He is! Maybe as soon as next month. Possibly bringing a relative to take one of the back apartments. "She was real happy to know about the substation right next door and wants to meet you."
Anyway, it's encouraging to hear about new neighbors. Greg has always kept his house (1710) secure and trouble free during my tenure here, as has the apartment house at 1712, but it's certainly better to have it occupied by good neighbors who will look out for one another.
Other than wondering what Clarence was thinking, it was a very satisfying afternoon. As I was wrapping up and Shank finished his "policeman's water" (from the substation water cooler), he asked for a job. I told him next time I cleaned the alley he was my helper. He hadn't asked or expected it, but I paid him a whole dollar. Apparently that still means something to a five year old. We counted it out in quarters. There was a bit of trouble distinguishing between a quarter and half dollar but there was no confusion about the big smile I saw. I don't know about Shank, but I'm still wearing mine. Enjoying it. Feels different than the usual frown.
Friday, April 11, 2PM: Lest anyone wonder what all the fuss is about ...
This is what passes for an apartment at 1704 Madison Avenue today. This is the ground floor front, used by dealers to hide their stashes and sell out the front window. After court, I took reporters and a friend in the building to visit my neighbor. She wasn't "home," but her door was wide open. We didn't enter, simply photographed what was plainly visible from the common area. A tenant leaving said "she's always leaving that door open."
Almost 20 people attended the trial today, wearing "no 1704 crack slum" stickers. Among them lawyers, brokers, students, Techbalters, Bolton Hill neighbors and even a resident of 1704 who took my hand outside court and thanked me for our efforts. That was a gratifying moment. It was also a pleasure to note the presence of a neighbor from Eutaw Place with whom we've had heated disagreement about how to make the neighborhood better. At least we agree this crack house has to be stopped.
At one point the judge asked those in the audience with us to stand. She was impressed by the number, I think. I was asked to speak and emphasized the crack dealing out of the house and the building's harm to the entire neighborhood.
The terms of Mr. Weston's probation and the conditions for suspension of his jail sentence were read aloud in court and are public record now. (Click here for the exact text.) It sets a firm timeline for securing apartments like the one above by the end of the month, cleaning it out, locking the common area, providing DHCD with names and unit numbers of legal tenants (which we hope to give to the beat officers here), among several other things any normal person would expect. He must now commence evictions on all tenants and secure the property, as in boarding up, by the end of July. And he must transfer or relinquish the property by that time. As in find a new owner.
A reporter from Fox45TV stood outside in the cold drizzle with us as we all waited for Mr. Weston to come out. She and her cameraman chased him down the street asking questions about why a city employee would do this to the city, why he lets children live in squalor and danger, etc. His response to all questions was "no comment" apparently. What could he say for himself? Fox45 will be doing a follow up to the story they did last year about this man, which you can read by clicking here. The follow up will air tonight at 6:30 on the WB, Channel 54 and at 10 on Fox, Channel 45.
The judge asked if the members of the community were satisfied by the terms of the plea agreement. The prosecutor said we were. I am too, so long as he does comply. At one point, the State's Attorney said "but we will be back here in court on the 91st day" asking for the full penalty if he doesn't comply. Being his third violation of promises to the court over the past two years, I think this should be his last chance to avoid real punishment. His promises until now have been lies.
So, there has been a small victory in this local war. After court, I was speaking with Leon Pinkett of Councilman Mitchell's office about what can be done to take down other Clarence Westons who contribute to the death and destruction of this city, especially when they're city employees. Maybe something more will come of it.
Today, we have cause for hope. And I have many people to thank for that, among them all those who were with us today, in person and in spirit.
Thursday, April 10, 10:30PM: Doing some errands this afternoon, Vaughn encountered a woman in our vestibule about to knock.
"I'm just looking for my friend," she said, bewildered and high.
"A friend or a fix? Your friend doesn't live here," he said. Vaughn's not so subtle with these people anymore either.
She stumbled down toward 1704, but a guy from the corner who'd been yelling "greens out, greens out" earlier yelled loudly "6,6,6,6,6!" She walked more purposefully down toward him and around the corner. Vaughn watched as they went in the little mini market at Wilson and Tiffany alley where no doubt she bought what she needed for $6.
