Journal Entries for August 2003
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Sunday, August 31, noon: Thanks to Vaughn, I had a BBQ epiphany last night: I realized it's no big deal. Nothing to fret over.
Not that we don't want it to be fun and to feed a bunch of kids. And I do so want to see officers mingling with our neighbors, being part of the neighborhood they've helped take back.
What I mean is, we don't need a mayor, or search lights or the Believe Mobile or a bunch of fanfare. We don't want publicity or politicians or celebrities. We're just talking about a neighborhood BBQ. No stress. No hype. We don't want a lot of people. Just the right ones. Those who live here and those who care about this long forgotten block.
Vaughn hung out at Mama Myrt's Back to School Street Party a couple blocks over yesterday. It was a huge success. He found himself elbow to elbow with the Mayor, chatting. His observations follow this entry. There was a search light going. The Believe Mobile was the dominant backdrop to the whole thing. The mayor has said he can't make it to our little shindig. And that's fine. Commissioner Clark, who I saw serving food last night, has said he's going to try. You know what, that's fine. I'd like to see the Commissioner here, but I'd be happiest to see patrol officers here, off duty. Chatting with the neighbors. I want to see Shank and his buddies climbing on a fire truck, wearing a fireman's hat. I want to hear the kids Moonbouncing, laughing. We want to serve a whole bunch of hot dogs and hamburgers. A neighborhood backyard BBQ. That's all it's going to be. And that's enough.
A neighborhood is all I've ever wanted for this block. And I have to admit to myself, that's what it's becoming. Not because of me or Vaughn. Because the people who live here, my neighbors, have always wanted the same thing. Just a safe place to call home. And together we're going to keep it that way.
I think this website may be nearing it's end. I don't know what purpose it serves now. As I've often said, I never intended to write a blog. I like my privacy. I just wanted a home.
"Bryan and I, in planning for the Anniversary BBQ on Wednesday, September 10th had talked about inviting the city's BelieveMobile to be part of it. Bryan asked me to go down yesterday and see it in action at the Mama Myrt's Back to School celebration not too far from here.
I was quite impressed. It really made a presence at that event. It is a full concert style stage on a tractor trailer that could easily fit 50 or more people on it's stage. The sound system could probably be heard 3-4 blocks away. The music was provided by the 'I Can't We Can' choir and the crowd seemed to really enjoy the event along with the food booths and other vendors available to everyone. I understand they passed out to all the kids a 'Back to School' bag with school supplies. Something I'm know the kids around here really do need.
This kind of event in the neighborhood it took place in really helps to lift the spirits. A sort of mini Artscape or Fells Point style festival in your own neighborhood. Neighbors and friends meeting outside and not being afraid.
As impressed as I was by the event and the BelieveMobile, I had to come back and tell Bryan that I didn't think it was right for our Police Substation Anniversary BBQ. As helpful as the City Police have been. No, not helpful, but integral to our taking back our block from the drug dealers, it has been a community effort. Not an event hosted by the city.
I have always Believed that what is necessary to take back our neighborhoods is not a city or state program, it's not a department in the City Police, it's not someone you can call to come and take care of the problem, it's us. It's us, every neighbor, tenant and homeowner who want to make their neighborhoods a safer place to live.
So, even though we won't have a huge concert style stage, we will have our own neighborhood event. We won't have food booths, but we will have free hot dogs and hamburgers. We won't have any vendors selling anything, but we will have a big moonbounce for the kids, big and small to enjoy. So I hope you all join us."
Friday, August 29, 1pm: Please read the Baltimore Sun online article about the Dawson's today. It's well written and describes well what's changed and what hasn't.
"The open-air drug trade didn't get a chokehold on Baltimore overnight, and we're not going to be able to push it away from our necks overnight. We are making tremendous strides. I'm proud of what we've accomplished but very mindful of how far we have to go. It's a fight every day." (Mayor O'Malley.)
So very true.
Just got off the phone with the Fire Department: I'm pleased to announce Truck 16 from the Fire Station at McCulloh and McMechen is going to be here from 5 to 7 with firemen and women to entertain the kids, let them try on "response gear," tour the impressive red ladder truck and sign people up for free smoke detectors. I was told the city Fire Chief has put an emphasis on his department participating proactively in each neighborhood. Like having the police officers here as neighbors, not just in emergencies.
Thursday, August 28, 5pm: News from our Techbalt friends: Adam Meister, founder of the group, has closed on his own house in the target neighborhood. There are now four Techbalt supporters who've purchased there over the past many months. He's hoping more will join them. Of course that depends on private deals between often first time homebuyers and owners who've been land banking (sitting on property hoping for others to make the neighborhood appreciate).
Adam has been working hard publicizing this approach to our urban renewal for some time now. Raising consciousness about the wasted potential of this city is always good. I still do not see this as an original concept, the idea of like minded people moving into an area together, but I applaud anyone buying into one of the many neglected neighborhoods of Baltimore, especially if they can put together a team to share the challenges of taking back a neighborhood. Always wished I'd had that here.
Adam's website says "The retreat has ended. TechBalt.com leads the way as Baltimore Battles Back!" I don't know about that. I see us turning a corner, but the city still has vast areas where there's been no progress, just continued destruction. And TechBalt does not lead the way. It's four individuals buying homes for themselves, investing in themselves and Baltimore. That's what makes the difference. People who commit and do. One at a time. Techbalters or no.
And one has to give enormous credit to those who've stayed, assuming they have a choice. And many don't. A lot of my neighbors have chosen to tough it out. Hoping things would get better. My immediate neighbor at 1710 at least didn't sell and kept his house in good repair, though he didn't live here. He has two new tenants after three years of leaving the house vacant because no one who he'd want to rent to would want to live here. As he continues to work on it, investing his time and money, he talks of moving back himself. Just spoke last night with one of the new neighbors there. He remembers the block from years ago and says "it's nice now." Like the guestbook entry of July 24 from one of our neighbors at 1715-1715, he's not afraid or ashamed to live here anymore.
Check out Adam's website for news, http://www.techbalt.com or see his table at the BBQ on September 10th here. His enthusiasm and confidence in Baltimore is contagious and he'll be happy to talk with you.
Adam also announced today his endorsements for the primary coming up. I don't feel my personal political views are relevant here most of the time. I'm much more interested in action than promises. And this isn't a blog where I share my favorite movies, sports teams, family pictures and the like, but I am going to comment on the transcript I read of the mayoral debate last night. There's a good article on it in the Sunspot today.
