Journal Entries for December, 2002
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Saturday, December 28, 9PM: Nothing exciting or new to report here. Dealing has been up and down, tempered by the biting cold. A nasty domestic fight at 1715 last night, but, like the dealing, that's nothing new here.
One of the crack addicted women from 1704, the one who now deals openly, was on a tirade early yesterday morning. Screaming and yelling at her dad and her kids. The screaming continued as she flew out the back door to the alley and was at high volume until she came around the corner to walk past our back yard up the alley. Even in her high, she recognized two squad cars parked in the lot of the substation and closed her mouth promptly.
I think she realizes the officers have ears. I know they heard the midnight crying from the abused dog who was taken away. I know they've asked her about the screaming in her apartment where her father and at least two small boys and an infant live in an apartment smaller than the substation, its one room nearly covered in the two double mattresses on the floor.
Her anger, frustration and angst are understandable except when she lets them spill out on her helpless family and dog.
Water continues to run down the alley from a leaking main in the street near the corner of Laurens and McCulloh and a garden spigot in the alley behind, broken again for the third consecutive winter. The water runs everywhere, attracting rubbish and providing a treacherous glacier in weather like this. It's been running for weeks now. I guess the city can collect water bills, but can't fix a leaky pipe.
I've had disappointing news in three different conversations in the substation over the past few days. Not surprising news. Just more disappointment. One of the most effective officers we have is applying with the state police. Another may be joining the US Marshal's office. Another is taking a "lateral" with a department in one of the suburbs who pay more than Baltimore and is "a lot better to their officers."
I've not asked if this is normal attrition, burnout with the city they see every day or disappointment with Norris' desertion. It's just a bummer.
As the year draws to a close, I've been doing some thinking. Something one should never do in a cold, blue funk. The website may shortly be discontinued or at least the entries made as sporadic as progress around here, which could mean weeks or months. No one in authority is reading here, or so I'd say from their actions. And it serves no one to read my constant harping interspersed with glimmers of false hope. I appreciate the hope this effort has given some. I appreciate their encouragement, too. But it's lunacy to keep up the battle on one's own.
I'll keep fighting the fight so long as I remain. That's what life in Baltimore's real neighborhoods is ... a fight. Morning, noon and night. A constant struggle with those who sell and use drugs and with city leadership and bureaucracy. I don't like the alternatives: You either give up and run or become bitter and resigned, oblivious or apathetic.
Christmas night, 2002: I'm sitting here alone tonight. As alone as one can be with three huge puppies who refuse to grow up. Vaughn is off with friends. I should be, too, but preferred to be here.
I'd like to tell you that Christmas is special on my block, but I see the same characters out. There's an underdressed junkie neighbor out scavenging for a hit, high enough still to be oblivious to the cold. Two dealers I don't know on the corner. They must be the holiday relief crew. Two garish SUVs restocking their MLM disciples. I trust the usual dealers are at home with their family.
I have gotten so many emails of greeting and well wishing in the past week. Several dozen just today. From Sweden, from Canada, from Los Angeles ... and next door. It's inspiration to write.
Contrary to popular belief, and I hope to correct this misconception, I am not a martyr or pioneer in hostile territory, though I know I have suggested that. I am merely a guy with no money and no sense who wanted a house. And I found a house that had long needed someone. The house is not sure I'm its salvation yet. I've gotten too distracted trying to "fix" a neighborhood that hasn't wanted fixing and long ago forgot what the word neighborhood means.
Yet tonight Pastor Jones called me, a few egg nogs in him, to wish me well. He owns the church and apartment house two doors down. We chatted about our neighborhood like neighbors should. Pastor Jones is the man who gave me an extension cord two years ago so I didn't have to use flashlights and a camp lantern while I was trying to fix the electric and plumbing. After months in the summer clearing trash, I spent the early winter of that year making the systems such that utlitities could be turned on again, after at least seven years of darkness and cold.
This is certainly a time for retrospection. I regret so many mistakes in my life. But I can say this: This house is the mistake I will ever regret least. Of all my futile efforts, this is one that has meant something to many more than me. That alone would seem to justify it. One day I might even call it an accomplishment. That assessment will wait for time to tell.
Tonight, I want to wish all those who read here regularly (according to stats 500+ strong) the best. The best of any holiday you celebrate. And more importantly, a great new year. I'm expecting wonderful things in 2003. Like Baltimore itself, my life and this house and this block have no place to go but up. We have nothing but hope. One day I'd like for us all to go beyond the work of preserving hope to actually building progress. Sometimes, just keeping hope alive is work. "Believe" signs are great still. They are the symbol of a new leader who's tenuous reins of the city are being put to the test, tried now in the bitter light of retrospect.
I still like "The Dawson's Live Here" signs. I want them to live somewhere. And to never be forgotten. On this Christmas night, I pray they know we remember them. And I hope this city will not forget them, like we forget silly resolutions to be better people in the new year.
Monday evening, 8PM, December 23: I've been pondering whether to share this story here for some days. It's a horrid, appalling story, and that's an extreme understatement. It's a story not for the squeamish or those who prefer to keep their heads in the sand.
But it's a story that should be told. If only to educate and bring home to those parents who read here what this war with crack is all about.
While making coffee and cleaning up, I was chatting with an officer about the high salaries I was reading are offered by other departments, musing why anyone would choose to be a Baltimore officer. I still don't completely understand. He was saying how it would be nice to be an officer in a small town or a state trooper where they seldom deal with the hell a Baltimore officer sees.