I'm very anxious about tomorrow's trial. I pray it results in some real progress next door. I've been seething about this for too long. I still cannot comprehend the total and utter disregard this man has for the people who live in his building and those of us who live in the neighborhood. I say I don't need him to have jail, but frankly he should be punished, not just offered another chance. He's had several over the past years and consistently shown no regard, only utter contempt, for everyone, including his employers, the taxpayers of Baltimore.
I received an email this afternoon from the attorney prosecuting. As recently as 5PM he was still negotiating a plea arrangement:
"This case is set for trial tomorrow, Friday, April 11, 2003 at 8:30 a.m., it should be in court room 1, on the first floor. I am very close to having an agreement on the terms of probation for the property owner. In which case it will not be necessary for any community members to testify, though their presence is welcome and encouraged. The terms of probation is a detailed two page document with a very detailed timetable for doing each of the specific things that need to be done. Basically, it calls for him to immediately take control of the property, secure all of the illegally occupied or vacant apartments, clean and secure all of the common areas, continue in the legal process he has already started to legally evict all of the remaining occupants, once vacant to clean out the building and secure it, and finally to transfer the property (or allow it to be taken in Tax Sale foreclosure) in the next 90 days."
I think the Assistant State's Attorney with Code Enforcement for Housing, Mr. Halvorsen, is doing a great job. He's one of our civil servants who really gives it his all. Sometimes that's not enough though. He has to work within a rigid system that protects property owner's rights above all else sometimes. I'm all for property owner's rights, but when someone knowingly allows seven children to live in unsafe and indecent housing along with allowing his property to be a tool of a terrorist drug gang, he should lose all rights, including the property.
I have it on good authority Mr. Weston has made some belligerent remarks in the past couple days about the "nosey neighbor" and the "busy body bureaucrats." Obviously referring to me and the Department of Social Services personnel who now have several cases under investigation. Trying to figure out which children belong to whom and where they live is a puzzle. I think he's putting on an act. His show of being ignorant and overwhelmed is a sham. The man owns five properties in the city with a total of over $25,000 in back taxes and fines.
He knows. He just doesn't care. And for the longest while, he's gotten away with it. I still wonder why the mayor and DPW chief, his bosses, don't hold him responsible.
Anyone wishing to join us from up in this area is welcome to meet us at the substation for coffee and muffins at 8. We're leaving at 8:30. The defendant and lawyers have to report by 8:30 when the docket is set. The judge doesn't arrive until 9. We need to be sure to be there before then. I will have our stickers ready for anyone who's willing to wear them to show clearly why we're there. There may be reps from three of our Council members and some TV and print reporters, too. I've spent the day on the phone and at email, hoping for a significant turnout.
Mr. Halvorsen believes the matter will be attended to early on the docket and will be done by 10 or 10:30 latest.
Between the anxiousness over the prospect of real progress here tomorrow and the impending torrential storm tonight, I doubt I'll be getting much sleep. I have leaks in the roof from when it flexed as the beams buckled under the snow. Haven't had the consistent weather to fix them properly since, so each time it rains, I'm busy bailing the buckets out. So, if I look like hell, please forgive me. But if things go really badly for a certain crackhouse slumlord tomorrow, you can be sure there'll be a big smile on my tired face.
And a lot of gratitude for the many who've helped get us this far.
Wednesday, April 9, 7PM: Lots of activity this afternoon at 1704. Seems the Department of Social Services has taken an interest now that the Department of Housing wants to declare an "emergency vacate order." Such an order would help clear and secure the building faster because the owner would not have the problem of eviction notices being quashed because of the horrid conditions in the building. Tenants there have gotten away with not paying any rent for months and months by claiming evictions are retaliation for complaints about conditions. A vicious circle that serves the dealers and deadbeats well.
The state's attorney was particularly concerned about the seven kids he saw yesterday. Social Services workers apparently interviewed everyone they found in the building today. None of the children were taken away, but that may be forthcoming, if they deem it necessary. I should have more news tomorrow.