I have criticized Mayor O'Malley many times here, sometimes bitterly, sometimes cursing him out under my breath as I've read his email or deal with his staff. But I have always felt he was working in the right direction and that while we may have disagreements, we're on the same side. While I believe Dr. Bundley, his only remotely credible opponent, is right to emphasize the woeful state of education in city schools, I take great exception to what I see as a naiveté that shows no understanding of reality.
"Bundley said he would not send police officers to the city's open air drug markets, but instead dispatch job-training experts, addiction counselors and mentors for young people."
What, to get shot or beaten?
It's important to send proactive people into these areas. But they have to be safe first, just like the people they're trying to reach. And I can tell you that it's hard to help people when they are scared to be seen with anyone even remotely resembling the good side. They're besieged by drug terrorists who "own" the block, as one young man told me while showing me the butt of his semi-automatic last year. Young men who will firebomb your home as you sleep for "snitching." And it's hard to educate students who've been up all night while their mothers are either terrorized by drug thugs or working with them, often with no choice.
Effective policing must be step one. No less of a priority is following up with prevention and efforts to give people alternatives. But some people, often juveniles, make very bad choices because they know no other. I know without the help of city police officers and officers of the PGP, I would not be here today. The yard would still be a trash dump and shooting gallery, 1704 would still be the thriving 24/7 mini mart of crack and heroin it was, and this would be a crack house still. If people who want to help can't stay in a neighborhood, there's not much hope for the kids who have no choice.
And another large objection I have to Andrey Bundley: "To help spur the city's economy, Bundley said, he would require businesses doing work in the city to provide job training for local residents. "Those who would do business in Baltimore, once I become mayor of this city, you must have a social investment in this city. If you do not invest in this city, you cannot do business in this city." I guess investing capital isn't enough.
Just what we need, make doing business in Baltimore even more difficult than it is. Let's push more jobs to Baltimore County and Columbia. Many criticize O'Malley for his business ties, but without encouraging business to stay and even move into Baltimore, we further reduce the options for our inner city residents. We have to give kids choices beyond futures in pro sports or drug dealing or believing their only hope is to make it out of the city alive.
I'm hoping that to see many of our street officers and their leaders here at the BBQ, in a social setting, will say to the kids "you can be something to be proud of." You don't have to fear the good guys. And you can be teachers like Dr. Bundley, firemen, policemen, legitimate businessmen and women... so much more.
Off soapbox again. Back to worrying about getting the BBQ together to make it the best it can be.
Wednesday, August 27, 5:00: Spoke to the local fire house today about setting up an engine and informational booth at the BBQ. I think the kids would enjoy the big fire truck and reminders for their parents about fire safety never hurt, like change your fire alarm batteries. We've put in the proper request and hope to hear they can participate. The local fire house and it's team are as important to the safety of the neighborhood as the police professionals we work with every day.
I also had a chance to speak with the lieutenant at Engine 16, which is just across the school from us about the status of 1704 Madison. He was as distressed as I that a stove burner was open, unlit when we went in. He was very concerned about it until I assured him I had personally turned off the gas, electric and water at the meters before boarding up the building.
In a phone call with Management of Pedestal Gardens today, Ms. Smith seemed annoyed that I took a picture of the graffiti on their rental office door last Sunday. I don't know why. It only illustrates progress. If people weren't being evicted for being involved in drugs there, I doubt any of the tenants would be so angry as to write nasty things about Pedestal Gardens Police. The implication was that I shouldn't have put it on the website. Sometimes what I report flatters Pedestal Gardens and their police. Sometimes it criticizes. Just as I refused to edit this site for the "Close Pedestal Gardens vigilantes" last year, I will write what I see and feel. Nothing more or less.
Tonight PGP Sergeant Kluver and our new Central District City Police Major Skinner are set to meet again about the radio sharing plan first suggested by Major Gutberlet. I'm hoping Major Skinner will come early and take one of the radios we're providing with him on his field shift tonight. The Majors and Commissioner are often seen around here backing up the troops, making real arrests, doing real police work. Hands on leaders.
This would be a good chance for them to test the system and figure out how best to use it. The Major had been waiting until we had a system set up. It is, thanks to impatient neighbors who know it was imperative. I have assured Sergeant Kluver, that so long as we can possibly afford it, we will provide these radios until either SPS Security or Pedestal Gardens management steps up to the plate. They must accept their responsibility to properly support these men they put on the front lines of the drug war alongside our city police.
The headline in tonight's Sunspot is "Suspect in Dawson fire gets life term." I don't think there'll ever be closure on this for me, but it must present some closure for the family remaining. It was a massacre we should all take personally ... still. And resolve to prevent ever happening again.
Commissioner Clark, at the news conference announcing the plea arrangement that puts the murderer in prison until he dies, said "Don't wait until you're a defendant to show these characteristics [referring to Brook's remorse and guilty conscience in court], get out of the game now!" I hope some might listen.
Tuesday, August 26, 5:00: Saw the Flex Team who apprehended Elijah today. There were having lunch in the substation. Was happy to see Officers Jester and Gorman with three officers I hadn't met before and point out I got Officer Jester's water cooler back. Also happy to tell them that the dealer who screamed at me this was his block last year, and then showed me the butt of the revolver in his shorts to back up that claim, is now doing two years in prison. Variety of charges, including guns. I guess we've showed him he doesn't own the block after all.
Brought them a collection of black topped vials I've been accumulating in the yard. Said they must be interrupting a lot of deals. I'm used to green tops. Some of them have been full, which happens when the officers do their "jump outs," scaring the user or dealer who jettisons the goods before being asked to empty their pockets. Some have been empty, people who've just smoked their crack on the street and don't want to be caught with the vial. One of the officers said he knows there's a lady in front of the little market at Tiffany and Wilson who quietly announces "blacks out, blacks out." One day, they'll catch her with the goods, I'm sure. Officer Jester was one of the officers who took it on themselves back in November to watch the corner market and our next door crack house.