Here's where I want you to close this window if you are prone to tears or break down.
A big man, the officer stared at the wall, sipping his coffee while trying to sound nonchalant.
I'm going to give you the gist of what he said. Not exact quotes. It took a full hour for my head to return to normal and it probably never will entirely so my exact recollection is sketchy.
"I was called to a hospital. A 16 month old had been admitted and the staff had called us. The mother had complained about the crying and her baby's 'diaper rash.' Turned out to be a case of an STD in the anus. So bad the child was losing feeling in some extremities and the sight in one eye. Central nervous system damage. The anus was so enlarged and swollen it was the size of a golf ball. The child's buttocks were covered with oozing, bloody blisters.
The mom was yelling at the staff who were cowering behind their counter. She screamed it was nothing more than diaper rash, that the doctors and nurses were lying, that she was always with her baby.
I [the officer] took her aside and told her I wasn't going to take her junkie crap. I told her she was never seeing her child again and that we would be putting her and her boyfriend in jail. I turned it over to detectives, as usual. I wish I could follow up on things sometimes."
Turns out, mom and boyfriend have a crack problem. Sometimes they were short the cash to pay their dealer. Their dealer turned out to have a prurient interest in small children. While mom and boyfriend indulged themselves at the kitchen table, their baby was whored out for this man's use, in the next room.
I do not know what has happened to the baby or to the adults involved. Particulars are not appropriate for an officer to discuss. Suffice to say this is, and he used this phrase, "one of the worst things I've ever seen."
God, I would only hope so.
I'm reminded of the afternoon I confronted the man from next door at 1704 viciously kicking the seven year old out on the street. When the officers arrived, his first words were "you mean I can't kick my own kid!"
Please don't fault me for writing this here. Regular readers know this a place I often vent and rant, but I know there are probably things better left unshared. It's just I think too many do not realize what's happening to the children of crack here. They think it's someone else's concern. I know many, many parents read this site. And I believe we all know everyone's children are all our concern.
I might have written this tomorrow, but I could not risk that you might read it then. Tomorrow and Wednesday are the time for rejoicing and merry making. But tomorrow as we rejoice for the birth of a child who changed the world and has given billions hope, I pray we will try to remember that every child has infinite promise and potential, from whatever social strata they spring. If we give them the chance. And perhaps vow to do more to help them in the coming year.
As I finished writing this just now, I heard a growing cacophony of sirens and horns and turned to look out toward McCulloh. "Oh my God, what now," I thought. I can see the blinking red and blue lights sparkling back from every window, reflected from the street below. I called my neighbor, Mrs. Douglas. "Oh, they do that every year. The police bring toys to the children who live in that building for unwed moms behind you. Lots of squad cars and a fire truck for Santa."
And while I was on the phone with her, a friend called from the highway to tell me to look to the east and see "the most beautiful moon rise I've ever seen."
It is indeed, an awesome sight.
Monday afternoon, December 23: The Mayor's response to my email of yesterday afternoon ...
"From: Mayor Martin O'Malley <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: 'Bryan' <email@example.com>
Subject: RE: Christmas greetings from the crack front
Date: Mon, 23 Dec 2002 15:55:33 -0500
Bryan - hang in there.
And have a happy holiday season.
I think his brief reply speaks volumes and will leave you to draw your own conclusions.
Sunday night, December 22:
However I feel about the city, seeing the officers use the station, if only to take a flush, brings a smile, albeit brief.
Sunday afternoon, December 22:
"Good Sunday afternoon, Your Honor.
Hell of a Christmas present losing the centerpiece of your promise to the city. I commiserate with you.
I've grown increasingly disappointed with the city and of course, that sometimes includes you as its representative. I've become bitter and cynical. Two and a half years in hell will do that to you.
On my website I've expressed my disappointment in Baltimore's police management. Wonder boy Norris seemed to do nothing for my block, regardless of the confidence you've had in the statistics he's produced. Of course I have no circle of influence, even with 500+ daily readers, so there's nothing to worry about here, politically. Certainly not with my neighbors, either.
Yet the two of you were the reason I signed on, buying a house in a bad neighborhood in Baltimore. For however long I stay, it will be because of you still. Unfortunately, yet again, staying doesn't seem likely.
I think the promise you gave the city, the hope you gave us all, is in desperate peril. So I'm writing you now to wish you God's guidance in choosing a new commissioner. I don't call upon Him often. I believe He should be summoned only for the greater good and then only in desperate times. That would be now, if one can find it any more desperate today than it's been for years. I suppose all is relative.
No, I don't have an idea who you should appoint or an agenda to push. I'm not up to doing your job, just as I'm not man enough to be a soldier like the officers we cater to daily here in the substation. I'm just an armchair warrior. At best someone who occasionally gets out of his chair. I simply pray you'll make the right choices for us.
This gloom might all be my holiday blues. Still, probably not.
For all our efforts here, from people all around, our centerpiece being the substation, nothing much has changed. We're still a crack haven. An open air market. A breeding ground of despair and death. I watch the dealers every day peddle their trash. I watch the walking dead every day and night. I see them scour the grounds for a tiny shred of crack all to the tune of "greens out, greens for $5." The same at Christmas as it is every day. I know we're only one of many open markets, but that's small solace.