I know the dealing out of the building resumed minutes after all the authorities and officers left. Dealers were hanging out on the school grounds across the street, watching intently. The state's attorney said that when he parked half a block away yesterday, he watched the traffic in and out for a while until he walked up. That and what he saw inside have convinced him how serious conditions are here. Mr. Weston could plainly see it too, as he parked waiting for the authorities and his lawyer, but that's never concerned him. He's either oblivious or complicitous.
According to more than one at yesterday's tour, Mr. Weston said this would never have been a problem if it weren't for the nosey neighbor. Mr. Weston has always contended that there are worse buildings, as if that was some sort of defense. Seems like the same philosophy of those who claim our efforts to thwart dealing here are worthless because "you'll just push them elsewhere." That there are those elsewhere who don't care doesn't mean we shouldn't try.
The progress on 1704 in the past couple days and the apparent victory in Baghdad remind me of a guestbook entry from months ago:
Jens Söderberg | email@example.com | http://josab.dyndns.org
Greetings from Sweden. Hope you win this local war."
I was reminded, too, of wars, small and large, when I spoke to John Leiberman of Fox45 TV today about the fact he's covering the war in Iraq right now and months ago was covering our small, "local war." He may be covering our skirmish on Friday as a follow up along with Erin Sullivan of the City Paper. I think just the fact that 20+ Baltimoreans are planning to attend is newsworthy.
It's also true that, like Iraq, this war is far from over, though we may have an apparent victory at hand. Terrorists and drug dealers do not give up their turfs easily. Vigilance, patience and determination are essential in any lasting victory, to assure that the progress is lasting and worth the sacrifices.
?Tuesday, April 8, 4PM: I knew something was up when I saw Clarence Weston's pretty red Volvo idling on the other side of the street. Then I checked my email and found the DHCD State's Attorney had sent an email in reply to my asking about the court date. "Actually, I just got off the phone w/ Mr. Weston's atty. We are meeting at the property later today. If you are home I will stop in and let you know what - if anything - comes of the meeting."
That's the Assistant State's Attorney, Clarence Weston's lawyer, a DHCD housing inspector, Jimmy with the Pedestal Gardens Police and Mr. Weston in the doorway.
They did a rather thorough walk through. Human feces and urine in the hallway, syringes and crack stems littered about. In the ground floor rear apartment, the one smaller than the substation, seven children, two women and the old neighbor were playing or sprawled over the floor of dirty mattresses.
Nothing's been done at all in almost a year. Windows are still broken front and back, including the one pictured that's used as a vending window for drugs, space heaters everywhere on overloaded circuits, filth and stench throughout.
The Assistant State's Attorney said he was glad the Pedestal Gardens Police officers were there to escort them through the building. Apparently, Mr. Weston's new attorney got to see the building as it really is, including hearing first hand from the officers about the constant stream of dealing.
After the tour, Mr. Weston and his attorney had an animated conversation on the other side of the street while I chatted with the attorney for the city and the officers. There is a possibility that Mr. Weston will be offered a six month term in jail, to be suspended if he removes all the tenants and secures the building in three months. That's what they're talking about today. We'll know on Friday. If he doesn't go for a deal, he truly could get jail. I think closing the building is a better option, especially if it leads quickly to a change of ownership.
While we were talking, customers and dealers alike came around the corner and down the street. Seeing us, they look surprised and then turned as softly as possible, hoping not to attract attention as they retreated. It was obvious to the attorneys what was going on ... or not, because we were there.
As readers know, the dealers need a stash house to operate. The best part about 1704 for them is there are no Pedestal Gardens Police inside. When they are questioned by officers, they can say "I'm visiting my friend. You can't stop me visiting my friend."
Perhaps on Friday we'll have a positive step toward finally getting this stash house and crack mini mart closed down. The DHCD attorney says community representation at Friday's hearing will be important whether they come to a plea agreement or not. The judge needs to know Mr. Weston's housing code violations and egregious dereliction of his responsibilities as a property owner are not victimless and we care.
Please stay tuned for further developments and drop me a line if you can come to the trial on Friday.