There's now a BBQ Central web page. I'm posting news of the BBQ and trying to coordinate volunteers and contributors. It's going to be great fun, I think. I hope you and yours will attend. If you have time to help and/or can make a contribution, please check it out. We couldn't do this without help from people like you. Last year's shindig cost us about $1100 personally. This year's going to be bigger and will likely cost twice that. Still, worth it. The smiling, happy kids alone make it worthwhile. The statement we made to the dealers then was worth it, too. It's our block. And our homes. This year's event will help reinforce that we're making it a neighborhood again, after so many years as little more than a place where frightened residents tried to avoid drug dealers or lived here destroying themselves with many dealers to help.
Chuck from Hampden emailed me again. Wants to help. Is talking to his coworkers and boss. The interest of people across town has always inspired me. Too often the city is polarized, black and white, Guilford or Pigtown. I recall the time a terribly crack addicted African American woman neighbor said "you don't belong here, you belong over there," gesturing toward Bolton Hill. "Why can't a white guy live here?" I asked. "You don't belong," she replied. No, I guess I didn't belong to what this block once was, but I belong in the neighborhood we're working to make it become. Heck, I'm almost proud of to say I live here now. It ain't pretty, but it's home.
Monday afternoon, August 25: Big bust in front of Eutaw Marshburn Elementary. City Flex Team officers boxed in two cars, jumped out and nabbed 'em. Foxtrot helicopter swooping above. Apparently it was a success. The officers were happy they'd caught the suspects "holding." To me, that would mean they had real quantities of whatever, not just the "possession" quantities that result in slaps on the wrist.
Officer Brown of the PGP happened to be on the scene, supervising his Pedestal Gardens building across the the street at 1600 Eutaw Place and Wilson Street, down to McCulloh from the front yard of the school, seen here to the right. With hand signals, Officer Brown became traffic cop as the five arrests went down while the street was blocked. Another classic, I could say elegant, example of the city police working together with the PGP.
I spoke to a young woman who lives in an idyllic country town in New Jersey Saturday. She wondered why anyone would live here. Seeing things like this would be traumatizing to her. To me, this is a sign of success and progress. Catching guys like this, especially with the goods on them, is more important to the safety of most urban Americans than controlling Iraq. At least until we decide that the war on drugs is as impossible as the war on booze and work to provide substance abuse treatment for anyone who wants it.
Yet again, my hat's off to the Flex Team officers of the Baltimore City Police. They're doing a bang up job every day. According to my correspondents in the West and East ends of Baltimore, they're doing the same there too, though the challenges are even worse. Of course, things are by no means acceptable here yet, but there's progress. This progress is thanks in part to the new Commissioner who is all about doing, not photo ops and ego. The right man or woman in charge can make a real difference. I see energized, enthusiastic troops now. A big compliment to their leader. They needed leadership and better organization to be effective and the smiling officers I see tell me that's just what they're getting.
I just wish we could have a man or woman like Commissioner Clark in charge of the schools here. Leaders protecting the now and those shaping the future should work hand in hand.
I asked Vaughn about this entry. Said, "do I sound like I'm gushing about the progress?" He replied "it's better than your whining." I like that.
Sunday evening update, August 24: Good news. The suspect PGP officers have been looking for was apprehended by our City Flex officers tonight over on Druid Hill. $110,000 bail. Congratulations and thank you, Officer Gorman and team.
Sunday afternoon, August 24: Last night was fairly busy for the PGP officers again. Not like it used to be, but every once in a while it flares up. Yesterday morning a young man was walking past my window yelling "purples out, purples, purples, purples!" Seldom heard that brand of crack vial. I went out and said "not here, no more!" and glared. A customer had just pulled up to buy from him, the passenger was just getting out when he saw me, shook his head and pointed to the dealer to go around the corner which they did.
Vaughn has commented he's still amazed at how many cars drive through looking for dealers. There are now perhaps ten cars with owners who live on this block. We're not a thoroughfare. Still dozens drive through, often pausing, looking. I guess it's hard to change habits after 30 years of being a drug haven.
PGP Officers are still trying to nab the elusive drug suspect I mentioned Friday. He's "smart" according to one officer who said he comes up to do business during shift changes when city officers are scarce and their response to calls is slower. This weakness in deployment is so commonly known, I saw it in the David Simon series, The Corner. "Don't do yo reup till shift change." A few of the flyers placed in the substation are gone now. No doubt in squad cars. I saw two cars visit during the midnight shift. Good to see them availing themselves of the convenience.
There's been a young lady staying with the legal tenant in one of the apartments of 1715, the Pedestal Gardens building across the street. I've seen her strutting to various cars, obviously doing "hand to hands," meaning exchanging money for small parcels, no doubt drugs. Last night, with the help of the radio I have here, I was able to direct the PGP guys to her as she was dealing with yet another customer. They found a bag of marijuana thrown under the stairwell where the woman had fled as the officer showed up. They were able to determine which apartment she is staying in. A report has been written and the legal tenant will likely get a "zero tolerance" themed letter from Pedestal Gardens management warning of the consequences for selling drugs from their apartments. She's also "on watch" now and hopefully will do her business elsewhere.
Pedestal Gardens continues to aggressively target tenants who are involved in drugs ...
This was on the door of the rental office over at the main complex this afternoon, across from the elementary school. Fingers the snitch and Sergeant Kluver and curses them out. The snitch was not me, by the way. Perhaps it was revenge or maybe, and more likely this year than last, a neighbor who's had enough. PG Maintenance will no doubt paint this over tomorrow, as they did the bounty scrawled for Sergeant Kirk Kluver some months ago.
Friday night, August 22, about midnight: Busy night for PGP Officers Vogt and Melcher. A stolen car, several disturbances on their site, a few backing up city officers, a lost and abused dog. What being a policeman is all about.
I'm glad to report the dog may have found a home. A pit bull mongrel like our own, happy and loving. Unfortunately, kids from the neighborhood, the ones filled with self contempt, took to pelting it with stones and running it into traffic. I'm happy to report the PGP officers have borrowed a big kennel cage, some dog chow and that the pup, probably four months old, will likely find a decent home.
An interesting collaboration occurred a bit ago. Officer Vogt and I put together a flyer on a wanted drug dealer in our neighborhood. We've posted it in the substation. Apparently bureaucratic snafus have prevented this guy's arrest earlier because the computers in city cars were not up to date.
Mr. Elijah Stratton. Warrant number #d03067145-4. This is exactly the type of man who's been plagueing this block for years. Not anymore. We have zero tolerance now. He should be told his days are over here.