I do want to ask, what more can I do? Please don't tell me to call BPD again. I call them several times a day. If you think I should move out of the city, just tell me. Please. If you gave me license to desert, I would in a heartbeat.
I don't want to end this diatribe so sadly. Let me wish you and your family a Merry Christmas and a great new year ... most sincerely. I believe you have put forth a tremendous effort to help this city and still do. I appreciate that more than you can imagine. I hope the new year brings you tremendous success ... because I'm selfish. We need you. Now, more than ever.
Saturday night, 7PM, December 21: All afternoon and now all night, dealing has been brisk. I think we've called 911 five times when it was just ridiculous. Or so ridiculous we couldn't stand it. To my standards, twelve boys hanging on the street selling crack is ridiculous. Lately, five or six is just commonplace.
I can tell when an officer drives through in response to one of our calls ... it's absolutely deserted all down the 1700 block and around the corner ... for two minutes. No one except Jamal and his tiny friends has any purpose loitering out on this block unless it's drug business. No one.
Wanda deals from the stoop of 1704 Madison all afternoon and evening now, often while watching her kids. When the cops drive through, she just calls them in and adjourns for a few minutes to her apartment. When she's not out, or holed up in her tiny apartment on her own high, and the street is clear, people come up and holler her name for service. As with so many, it's entirely possible selling crack is the only expedient choice she has, especially for feeding her kids and elderly dad. Never think I don't grasp that. For some reason, I understand her motivations better than healthy young men driving incredibly expensive SUVs, dripping with gold jewelry.
There must be several stashes in the common area or an open apartment of 1715. The dealers are walking back and forth every little bit to the back door of 1715, which is always open, to restock their carrying stash after they sell the few vials they have on them. The security guards are totally disregarded more and more. Unless they are standing there at 1715, which they should and have to be, the place has again reverted to a crack stash house.
I watch them out the window as they saunter from the corner of Wilson and Madison to 1715 Madison, rear, and then over to 1704 Madison on their way back to the corner. They walk that circuit every ten minutes or more often, depending on how many they sell or when they have to fill an order bigger than they're carrying.
Cars stream through. Most are customers. Those that stop for long are restocking the inventory at 1704. The dealers without an apartment to work out of have to go up to these cars. I watch the wads of cash and baggies of vials or tiny ziplocks change hands, mostly under our big, glaring floodlamp. We're as disregarded now as the security guards. We've proven just as impotent.
The dealers have come back full force. The substation has had no affect, other than the occasional, if frequent, momentary interruption created when a squad car drives through to use it. One can say that a moment's interruption is worthwhile, perhaps a few less vials of crack sold, but it's not really fixing the problem or even making much of a dent.
Other than the occasional officer who has the time and motivation, no one in authority takes the time to watch from a vantage point like ours and act. These beat cops have been successful at this several times, but only sporadically, they don't often have the time. Part of why I'm so up on the beat officers around here is they're the only ones who've made a difference. But they're not coordinated by management. They agree with me it takes some surveillance, some real attention, but they're not the ones in charge. I wish they were.
And where is the "drug squad?" Not here, for sure.
I called the DEA once in desperation, like what I feel tonight. If Baltimore can't handle it, maybe the Feds can, I'd reasoned. The call was answered by a Baltimore Police Officer on loan. He gave me a number or two to call at BPD, implying the DEA wasn't going to be helpful. "They're only into kingpins." He gave me the same numbers and people at BPD who've had no affect I can see. Why bother calling them after the hundredth time?
I see and hear the Foxtrot helicopter a few blocks west, hovering, as I do so often. Perhaps things there are more a circus than here tonight. That seems hard to believe. I'm told that's the case often though, as amazing as that is. One young officer tells me he takes more dispatches an hour than he can handle in the block of Pennsy and Laurens. I understand we're a satellite market to that, catering to overflow and because of our convenient location to Eutaw, the school, Bolton Hill and 83.
I'm starting to think I'm becoming like the bitter, nasty people who came out of the woodwork after the fires on the 1700 block of Eutaw Place on July 4. The ones who pointed fingers so definitely in the wrong direction. The same ones I said once in these writings should leave for an extended vacation or just go to the burbs where they belong. I'm like them in that perhaps I need to give up and move before I get so bitter and cynical. I'm not like them in the fact I don't blame the poor, addicted people around me (not most of them at least). I blame ineffective, obtuse police and city management. I'm bitter that politics and meaningless statistics are more important than real change.
The smiling face of Ed Norris with the new Governor on the cover of the paper rankles me as much as the sound of "greens for $5" out my window just now. The picture could be entitled "deserter." I'm amused how he says, in effect, "I'm running away, but I'll send help." Small, hollow solace. I suppose I should be encouraged that he's leaving if I'm so disappointed with his management. I'm not. His management was better than the nothing which got the city to this point.
A thought occurs to me. Maybe I shouldn't be so hard on the former commissioner. If someone gave me the opportunity to run away from my failure here, and save face too, I might well take it.
Thursday, dusk, December 19: What an up and down day.
I don't know what it is. A push to meet year end sales quotas, the full moon, mid month salary checks. The dealing has been absurdly strong all afternoon. "Blues" yelled out from one side of the street, "greens" from the stoop of 1704, "yellows for six" walking up and down past my door.
Perhaps it's holiday shopping. Visit the corner of Madison and Wilson where you know you can find all your holiday drug shopping needs. Convenient drive through service, open 24/7.