Friday, April 4, 1PM:
We want to thank the Mount Royal Improvement Association for the contribution of $500 yesterday, helping pay for the parking pad of the substation. This just about halves the balance due Charles Palmer Asphalt Paving (410.967.4040) who did a good job in good time last fall just before the substation grand opening.
The MRIA is the community association for Bolton Hill. It is a large and successful group and has an excellent website. MRIA joins the long list of supporters, including many Bolton Hill residents who personally donated some of the furnishings of the substation and who continue to provide supplies like bottled water and soda, snacks and coffee, which are always needed and appreciated by the officers.
Since this block is an orphan, not included in any community association, we're forming one for ourselves. The Madison/Wilson Neighor's Association. It will operate the substation, making contributions to it tax deductible, and will serve as the plaintiff against 1704 in any upcoming legal action to close down that crack house. The 1700 Club, my nickname for it, will also throw another block party like we had for the substation grand opening last year. That was sure a hit amongst the kids. It's something I'd like to see at least every year. I have hope MWNA can be a vehicle for improving this long neglected block. Starting out with about four resident members, I think it will grow as things improve around here and neighbors feel safer standing up to the elements that keep this block down, mostly the drug gangs. Membership will be open to anyone who lives here and anyone who cares about the block, whether in Mt. Royal or Wisconsin, will be welcome to join as an associate member.
I'm torn about the weather. It was great to have another warm, bright spring day yesterday. But now that the weekend is here and all the checks are cashed, I'm just as glad it's not so nice outside right now. Last night was fairly quiet, but that's because they were filming more of "The Wire" again. Like having the mobile tactical unit here, the TV crowd, including policemen, real and otherwise, discourages the trade they depict on TV. Some small advantage of having them use the city. If they're not here again tonight, I expect it'll be busy around our block and next door. The combination of warmer weather and check time should be a good barometer of the effectiveness of certain arrests and the extra police work we've been enjoying. I often pray this next summer is not like the last.
Thursday, April 3, 2003, 1PM: 5:02AM: "Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang!" at the door. Nearly dawn. I looked out to see who it was. A preppie looking 25 year old African American man, wearing a button down blue Oxford and kahkis looked up to my second floor window and stammered "is the lady up there? ... She brought me here. [long pause while breathing hard] Or was it there? [pointing to 1704]" I assured him this wasn't the house and suggested he go next door. Then I called the police and suggested they could stop a sale in progress. Didn't see any officers respond before going back to bed. Hardly a newsworthy event on this block. And frankly I'm not sure I begrudged the guy his hit. He needed it bad.
Tried to get back to sleep. The morning call to prayer from the Mosque a few blocks west started up. They seem to have grown louder, more frequent and now more disconcerting. Or perhaps it's just me, watching too much of what I hope will be only a mini series, the one called "War on Iraq." Vaughn assures me they've always had five calls to prayer. I never noticed those during the day, just dawn and dusk. The brief, warbling, strange sounding songs never used to remind me of strife, except on 9/11/01. At whatever hour, they are still preferable to the constant chant of "greens, greens, greens out!" They used to remind me of the faithful who believe in a religion that teaches a peaceful, charitable life. I guess there have always been those who can pervert even the best institutions and intentions of man.
The domain email was down this morning. I knew right away when I didn't see the usual 30 to 40 emails, most of which regarding RebuildingMadison since that's most of my life. Yesterday I received several emails about my April Fool's Day entry, some wondering if I was serious, some saying "caught it early on, but you had me for a moment."
People want to believe you can just wave a wand or make a telephone call to "the authorities" and poof, all wrong is right. Wishful thinking, but without idealism, what have we? Many can't fathom the lives people lead over this way and in so many vast areas of the city. They see it on TV so it can't be real ... like war. We can just switch it off like police dramas or "Cops" or the bad news on TV.
And then there are those who can't imagine a life without the drugs and crime and desperation. I live next door to many of those, including several small children. David Simon's made a lucrative career introducing middle America to these people's lives and Baltimore's urban decay, neglect and crime, fictionalizing and digesting it for mass consumption as a means to sell cars and soda pop.