Sergeant Kluver of the PGP and Major Skinner with the city police were scheduled to meet tonight to figure the workings of our sector sergeants carrying PGP radios so they can have the direct backup they need. I haven't heard, but am anxious to report the details. I hope they can come up with a system that backs these guys up properly in a way that works for the department, too.
The Mayor's office reported today that he will not be attending the BBQ. I'm not so disappointed as I was last year. At least he told us in advance. There's a possibility the Believe Mobile will be here. Haven't worked out yet if they will or not. Want to make sure it's appropriate and contributes to the event.
This year is about police and community anyway. Not politicians. Perhaps the Mayor understands that. Perhaps he will be resting from the exhaustingly tight campaign. If all we have here are the officers who've made the difference, sharing BBQ and gab with each other and our neighbors, I'll be very, very happy.
Thursday, August 21, 8pm: Good news this afternoon. Got a call from Police Commissioner Kevin Clark's office. He wants to attend and it's been put on his schedule, tentatively. It will be good to see him here. He commands a first rate police department that is only getting better.
He's a dynamic, sharp as tacks guy. I was much impressed when he visited last February after having read the City Paper article. I look forward to seeing him talk to the kids here. Kids who too often have only drug dealers to look to as role models. We're hoping to have many officers, on and off duty. It'll be a good chance for our neighborhood to visit with the officers who've done so much.
This year, I don't think so many will be afraid to be seen with the good guys. This year there is less fear on this block. I doubt the drug thugs will be snickering on the sidelines, amused at our fantasy this could be a safe, family neighborhood again, rather than the 24/7 drug supermarket it's been.
A couple boys stopped by the back gate to talk to the dogs and me. They asked when the party's going to be. One asked if Don Scott would be back. They asked if this year there could be good music, like rapper "50 cents". Of course, I've never heard of him, being five times older than this boy. I said maybe we should get entertainment the old folks would like, too. They suggested Stevie Wonder. While I agree, I think he might be beyond budget. We will try to accommodate a variety of tastes, though. We're going to work on getting some other games besides the Moonbounce. The children here are starved for entertainment.
Wednesday, August 20, 8pm: Three postings in one day. Almost a record. When it's happened before it has meant bad news. Dealing, and threats and terror and desperation.
Today, it's about good news. I was in the substation earlier talking to two PGP officers and then three city officers. We had a nice visit. One said "I'll see if the wife would like to visit the 'hood where I work." I had suggested he come to the BBQ, especially if he was off duty. I think it'd be good for wives and husbands and significant others to see what their partners do and how much a neighborhood appreciates it.
I was on the phone with the new Central District head, Major Skinner, when the radios arrived. Sergeant Kluver of the PGP was here and I was able to just hand over the phone, connecting the two. They arranged a meeting where they'll discuss how to fully implement the radio system between city officers and PGP. Something Major Skinner is behind, just as now Chief Gutberlet was.
The radios are working well. Plenty of back up batteries. Plenty of smiles from the PGP. I'm on cloud nine. So happy to help. This is one of those days when I can attest it's a privilege to serve. In my small way, I feel I've helped the troops today. And that means a lot to me. Hopefully very soon, Pedestal Gardens will take over on this, but in the meantime the troops have radios thanks to a very community minded company.
Wednesday, August 20, 5pm: I am thrilled, and that's the word, to report that the PGP officers will have proper radio communications between each other and with the city officers tonight.
Teltronic of Baltimore agreed today to rent us the handheld radios and the repeater (it repeats the signal from a handheld at higher strength) for a very good price. A lot less than normal: $289 a month. One of the PGP officers is going there now to get the equipment. We will have it in place tonight. Thank you Matt and Brett of Teltronic.
There is word that IRM, Pedestal Gardens management, has worked out a deal with another vendor. I don't know for sure either way, though I'm encouraged to think they're taking responsibility. All I know is that Officer Hittle, Officer in Charge (OIC) of our sector this shift, will have a PGP radio with him tonight. A direct link to Officer Kluver and his PGP team. Tonight, wives and girlfriends and a loud mouthed neighbor will sleep better knowing these guys have a reliable lifeline.
Somehow, we'll pay for it. Perhaps IRM will reimburse us? Perhaps readers like you will donate money? Perhaps we'll be left to pay for it. Doesn't really matter. A PGP officer will not feel alone as he pursues and fights with a dealer in our neighborhood. That's the point. Bringing together an enthusiastic team of PGP officers with city patrol officers, more than willing to help, has been a big challenge for months.
Wednesday, August 20, 1pm: The water cooler is back.
Readers will recall my stupid effort at cost cutting. Mountain Valley Water was kind enough to bring back the cooler and let us have the hot and cold water cooler rental for free. Officer Vogt and I visited for a while with Dan when he brought the service back. He hadn't heard about the website and we regaled him with our war stories. Being from the burbs, I think it was as alien to him as The Wire. I do want to thank Mountain Valley Water (888-256-8806), again, for helping. Really tasty, pure spring water, by the way, plug, plug.
Officer Vogt emailed me this picture of the cleanout at 1720 Eutaw Place where I'd complained the owner was leaving his trash strewn garage and backyard open to no good.
Hopefully, this owner will secure the place when they're done. As I've written, we don't need any more weak spots in our defenses. Sounds like a war, doesn't it?
Some of the old dealers and their supporters took to hanging out on the stoop of 1712 Madison Avenue last night. Looked like old times, though I didn't hear the chant. No "greens out, greens out." Either they were behaving or they were doing their business much more discreetly.
Sergeant Kluver of the PGP had an interesting bit of news. He's told me that Clarence Weston has been going to court dutifully, as he promised, to prosecute the trespassers who frequented his house here doing crack and prostitution. I'm glad to hear it. Mr. Kluver thinks Mr. Weston simply got in over his head and was overwhelmed. That could be so, but I'm not so charitable. I did offer to help him repeatedly for over a year before declaring a year and a half war on him. The best response I ever got from Mr. Weston was "there are worse places." No doubt true, but not adequate. Still, old news. It looks like Mr. Weston is going to lose the building. Sufficient punishment. I just hope the other five income properties this city sanitation supervisor owns in the city are not the thriving cancers this one was.
Things are moving along on the BBQ. Trying to decide if we're going to have the Believe Mobile here or not. The mayor's staff has been slow returning calls. We need to make decisions now. Last year, the Mayor emailed he was coming, only to be contradicted by Jennifer in his "Office of Neighborhoods" who told me he had officially declined to come when he had not and that officers did not want the substation. Strange and unpleasant experience, one I still marvel at when I see two dozen police cars in front of the substation every day.