Haven't seen the SPS guards at Pedestal Gardens across the street. Certainly not prominently posted as they should be. Haven't seen any cruisers since last night, either, though I'm sure there's a been a few drive throughs.
Part of it is my being home so much in the past few days thanks to my slip on the ice. Haven't been able to sleep for a long stretch at a time either unless doped up on pain reliever. Doesn't help my frame of mind, which has suffered a long time from the battle to live here. Lying around snacking on holiday treats and drink has probably put ten pounds on me. That's not helping, either.
Still, it's not all bad today. This morning I got a package. Didn't recognize the sender. Since it wasn't a local address, I figured it wasn't a bomb from some dealer or the neighbors next door, one in the same in our case.
Here's the package and the note enclosed ...
"I'm a college senior, currently studying for finals. At this time of the semester I usually receive care packages -- this year, I'm sending one to you. I found out about your project online and I want to tell you how much I admire your courage and dedication. Best of luck to your neighborhood, and Merry Christmas -- sorry I can't send more."
Kate is a student at a fine university in Massachusetts. I assume she read about us on Metafilter.
At first, I was unmoved, too down to be encouraged. Then, as I looked at the package and reread the note a few times over the morning, it began to seep in, thawing the frost that's been overtaking me of late.
I'm going to put the goodies and the roll of toilet paper downstairs, of course. And when I see the officers, I'm going to share this story and the note. I sure wish I could share it with the neighbors. I know very well those who live on this block are certain no one anywhere cares about them, certainly not city hall or Washington or a college student in New England.
The posting on Metafilter accomplshed this enormous spike in readership here ...
Just heard about the mayor's centerpiece appointment, Ed Norris, leaving the city to join the new governor's administration as head of the state police. I feel abandoned. One person's reaction on TV, probably meant to be flattering, was "maybe he feels he's done all he can here" and is off to find a new challenge. God forbid this was all that can be done. It's also possible he can see the growing disappointment in those of us he's leaving behind. As with other city leaders, massaging statistics and good PR work may impress suburbanites who elect governors in this state now, but not those of us who live here in the trenches. The problems of this city seem little better to those who live here. Promises are wearing thin and the rhetoric is irritating.
My impression from speaking to officers is morale has not been good in this department, even if it has been better. Not unexpected when, for example, you often hear top brass complaining about how young and inexperienced our beat officers are. At one point they publicly said beat officers were lazy and could not be trusted to use a break room like ours responsibly. Something they've completely debunked.
Now we are in for a period of searching, confirmation and a breakin period while a new leader tries to get a handle on the complex and severe problems here. Thanks, Mr. Norris, for using us as a steppingstone. How proud and impressed I would have been if you'd said "No, Governor, Baltimore needs me and I have a job to finish." Ah, but perhaps your replacement will be more substance and less flash. And maybe he'll stick around to see the job through. We can hope.
Spoke to two officers a few minutes ago, while stocking up the snacks and cleaning up. Their response to his leaving. "Depends on who replaces him. We'll still be on the job tomorrow."
I did hear this afternoon from a lawyer with the Community Law Center. I don't know what put us back on their radar, but I'm thankful and hopeful they'll be able to do something about 1704. She'd like me to meet with possible developers, which I understand to mean local nonprofits like the Midtown or Druid Heights groups, to work out a plan to get new ownership for that building, fix the squalor and stop the dealing. As I told her, 1704 is the biggest problem on our block now. Something I still find unfathomable considering the press coverage of the fact this crack/slumlord is a city employee who happens to owe $11000 in back taxes and fines to his employer. There's also an individual pursuing a deal to buy the tax lien now, but unfortunately that could be a lengthy proposition with no guarantee of success.
I asked her if there's anything else she can think of for us to do about the dealing here. She thought for a moment and said "seems like you've done all you can." I wish that wasn't so. I rack my brains constantly for ideas. If you have any suggestions, please let me know.
Kate's and the very kind words of encouragement from so many have been wonderful, but an article in today's Sun reminded me that what we're doing here is basically selfish, trying to make a home and neigbohood for ourselves out of a crack market. True charity and inspiration is to be found in the likes of those who every week drive in to the city to feed and clothe the homeless. Check out "Warm Feelings," a nice article in today's Sun.
Not getting out has left me with a lot of pent up commentary, hasn't it? Thanks for reading.
Tuesday, 11PM, December 17: The corner of Wilson and Madison:
"Greens, greens, greens out!"
Sunday late, December 15: I now know five of the six apartments in the building next door use and sell crack. One may be vacant, but gets used by the dealers who loiter in the halls. The sixth belongs to a man on Methadone treatments. I respect that effort, especially living where he does. I don't think he can handle the complexities of dealing anymore. Sorry to have to report this, but my suspicion about the mom downstairs was verified by a neighbor. He was approached by her to buy greens the other morning when he did his daily constitutional. This evening I imagined why the seven and nine year old were out in the street, kicking around garbage at 10:30PM. There were two SUVs in front of their house. No doubt a marketing meeting was taking place. Kids get in the way.
While the kids were playing, I watched a blank faced woman, about 35, stand like stone for a few minutes. I was torn between wondering if she was OK or was a threat to the kids. After the chemicals in her brain found some equilibrium she went back to the task at hand: scouring the pavement in front of our houses for crack vials. Smart in her own way. She knew to pick up a wadded up McDonald's bag under the bright glare of our floodlamp and look through it. I felt terrible for moment that she was so hungry. She pawed through the contents, throwing the paper and uneaten fries and burger parts over her shoulder. Then she found a small glass vial. Must have been a day's stash bag. The dealer had overlooked a "stem." The woman found sudden purpose and marched off, no doubt to find a match and pipe.