Unfortunately, while there's been some progress, things are still precarious here, as my entry yesterday made clear. Still, it's nice to be reminded there are many others who want to believe things can be better. That's the first step. But there seem a million steps after that to make real progress. And not a pretty or fun or even certain path it is.
April 2, 2003, 2:30PM: Back to reality. The Pedestal Gardens Police have lost one of their commissioned officers today. No wonder. Their employer, who is paid by Pedestal Gardens, appears to do his best to cut corners, paying the commissioned officers $11 @ hour and the unarmed $6.50. Sometimes the complex gets unarmed staff which is unsafe for them and those who live here. I've also noticed them absent during scheduled shifts or covering more territory than they're supposed to recently.
Pedestal Gardens needs to bring the commissioned and other qualified officers in house and pay them a liveable wage that makes them stay, circumventing this profit driven contractor. We need community policing, not just security guards. I'm concerned we're going to lose more of the officers who've been working especially hard around here since getting their commissions.
Their twenty plus arrests in two months have had a real affect, putting at least two of our distributors in jail along with several users. Of course, these arrests have deterred many would be dealers and buyers who've seen or heard the news, but there are others trying to take over the turf and new buyers who may not have heard. After all, the convenience store at 1704 is always stocked and open 24/7. I think I heard they had a neon sign on order. If not, they might as well.
The extra Pedestal and Baltimore police attention has definitely driven the dealing and stash operations more into 1704. Just last night I watched a steady stream of cars stop briefly there. Lots of foot traffic. Guys on bikes hovering about, keeping an eye out for the cops and making deliveries. As Vaughn came up last night, about 7, he watched a deal happen just inside the entry at 1704 and heard a guy on foot say something to a boy on a bike who replied "not right now, give it a few [minutes]," gesturing toward Vaughn.
Kirk, the Pedestal Gardens sergeant, tells me he sees the dealers operating more over on McCulloh at Wilson and further down Madison during his shifts, but frequently visiting up here since 1704 is so safe for them to stash the inventory. BPD Officers say the same thing. 1704 is seemingly unstoppable. But we'll know more about that after Clarence Weston's long awaited first trial.
Saw a building inspector there for a few minutes today. Don't know if he went in. He did take some outside pictures. I hope he sees the same broken windows, front and back. The ones that have been there for more than a year. One of which is like the window at a 7/11. Instead of paying for chewing gum, you get crack. Doesn't cost that much more either ... per hit.
When the Pedestal Police are not around and the BPD is no where to be seen, the building at 1717-1715 Madison goes right back to being a dealer hangout too, stashing in the common areas, dealing there and out of certain apartments. New management at Pedestal, along with more aggressive Pedestal Police work, has been very effective at enforcing a no tolerance rule for tenants, threatening and making evictions, resulting in many complaints to HUD, which subsidizes the rents there: Tenants asking and screaming about being evicted for involving themselves in drug dealing, saying that violates their rights. These few tenants also accuse the Pedetal Police of lying, even when there are other witnesses and BPD police reports to the contrary. I know the mostly good tenants there appreciate the extra security, they're just afraid to say it.
I wish the tenants at 1704 had such a landlord.
April 1, 2003, 1:30PM: The dealers have moved their operations out of the neighborhood. The boys are not hollering "greens out, greens out!" They're not using 1704 as a stash house and no one is dealing out of it anymore. The slumlord fixed the heat, the windows and the electricity. The kids who live there went to school today. Their moms are not shooting heroin and dealing crack. The officers around here have nothing to do anymore but escort old women across the street.
Our roof is rebuilt and not leaking like a sieve. All the walls and ceilings are restored and windows rebuilt. The house is a home again after so many years of hateful neglect. There is no need for this website or a neighborhood busy body so I have nothing to do. No website, emails or letters to write. No calls to make. I'm not sure what I'll do with a normal life again.
My mom asked me last night why I care about this city and this house. Again, I told her because I have a weakness for the underdog, the impossble cause, the chances others dismiss as futile. She apologized for raising me that way.
This is the day we celebrate fools and their boundless optimism, especially with the advent of spring. <g> So, have a happy April Fool's Day!
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