Just a reminder: The BBQ will be September 10. Moonbounce at 2:30. Program and free BBQ at 6. Mark your calendars.
Monday, August 18, 3pm: The poison bait is doing its work. We've been removing corpses two and three a day. No, don't worry, not drug dealers. I haven't gone off the deep end, though last year that approach did fleetingly cross my mind more than once. This bait must be really bad stuff. The neighbors complain to me about the stench. I'm sure many have died in their burrows. "I don't know who called them, but they should have to dig them all up." I said I don't know if it's better to have them all dead than alive, but seems to me dead is better, even if we have to deal with some smell and getting rid of the bodies. These are the neighbors a couple doors down who have been here a long time. They made a deal with the dealers "We'll leave you alone if you leave us alone." I've watched them in the past stand next to dealers selling to kids. Apparently they had the same deal with the four legged rats. I guess it didn't bother them to have foot long rats scurrying through our yards, sometimes dozens at a time.
I was worried about the dogs getting to the dead rats. The brown one showed me one this morning. She sniffed and sat and looked at me strangely. I think she realized it was dead, but couldn't quite fathom it. "Why isn't it running? That's what they do." She's usually very happy go lucky, but seemed distressed until I took it away and played with her.
Regular readers know I have mongrel dogs doubtless with a bit of Pit Bull in them.
They needed a home and found one with the underdogs here at 1708. Here, they're taking an afternoon siesta with a lazy friend who helped me with work on the substation a few times. Patrick loves these dogs too, as do most who meet them. They are not vicious in the least. They have their shots and tags. The only risk they present to friends and the officers is muddy paw prints and slobbered faces. Out of instinct, the 100 pound white one has become territorial and quite a good watch dog. He seems to know when I'm feeling nervous and when I'm with friends. Last summer, though, he surprised me with his reaction to a dealer I was yelling with over the fence. He jumped up and growled and barked, surprising us both with his ferocity. He knew this guy was bad news and only stopped when I reassured him it was under control. I recall praising him loudly that day as we left the dealer still fuming, though then several paces back from the fence.
I bring this up because I'm distressed that the notion of outlawing a certain breed of dog has come up thanks to the dog related deaths of kids lately. Too many teenaged boys confuse their manliness with the viciousness of their dogs. I've watched many adults treat these dogs badly too, encourage them to be vicious and then play surprised when they do wrong. Owners should be responsible for their pets and there should be serious penalties to the owners of vicious dogs allowed to bite. Owning an animal known to be capable of injuring others is a crime to me. Most dogs are like most children: They are the product of how they were raised. Ours have been raised with love and respect and that's what they return.
I credit these mutts with a large part of the reason we've been secure here. Of course, I've taken lots of other steps, but the dogs are my home security team. They've allowed me to sleep on nights when I could just not stay up any longer, waiting for the circus outside to die down. Many times they've led the way while we investigated strange noises in the night. They've often been my only company and listened patiently while I wailed against the thugs. I owe them a great deal and can assure you that I will protect them vehemently.
A reader asked in the guest book about the Williams'. I'm happy to report they're all alive and well. The juvenile delinquents are still in the neighborhood. They and their parents have refused to cooperate with mediation, but apparently the bureaucrat who handles the police sponsored mediation didn't want to do it either. Apparently you can ignore court orders in this town with impunity, just like some delinquent landlords I know. They're due back in court for an answer about their petition for a restraining order on September 5. Hopefully the judge will rule in favor of the Williams. It's the least they deserve.
They did have a scary experience. A red laser dot started flitting through their dining room while they had guests. Everyone was worried it was a laser aiming sight for a gun. Likely was a pointer, but given their history there, I don't blame them for calling the police as they lay down on the floor. The police in their sector don't seem able to do anything. As I've written here before, these officers just say "it's kids." So were many of the drug terrorists who owned this block.
Anton Keating had volunteered to represent Mr. Williams at his upcoming trial for allowing his dog to bite one of these juvenile delinquents (the bite was not serious). Apparently, Mr. Keating has backed out. Doesn't say much for him. I'll be curious how this case goes. If my dog bit someone who should not have been in my yard and was there to do wrong, I would say that's exactly what they deserved. Ms. Jessamy's office often fails to prosecute drug dealers, but seems intent on prosecuting this man for his dog's effort to protect their family. Doesn't make sense.
Saturday, August 16, noon: Last Thursday, a new visitor made an entry in the guestbook praising the many new revitalization projects in the city and where Baltimore's heading with Mayor O'Malley's leadership. In his and several other parts of town, that's very true. Unfortunately, vast areas of the west and east, including where the Dawsons lived, remain pretty much as they have for 30 years, in the hands of drug gangs.
Last night, Ryan came by with cases of water and paper towels. As well as his guestbook entry, he emailed offering to help and asked what was needed. In jest, I replied right then I was out of towels. I'd just come back from Sam's and was kicking myself because I'd forgotten them. Never go to Sam's or Home Depot without a list. You'll come home with lots of stuff, most of which you don't need. He popped up last night while I was out with the dogs. Great timing. We chatted for an hour or so. He gamely listened to the stories of our efforts here. Anyone who's met me knows I can go on and on if you let me.
Ryan is 24 years old and works for an advertising agency downtown. He bought his house in Barre Circle (Pigtown) three years ago and walks to work. His house and neighbors are nothing like ours, but there are bad areas and he's seen a lot of progress. I think Ryan could be the poster boy for Techbalt, but he's already done it on his own.
I loaned him a copy of 7th Street, the movie I saw recently about the evolution of a neighborhood in NYC that was every bit as tough as this for generations. It has a happy ending, though the blessings are unquestionably mixed.
People young and old, black and white, rich and poor have praised our efforts here. Many have donated to the substation and continue to do so. The donations are needed, used for the officers and I'm very grateful for them, but much more than that, Baltimoreans like Ryan, Ken, Davis, Julie, Jenn, Donnie, Patrick, Paul, Roy, Gay and a whole lot of others, most of whom are listed on the Friends page, have done a lot more. They've lifted our spirits and encouraged us to go on, toughing it out, keeping the substation open. And so many words of encouragement from places so far away, too ... Sweden, Edmonton, Irvine, Watts, Connecticut, NYC. As recently as late winter and early this spring, I was seriously considering giving up ... yet again. But it was the people encouraged by our struggle who've encouraged us in the worst and scary times. Saying thank you for that doesn't say enough.