More officers are using the station today. I've been keeping a closer eye out there. Lots of fast food wrappers from lunches and a few pots of coffee. Smelled a lunch being microzapped this afternoon. A few moments later heard the car drive out fast, lights and siren. When I went down an hour later to clean up, the lunch was shoved in the fridge. The officer came back to try again. "Busy day," he said. It's always nice to know they're using it.
While walking the dogs in the yard this afternoon, Vaughn overheard three church people going to their cars. Two remarked to each other "what beautiful Pit Bulls." I think they are beautiful thanks to being well taken care of, though I know they're just mongrels. The third said "I don't know what right they have to put up that fence! That's church property." Never was theirs, but while church management did think so it was a garbage dump and shooting gallery. So much for responsible property ownership. The city foreclosed on it ten years ago when it knocked down the abandoned house that stood there between us and the current crack house. Took us a year to get the official permission to buy it from the city. We've had trouble raising the $500 purchase price or would have closed on it by now. Things like the substation seemed a better use for the cash. Hasn't been a rush. Part of it is being used by police cars anyway. I recall the officers who thanked us for closing the lot in so dealers and users couldn't hang out there.
The TechBalt people had their first strategy meeting Saturday. I couldn't go. Adam reports it went well. They have a lot of work to do finding a block or blocks to colonize. Hard to find an area with enough adjacent properties willing to sell cheap. An unwelcome real estate salesman showed up to peddle his services, no doubt hoping to horn in on the action. Techbalt is a concept for putting together a group of like minded first time homeowners to rehab an entire block together, creating a neighborhood, in the truest sense of the word. The project was chronicled recently in the City Paper. The group buying power for mortgages, contractors, etc. and most of all the safety and morale boost of working together, would be great. The sense of isolation you get from doing it alone can be paralyzing.
Saturday, 7PM, December 14: Wouldn't have thought it in the rain, but dealing last night was pretty steady, especially late. Tonight it's already high volume and started early. Greens and blues. One of the boys has been visiting his stash under the ramp of the Payne Church's building all afternoon, even as the street was filled with church goer's fine cars and well dressed parishioners coming and going. They have blinders on. They made it out and now consider the neighborhood around their church nothing more than a parking lot.
Saw a police car in front of 1704, the crack house, earlier. Common sight. One of the guards from Pedestal, the building at 1715, was talking to the officers. Nothing happened. Don't see any guards or any police otherwise. Just a dozen street vendors carrying on their business. No one to stop them. Not even me.
Seems a waste of time to call it in. All that happens is a squad car will drive through. The dealers will go into their crack house and business will stop for three minutes.
The station hasn't been used as much in the past few days as it was during the deep freeze. Of course I don't see them as much when it's busy. Gave me a chance to do the floors. Only seeing squad cars occasionally, as I notice them. I don't know where the foot patrol officers are. Perhaps putting out fires in the Eastern District. Its homicide rate has gone up 70% this year. With the year end closing in fast, the powers that be want to keep it from going any higher.
We were promised increased response to drug calls after the Dawson massacre. We're not getting it. This market continues to thrive, unabated, as does the corner of Pennsy and Laurens. And the crack slum next door at 1704 goes on, too. The Mayor, State's Attorney, housing department, drug squad all seem powerless to do anything about this flagrant example of what's killing Baltimore. The TV report is forgotten.
Nothing can be done about a crack house owned by a city employee with no regard for the dealing from his house and the safety of the children living there. Broken windows remain, one is used as a crack vending machine. Heat is accomplished with open gas stove burners and electric heaters on overloaded circuits. How convenient for the slumlord if the place should burn itself down.
After yet another email to the mayor describing the problems next door and the dealing on the corner, I get this brief reply...
"Are you in touch with the drug enforcement officer at Central? Call 410-396-2410 and keep at it."
How lame. I'm tired of calling. It accomplishes nothing. For some reason, other than the occasional motivated beat cop, we can't seem to do an organized surveillance. The drug squad sergeant is more angry at Mr. Douglas for complaining to the press than willing to help address his very valid concerns.
I'm getting the impression that those who complain too loudly are rewarded with the least effective help. What better way to drive them out? Complainers, especially those who begin to criticize management, can be ignored so they'll leave. They'll give up. Apparently it's felt the city needs residents who don't complain. Certainly not those who criticize policies and management that are not working.
"Hey, it's better than it was." That's saying nothing. It had no place to go but up. From where I sit, it still has no place to go but up.
A thriving, famous corner market continues, unabated. Not because nothing can be done, but because no one in management is willing to do it. They won't take suggestions. They won't take offers of a place to do surveillance. They don't send plainclothes officers in response to complaints of rampant dealing. They don't do a lot of things common sense would seem to dictate. No wonder we can't seem to win.
Instead, they react to statistics and worry about what plays best in the press. They attend community meetings, sometimes, and listen and talk ... and go back to doing the same things with the same results. Resume building and PR seem the largest motivation. Run around putting out fires, create photo ops. Don't consider persistent, proactive, common sense measures. They're not exciting and headline grabbing.
Might be my back bothering me. This is the first day since my ice skating incident I haven't been on pain meds. I'm getting better. The neighborhood isn't.
Ironic. My neighbors escape the pain of living here by using the very thing we allow to create that pain. Sometimes I don't blame them for it. I miss my pain relievers, but I'm not going next door tonight to buy more, even if they are convenient and open 24/7.
Thursday, 3AM, December 12: The dogs are in an odd mood. Strangely rambunctious at this hour. Woke me up. Nothing in particular seems to be causing it. Perhaps a bit of cabin fever from not playing outside much in the past few days. They don't like ice and rain much. Maybe it's the sudden heat wave. A balmy 34 degrees outside my window this early morning. Beats the teens, for sure.
It's almost eerily quiet out. The officers I've spoken to say it's been quiet all over with the exception of one exciting foot chase with a dealer who didn't want to go quietly. Exciting to me. Part of the every day job to them.
There was an interesting editorial on the current purpose of cities and what to do with Baltimore in this last Sunday's Sun. Entitled "Is it too late for cities?" I hadn't looked at the factors that have created the current Baltimore as it does. I've copied it here in case you missed it.
There was also a good story on the jazz heyday of Pennsylvannia Avenue, long before it was the cracked out disaster so much of it is today. The corner of "Pennsy" and Laurens as the officers call it, just a few blocks west, makes the problems on our corner seem small. The pictures of jazz greats like Louis Armstrong and Sarah Vaughan were great. You read things like this and wonder how it could possibly have changed so much in just two generations. I've linked to it here.
I've begun taking the real paper again. When it was just me, seemed a waste to have all that paper piling up. Now when I'm done, I put it in the substation where it certainly gets used. One graveyard shift officer said "it's hard to find a paper late" and thanked me for putting it out. I enjoy having the paper in my hand again. The online version is good, but not the same.
I'm a bit bruised up from a nasty ice skating accident in the alley yesterday. That's certainly part of why things have been so quiet on our corner. The ice everywhere has made navigation treacherous. I hope to get back to work in the next day or two. So much to do.
Sunday evening, about 11, December 8: Mission accomplished. I mentioned yesterday that the steps were crumbling apart from the recent frosts and had become a hazard.
The substation steps about noon today ...
The substation steps about 7 tonight ...
Of course the bannisters and trim aren't done, but they're done enough for service, as two 200 pound, 6 foot plus officers proved when they dashed out on a call. Tromp, tromp, tromp.
Rather than Laurel and Hardy, as so often is the case, Vaughn and I worked more like Loggins and Messina. They're before your time unless you're at least 40, but suffice to say we worked well together and got it done almost before dark.
Would that closing down crack houses was such a straightforward project that only took hard work and good intentions.
Two of the neighbor ladies from 1704 are cracked out of their minds, milling in and out of the house for hours now. One is the mom of two of the boys I worry about there. I hope they're sound asleep, as all kids their age should be by now.
The dealing isn't so blatant tonight, though. More inside than on the street. Might have something to do with foot patrols being on again. Several officers have been in and out. Met a couple new ones. Always makes me smile to see their expressions when their colleagues introduce them to the place and explain it.
Sunday morning, about 2AM, December 8: 26,771 hits. This equates to about 5,000 new visitors on December 6 when a reader here posted a comment on Metafilter. That's a large online community. Worldwide readership. And now we've had visitors to this site from all over the globe. Prior to this 700 was the largest one day total. I've had emails from London, San Francisco, Cincinnati, Wyoming.
Derek emailed ...
"...What you are doing seems to be bred out of your passion to create a very simple thing: a neighborhood. I respect your willingness to stay and understand your occassional drive to flee, but please know that you are doing something that is now resonating to a larger community than just Baltimore. You now represent an idea of true grassroot efforts rarely seen anymore... you are investing because you actually care about your street.
For every Madison, there is an Oak, a Main, an 11th, a Pennywhistle. For every 1708 there is a 1425, a 253, a 6551. People can relate. Your story will inspire, of that I have no doubt.
I know this letter would mean much more if there was a check attached, and I wish I could help pay for something you have done... but I can't, so I am left only able to write some words of encouragement.
I hope they help and keep up the good fight, Bryan."
That he took the time to write means a lot more than dollars, though we appreciate the help with the paving, too. There have been many other emails like this. Incredible response. Thank you all.
All this over a website started out simply to give people from nearby more details and to keep track of what was needed to finish the substation. It did evolve more into a running commentary and has served as a vent for me. Sometimes ranting at Vaughn or the dogs or the brick walls isn't very gratifying.
Looking over this sight, I realize I haven't shown what the effort has been all about since it was under construction ...
It's just an outpost in a bad neighborhood, a tough beat, where an officer can sit and watch the TV news or a soap opera while eating lunch. It's warm, has a clean restroom, with hot coffee and some snacks donated by our neighbors. Simple things mean a lot. To those of us who provide it and to the officers who use it.
This afternoon it looked pretty quiet on the street so Vaughn and I went to Home Depot and Lowes to buy the materials for the new entry stairs to the substation. I believe I have all the makings of four steps and a landing. I'm going to put them over the disintegrating poured concrete steps tomorrow, with any luck.
When we got back, we found two squad cars in the parking area. We unloaded the lumber and met two officers and their shift sergeant. The officers finished their break and were off. We visited with the Sergeant for a bit. Shared a lot about this neighborhood and the crack house next door, about his long career with the Baltimore Police Department, about the substation and how impressed he was that people cared.