On to business: I'm very happy to report big plans are in motion for 1704. It's too soon to discuss details. Much has yet to be done, but I can say what's being proposed will be a wonderful combination of efforts and use and will make 1704 a happy home contributing much more to the neighborhood than we could have hoped. With some luck, we may have progress to announce at the BBQ.
Speaking of which, I will be putting up a BBQ page soon to help coordinate volunteers and donations. We're only three and a half weeks away. The event, even the part that bores most of us silly, the program, should be fun for all. And this year, there will be news to announce and hopefully a few words from some of the officers who've made such a difference here, including some of their leaders. This year it's about the men and women who've done the real work, not the politicians who like to claim credit. Last year it was a celebration of hope. That's all we had. This year, it's to celebrate progress, too. And to think, so many times I didn't believe there'd be a this year for me on Madison Avenue.
Wednesday, August 13, 2pm: In a cost cutting move I now regret, I had the water cooler removed from the substation a few days ago. The very next day, one of our Flex Team officers asked about it, said he used it every day, but I think he understood. Turns out, he'd been reusing his bottle and refilling it from the cooler. I think he may be one of the same officers who left that thank you on the napkin last month ...
We have ice and cold bottled waters in the fridge at all times. In the heat, they go fast. Often they're donated by substation supporters who drop off a case they get for the officers when they're at the store. I don't make a lot of money. And being the neighborhood lunatic doesn't pay well. But now I feel cheap. Going to call and have the cooler put back.
I have the same problem with the AC. Sometimes I turn it down, hoping to save a few bucks, especially when an hour or two passes between officers visiting. One PGP officer said "Why do you worry? Who pays for it?" He didn't know. But you know something, just this morning I turned it up again reminding myself that if I was walking a beat in this heat, I'd enjoy being chilled for ten minutes while I ate my hurried lunch. So the place is going to stay cool until it comes time to turn on the heat. They deserve the best.
This is Officer Harding on the right and Officer Atkins (sp?) on the left. They're regular visitors. Usually, I try to leave them to eat in peace, but I'd never had a picture of officers using the station before and they didn't mind.
Chris' email to Mr. Durnin elicited a rude reply which didn't seem to understand him at all. I fired off an angry email as soon as I got it, figuring we'd chosen sides and IRM had not chosen this one. I got a very restrained, respectful reply almost immediately to which I replied with an apology for my rudeness and explained things this vice president didn't seem aware of. I'm hoping he understands the issue of the radios better now and is considering what can be done. I don't think he was even aware we'd worked out a compromise plan to have our sector sergeants carry one of the PGP radios so they could respond directly to our emergencies. Surely, something that helps the PGP officers do their jobs safer and better would be worth it to IRM?
Yesterday, the Rat Rubout people came by again. But this time it was not to post another tiny sign encouraging people to be responsible about their trash and warning the literate rats they were not wanted. This van was yellow and marked with hazardous cargo symbols fairly screaming, "van of death." Two very hard working city employees attacked the rat infestation of 1704's garage and yard, digging into their burrows and planting many bags of poison. They put some in the garage and put some soil over the holes there, too. They worked hard and afterward asked me to sign a receipt for what they'd done. I asked if they were in response to my email with photos sent to the mayor, they thought yes. It's great to take the offensive against their homes, but unfortunately, nothing's changed with their food supply courtesy of the little convenience mart on the corner which feeds them a constant supply of half eaten candies, soda and slushies.
Inspired by the city's work, I took it on myself to clear the backyard of 1704 of the three foot weed trees and knee high grass the nasty varmints had been nesting and scurrying through. I felt safe enough with the weed whacker in hand in case they attacked, Willard like. As with the boarding, I don't see Clarence prosecuting me for trespassing while doing what any responsible property owner should have. An officer I spoke with didn't think I had much to worry about either. I still think, except for the central booking part, I'd enjoy telling the judge about Clarence and why I had to do it. Actually, I did myself a favor, too. It looks a lot better from over here now and last night there were a lot fewer rats running around the yard.
Sunday, August 10, noon: OK, OK! I'll stop the Norris bashing. Got a few emails. It's nice to know someone's reading, though. He is old news and off topic anyway. I don't think people read here to find out my personal opinion of politicians. Even my mother said I was too hard on him. I'm surely no saint to cast stones, but then again I'm not in a position of public trust. I suppose a federal grand jury investigation is a tough enough critic.
I have gotten a few other emails from readers about the radio issue I wrote about again last week, including one from Chris in Reservoir Hill who copied me what he sent ...
Dear Mr. Durnin:
I'm frankly disturbed that you would, in supposedly good faith, make it seem like IRM was willing to finance the desperately-needed police radios for the Pedestal Gardens Police, and then, when someone else has done all the work in finding, testing and getting BPD support for the radios, neglect the matter entirely. Please do the right thing, and get these radios!! They are not expensive. IRM can surely afford it. I live nearby in a neighborhood just to the north, so I know what your security guards have to contend with.
It is an utter JUNGLE there, and these guys need those radios for backup. It is LITERALLY a matter of life and death. I'm going to be monitoring this situation, and if the radios aren't bought soon, I will be contacting my representatives about this (Senators Mikulski, Sarbanes, and Congressman Cummings). You do accept public subsidy for your tenants; I think they might be interested in the matter. I pay taxes, and DEMAND policemen that are helping my neighborhood be safer be protected!
Buy the radios.
I'd bet the PGP guys are glad to know another resident appreciates what they do. I hope emails like this will help.
Just met a new supervisor with SPS Security, the company who employs our Pedestal Gardens Police. Looks like a gung-ho, GI Joe soldier, as do some of our Flex Team officers. He said some changes were coming. One of our two special officers has left the company. He certainly wasn't happy here. Who could blame him? I wish you well, Shaun.
Mr. Robertson, as he introduced himself, said that SPS was going to get a new base station in response to my question about the radio issue. Perhaps that's what IRM is doing ... waiting for SPS. Would have been nice if they told the neighbors. Still seems to me the importance of assuring good communications now for our neighborhood police department is worth far more than a few thousand dollars.
Vaughn had an interesting chat with a neighbor boy, about 12 years old. He greets us with "Hi, Mr. Dawson." I've tried to explain it to him, but it didn't seem to sink in. Vaughn took more time. He explained why we have a sign saying "The Dawsons Live Here" in our window, as do many others, I might add. A 12 year old's take on why the Dawsons were burned alive: "That's what you get for snitchin!" There's a lot of work to do just changing attitudes, as the Believe report says.
August 10! The BBQ is one month away. (Hint, hint to those who'd like to volunteer to help, with time or money.) I do hope everyone who reads here will come. This year, I'm going to try the Moonbounce if 200 pound adults don't burst the balloon. It looked like such fun for the kids. Too busy last year, fretting about details. This year, I'm going to enjoy it more. Next month is the anniversary of the substation opening. Hard to believe it's been a year.
Friday, August 8, 1am:
This scene is from around the corner at McCulloh and Wilson, just about dusk last night...
Officer Vogt with the PGP emailed this photo to me from his cell phone. He was backing up Flex Team officers who had apprehended these suspects from our corner here at Madison and Wilson and are shown escorting them into the paddy wagon. A few times this afternoon things looked like old times again. Apparently the Flex Officers were watching, too. Reassuring.
This PGP Officer is working alone tonight on the Pedestal Gardens beat. Usually, there are two. One works the main complex, the other works the two outlying buildings, including the remote 24 unit building on our street. These officers usually serve as primary backup for each other. This afternoon an officer did not report for work. He was missed.
Perhaps his morale is suffering from lack of support by his employer and the Pedestal Gardens management? Feeling that your bosses would put you at physical risk for lack of a simple communication system can't help you want to go to work. Perhaps this officer was looking for another job today instead of doing his own, like Ed Norris when he worked for the city.
Saw Mr. Norris again on The Wire last night. Still rankles me ... a lot. Regular readers may recall my exception to his playing part time actor while Baltimore City's Commissioner of Police. Taking such a role trivializes our plight and encourages its perception as fiction, not horrid reality. Now, he's in charge of the state police. Apparently his new job isn't enough for him either. Perhaps his real ambition is actor. Obviously he has the ego for it. I believe Baltimore and even the state deserves full time work in its trusted public servants. We should not be a stepping stone.
California reminds us that successful politicians can start as actors no matter whether they're good at either. Perfoming is part of politics. Mayor O'Malley reminds us of that often. But rarely does it go the other way round. A police officer of whatever rank should not be actor or politician. The ones we have reason to be thankful for on this block are real policemen and women. A far more venerable profession than acting or politics.
There was an article in yesterday's Sun detailing the continued progress of federal prosecution of Norris' alleged abuses in office as Commissioner here. He's never denied that he spent thousands of dollars from a slush fund to entertain himself and guests while interviewing for a job elsewhere early in his term here. How wrong. Not nearly so much the money issue as the lack of dedication. That he keeps flaunting himself before the public by pretending to be an actor (he's terrible) is disgraceful.
But Norris is old news. Best forgotten to the city. He'd be considered a mistake if, motivated to make a name for himself, the "stats" hadn't gotten better through a combination of good policing by dedicated officers in the field and some heavy duty manipulation of the statistics. The same stats that this year show how tentative the progress really has been. Now we have a new Commissioner who seems to be doing his job.
The article about Norris details hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on bodyguards and chauffeurs, friends of Norris. I have seen, backed by street officer's accounts, the real police work done by the current Commissioner right here: Jumping out, questioning suspects, making arrests, leading. Without arranging guards and photo ops beforehand. Somehow I doubt Kevin Clark is squandering money protecting himself from being a real policeman. I think he's capable of that by himself. He's helped set the agenda around this neighborhood, for one, and I know other neighborhoods are reporting similar progress. That's part of why we've invited him to attend the substation anniversary BBQ and hope he'll attend.
A young man dressed in an Aloha shirt and sandals knocked on the door the other afternoon, disturbing my nap. Turned out to be Jeffrey Gettleman, a reporter for the Southern Bureau of the New York Times, based out of Atlanta. He was sent by our Councilman, Keiffer Mitchell, who he was interviewing on assignment to follow up on the Dawson massacre, which was well covered by the Times last year. The suspect is coming to trial next month. It will be a year since the firebombing ... in just two months. We talked in the substation for a while. Said hello to a couple officers. He was interested how our neighborhood has dealt with the same sort of challenges the Dawson's faced and what we thought had changed since their being burned alive.
It's good to know some of the press have not forgotten the Dawsons.
None of us should forget them. Most of us have.
Thursday, August 7, 12:30am: Just had a reminder of what things were, why we need to be ever vigilant and how they could go back to what they were.
Was doing some housework in the substation. Sergeant Kluver of the PGP was in to get some cold water. We were chatting when fire crackers began to go off, then the aerial variety. The sergeant responded immediately, cautiously going up Tiffany alley to Wilson, through the rats. From where I was, it appeared they were going off from the school yard between the buildings of Pedestal Gardens.
As he left my line of sight, I saw one aerial appear to go right up past him in the alley. I was alarmed he was being shot at and dialed 911 as I went to check on him. Readers will know I understand the difference between decorative fireworks and those used to destroy. Turns out it was a bucket of unattended fireworks, set off perhaps to distract officers from other work. No wonder they were aimed indiscriminately, dangerously.
The 911 operator took the information and immediately issued a Signal 13 which means officer in distress, all available officers respond. They did, including Foxtrot. As I told the 911 operator, I'm sometimes reluctant to be responsible for a Signal 13. No one likes to cry wolf. She reassured me that anytime one suspected an officer might be in jeopardy an alarm is issued. I'm sure that's as it should be. As before when it's happened, I don't think one officer minded a false alarm. Sometimes they've been real. They all rely on one another, including the officers of our PGP.
Wouldn't have happened if the PGP officers had reliable radio communications between each other and their base and the city officers on duty, as was offered by Major Gutberlet many weeks ago now. We have Pedestal Gardens management to thank for that.
The Pedestal Gardens Community employs a mini police department, asking them to take real risks, but refuses to equip them properly. Tonight's Signal 13 might easily have been avoided if Sergeant Kluver could have summoned the backup he needed, which in this case was minimal. Thank you again, IRM Property Management, for endangering our Pedestal Gardens Police officers, wasting scarce city resources, and needlessly worrying a dozen city police officers who do care about them. No doubt the gunshot like sounds worried others beside me here in the neighborhood, including PGP residents and neighbors here on our side of Madison, over on Eutaw and in Bolton Hill, too. The PGP was the first to respond here, as it often is. I'm glad it was nothing ... this time.