Later, he took us up on our offer of an observation post upstairs with one of our security guards from across the street at the subsidized housing. I warned it was a quiet night, but was shushed and told in a whisper, "hold on, he's watching a deal." It was next door, at 1704 as usual. The Sergeant radioed a patrol car and then dashed out to make an arrest. I haven't seen him since, but I think he made the bust. Now he knows what a fertile ground this is for "poaching," which is what some of the guys call it. I hope he'll do that again.
Four other officers have used the station once or twice in the past few hours. One only uses the restroom. I think he's uncomfortable accepting the free coffee and snacks even though I've assured him that's what they're there for. In this day and age, little is free. However, the others understand and modestly partake. I'm hoping he'll understand it's a gesture of thanks, not a bribe.
Dealing outside tonight has been very slow. I think the bust that mysteriously happened out of nowhere may have reinforced that for the night. After another stressful period, I'm filled with optimism and hope tonight. Thanks to strangers from afar, neighbors near, and the police officers who do us the honor of accepting our small gesture of appreciation and respect.
Of course I know that can all change in an instant. It always does.
Tomorrow I'm hoping to have before and after photos of the steps. I have $124 worth of lumber that will either be solid safe steps tomorrow or an expensive pile of kindling. I like when I can show progress with the station here again. It was fun to do that in the first weeks of this site. Kind of like a to do list shared with the neighbors to help keep at it.
Saturday morning, 1AM, December 7: It started early and has been nonstop all night. You'd think it was summer again. It's 16 degrees outside and falling.* It's enormously helpful to the dealers to be able to hang out in apartments (yes, more than one) of the crack house next door at 1704 and in the Pedestal Gardens building across the street to warm up. Some of the customers even know which doors to knock on. They just drive up and park in front, just not so much curbside service as it gets this cold.
Vaughn said I should call the police. I said "why?" When he told the Major yesterday "they just run and come right back after the squad car cruises through," his reply was "call again." I guess he thinks I should just spend my entire day dialing 911. I hate to waste the patrolman's time unless I think there's a chance. By the time they get here, the dealers are gone. They're back out in minutes. Since two and until about now that would have had me call every ten minutes.
I'm stuffing myself with fudge and pilfered Pop Tarts from the station. I have my drugs, too. I should take up smoking again. And you got to avoid liquor when you're alone and worried about reaction times and aim. On nights like this I have the remote next to me always so I can turn down the TV or stereo to listen. There've been times when my surround sound stereo has scared me. The bangs and squealing tires and sirens have sounded too real. I avoid cop shows. I have their soundtrack outside the window.
There's a rat in my basement. They try to burrow in down there every winter. Every time I turn on the light he runs into his hole. I've only barely ever caught sight of him. Yet I know he's there. Until I close down the newest burrow he's made for himself and make it less hospitable down there, he and his kind will go on. I've tried poison, but that only kills one or two. More just come back.
You can't poison crack dealers. You can't catch them with uniformed officers and Crown Victorias. You need to use plainclothes officers who don't look like officers. (Uniforms are more targets than symbols of respect around here.) You need neighbors who don't look the other way for fear of retaliation or futility. You need to make a street less hospitable. You need to close down crack houses. Seems like common sense.
The snow made pulling into the station area a bit tricky for a time. Some officers parked in the alley. Other than dealers and other officers, no one noticed. I tried to find a plow service, but that's impossible when they're needed, like finding a cab in the rain. I had understood from Sergeant Hess it would be plowed by the city, but that didn't happen. Fortunately, the snow wasn't too thick to shovel and tramp down with my car.
The concrete steps leading to the station door have started to crumble from the salt and freeze cycles. I was hoping to get another season out of them, but no. Another trip to Home Depot, another $100 and another day or two's work building a solid wooden one. I won't be closing the station. If they drive up, I'll take them around through the side.
Enough complaining. I get a lot out of it, too. Like encouragement to go on ...
This afternoon I got the following email:
"I don't live there, don't even live in that state. I live in Cleveland. But I do know that you are making it better for people like me in your city. And I also wanted you to know that others are thinking highly of you as well. Keep up the good work and may God bless you!
This is a link to a web community I belong to. We've discovered your website and are passing along the fact that you need items to continue your fight (wish list and money for the parking pad). Look at what some of your former Baltimorian's are saying.
And this afternoon two young officers I hadn't met before came in while I was cleaning up to eat their takeout Chinese food. "Smells good," I said. "Not bad for an hour and a half old... We got busy." One microwaved his soup. The other said "it's nice to have a quiet place to have lunch." They ate fast and used the restroom. When I looked out 15 minutes later they were gone.
*Neighbors and others might appreciate the weather information at the very bottom of this web page.
Friday, December 6, 2:30PM:
This is the corner of Wilson Street and Madison Avenue. Across the street to the right is Eutaw Marshburn Elementary. Half block to the upper left is Eutaw Place, our famous prostitute row.
These guys are dealing green capped vials of crack. Hollering it out, every few minutes. I've watched them for a while.
I wish I could have taped the beige jacketed one turning his coat inside out after their lookout in the third floor window of the Pedestal Gardens building across the street from me phoned them to tell them I was taking pictures.