I want to especially thank Mr. Gary Eckrote, with IRM, who had given us lip service for many weeks, pretending to be enthusiastic about "getting this done," encouraging me to spend considerable time researching the PGP officers needs and finding a reputable vendor here in town. Brett Phennice of Teltronic was kind enough, at my urging, to give us an extended demo loan of a very reliable, proper communication system for three weeks over July 4 ... a very important period for the PR of Pedestal Gardens.
IRM is a huge corporation making millions accepting public subsidy for their tenants. The radio system I researched and the PGP tried and endorsed would cost between $5,000 and $10,000. I still marvel at what I see as their absolute negligence on this matter and resent them encouraging the officers and I, promising to "get it done." Even involving a city police commissioner and major, and a city council president who worked out a plan to keep the city and PGP officers connected. I can't often be PGP's dispatch, summoning help. I don't patrol with them or have reliable communications with them myself. And contrary to some opinions, I'm not on their payroll. I do what I can to help the block and to help a property owner do the right thing.
I can get very, very determined when I believe a property owner is not willing to do the right thing to help protect our community. And now that we have a recognized, incorporated neighborhood association, we have some legal clout as well.
Neither Mr. Eckrote or his boss, Charles Durnin, return my emails or calls anymore. Maybe they would yours? Mr. Eckrote is Geckrote@IRMMgmt.com and/or 609.304.5301. Mr. Durnin is CDurnin@IRMMgmt.com and/or 856-596-0500. If you do write, please send a copy to HUD who subsidizes their money making venture here, costing us hundreds of thousands of tax dollars to assure their substantial salaries. The best one to contact at HUD is probably Ms. India Johnson at India_m.firstname.lastname@example.org and/or 410.962.2520 x3127. I think she may be convinced the fire is over here and we can just wait to put out the next. Too often that's the government: react, don't proact.
Saturday, August 2, 2pm: Hard to believe another month has passed. I'm marking the time in days since I last heard "greens out, greens out!" It's been weeks.
Just spent an hour with a new neighbor from the 2000 block of Madison, the block where our Congressman, Elijah Cummings, lives. The Congressman maintains a house here, but isn't much of a neighbor. His response to a plea last year to help quash the drug market here was "that's a local issue." Apparently, he's too busy with big issues to be concerned about a thriving drug market in his back yard. I wouldn't be surprised if now he surfaced to take credit for our progress. Fair weather soldiers seem to be coming out of the woodwork lately.
But that's not the new neighbors. He wanted to meet us and volunteer to help. Anthony and Andrea Japzon are educators. I'm hoping they can help with the community center idea for next door. While we were chatting, two city officers and Mr. Brown of the PGP came in and visited, too. We remarked how very different things are here now. Anthony only knows what it was like from the website. I'd like to think more new neighbors will move here in years to come and never know what this block was. One should be able to take a relatively quiet, safe block for granted. I look forward to working with them to help make our neighborhood better and keep it that way.
Anthony said his real estate agent turned him on to this site. I wonder why. Until recently, what I've chronicled here would send prospective buyers running ... and did. On the other hand, perhaps the agent sees the website as a sign that things are changing. Anyone caring about a block can start a snowball of progress. I know that's true of the police officers here. Knowing that someone cares has helped motivate them. I'm sure it must be easy to drive through a crack market and assume everyone there is part of the problem and that no one cares. Every day we make it very clear we do care. The substation is just part of that. And more and more, every resident of the block is finding a voice. We are not so afraid anymore.
Last night a neighbor from 1702 angrily confronted me in the back yard about my saying they were involved in dealing. I had called the owner, Pastor Jones, the night before about what I saw that looked very suspicious. Apparently he called his son who lives there and raised holy hell. His granddaughter, who lives there too, was indignant and very angry, but after we talked, she realized what I'd seen and began to understand my perspective. We ended on an upbeat note. They're not dealers and will not tolerate it and they understand that living next to the thriving crack house for so long, I might tend to assume the worst when I see suspicious behavior at midnight. I think the residents there are every bit as concerned about maintaining our success here as we are. She was surprised when I said I was happy she was so angry. A couple years ago, when I told Clarence Weston about what was going on in his building, his reaction was "so what? It's worse elsewhere."
A city dump truck was distributing Believe cans in the alley yesterday. Apparently they weren't all given away on July 12th when residents were invited to pick them up. I got two for us and accepted the two for Mr. Weston's house, as well. When someone moves in there, I'll gladly hand them over to be used, unlike the former tenants who threw their trash from back windows in the yard to feed the rats. I sure wish the market on the alley corner would use cans. Instead, it feeds the swarms of rats every night with the soda bottles, candy wrappers and half eaten snacks thrown in open, holed cans.
I was wrong about my report of the teenaged driver a couple days ago. I have heard now that Vaughn was incorrect assuming it was a kid, as I reported. Turns out the person being hassled is a well known dealer from our area. Why he's got a learner's permit at 25 is beyond me, but hearing who this was serves as a reminder that the bad guys are still lurking, looking for weak spots in the block, places and people they can exploit to reestablish their business here. My paranoia seems well founded.
There was a question about the validity of Pooh's guest book entry. Some thought it was someone with SPS security or the IRM property management. Turns out it is an entry from a resident, as it purports. I got an email verifying it. I'm glad to know it. Sad that we might suspect a bogus entry to promote the agenda of the security firm or property managers, but nice to know that wasn't the case here. The politics on this block are amazing. I have allowed myself to be sucked in too much. I'm making a concerted effort to avoid that now. I just care about results and the safety of our block. Gotta keep focused on that.
The house and garage at 1720 Eutaw is still wide open. Not only the garage, but the gate to the back of the house is open, too. Are the owners inviting trouble? Obviously, they don't live there, but leaving it open to the bad boys who prowl our neighborhood is encouraging the very activity the residents of Eutaw complain about so bitterly, usually blaming the residents of 1717/1715. To secure one's property seems the most basic responsibility of a property owner. It should be a crime to allow it to be open, inviting criminal activity. I can't reach the owners, but I sure wish someone could. I'd rather work with them than see them encourage trouble. God knows I don't want another fight like that with Clarence Weston.
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