A call to Major Gutberlet found him out until 7PM when he comes on duty today. His secretary transferred me to a desk officer who offered to pass the information on to our drug squad sergeant. I told him that would be a waste of time in my experience. "I can send a squad car?" "Unless it's unmarked, that will only disperse them, but that's a help. Thank you."
They're gone now. The lookout saw the car from around the corner. They'll be back in minutes. As soon as the blue and white is back around the corner.
People often ask if I'm afraid of retaliation. Only crazies on personal vendettas scare me. The businessmen who run this street consider me and the Baltimore Police Department a joke and the court system here a game they usually win.
Though it's decidedly not my mood today, I like to close an entry with an optimistic note. I have one: Laurence, a concerned Baltimorean, has donated $275 to the parking fund for the substation. There's still a large balance of course, but for an individual to do this is as inspirational to me as he told me he has found our efforts here. The new surface back there has been essential in this snow storm to make the substation accessible. Click here for details.
Thursday afternoon, December 5: The snow has almost stopped. While out shoveling a few of the dealer boys walked past, enjoying the cleared sidewalk. Only one hawked his wares directly in front of me. Two cordially said hi. Other neighbors said hi too. The clean slate of a fresh snow seems cathartic, even here.
The kids from next door and all over the block are having a great time. Mom from next door at 1704 is watching pretty close. Our canine security team enjoyed a romp in the snow in the yard for longer than I expected. Chasing snow balls can be fun, though exhausting. Then, suddenly, they decided it was time to go in and huddle up where it's warm.
We've had a patrol car parked in the Payne church lot off and on today. I can see a deep furrow in the snow where the officers have tromped around to use the station. I've been keeping fresh coffee going in there all through the storm and seen many cups disappear, along with chocolate.
Now that I've come in from shoveling and the snow has slowed, I hear both blues and greens being aggressively hawked. The slingers are marching right down the middle of the street, yelling their colors. Their bosses will be happy. As will their customers, next door and suburbanite, who can rely on our corner for all their crack and heroin needs, whether in rain, sleet, snow or dead of night. What's that old mailman's motto?
The "prostitution meeting" in Bolton Hill went well, according to Vaughn and other accounts. He said Major Gutberlet and Ms. Miehlke from the Mayor's office stayed through and were very responsive. Turn out was only about 30. I would have thought more. Everyone loves to complain. Few actually act.
Along with good communication, there was Ms. Jessamy coming to him and assuring us she's not forgotten about 1704 and has two members of her staff pursuing it. No specifics. I'm hearing rumblings of other progress there too, but no one wants to say anything until it happens. Probably to safeguard themselves from responsibility if it doesn't. Understandable.
And Major Gutberlet told Vaughn directly the BPD is going back to 12 hour shifts and assigning foot patrols in the area again. That will do wonders to knock down the dealing and discourage the prostitutes. They've found the foot patrols to be effective. I hope it has more to do with understanding the value of having officers more familiar with their beats than budgets that need to be used up or a desire to keep the statistics down as the year ends.
I know the foot patrol officers will be enjoying the substation, especially during what promises to be a real winter.
Wednesday, December 4: The checks must have all arrived and been cashed. There's an intense marketing effort out there since school let out. "Greens, greens, greens, greens, greens, greens ... !" Perhaps they're anticipating the snow and want people to stock up before it hits. Perhaps it's to make up for the day off they took yesterday.
What're those things Baltimoreans stock up on before a snow? Toilet paper, milk, bread and eggs? People around here are stocking up on their crack supplies, too. Wouldn't want to run out when you're snowed in. Nice for the dealers that they can hang out at 1704 and keep warm, too. Thank you Mr. Weston.
While picking up after the dogs in the yard this morning, I found several full vials, ditched over the fence no doubt when a squad car drove by unexpectedly. I like finding the full ones. It feels good to flush their contents down the toilet. The yard is still full of empty and broken vials after years of being a dump and part of the crack house that was 1708.
The big Bolton Hill prostitution meeting is tonight. Please attend if you live in the area. 7-9pm at Memorial Episcopal Church (1407 Bolton St.). A letter was sent to the Mayor, Commissioners Norris and Bielenson, and the State's Attorney, asking them to meet and detailing the problem, listing possible remedies. You can download it in Acrobat PDF format by clicking here, if you'd like to read it. There's reference to the substation being used as a center for foot patrols, as it was recently when we had several officers on foot in this sector. A place to warm up is essential for winter time foot patrols.
The mayor has sent an aide. The police commissioner has sent the Major. The health commissioner has sent a deputy. Ms. Jessamy is supposed to attend herself. It appears she takes the concerns seriously enough.
I sure hope at least all these representatives show up. If any don't, I have a feeling Bolton Hillers will be very angry. I recall twice the Major was scheduled to attend meetings of the Madison Park Association. The last time he sent an assistant community relations officer. He had a good excuse, but still it was disappointing in more ways than one.
The constant, entrenched dealing and the prostitution that helps support it here deserve attention from the top. Sometimes leaders need to see a problem and act themselves, not always delegate.
Vaughn plans to attend. I've got some broken pipes to fix up the street. That's probably best. He's more patient with bureaucrats. I tend to ask questions they don't like to answer.
Tuesday midday, December 3: Yesterday around this time, ten squad cars converged across the street from 1704 to help an under cover officer make an arrest. The suspect was still struggling even as several officers showed up and the helicopter hovered overhead. It was a good show of force and support for a fellow officer. Hopefully some of those operating out of 1704 realized there is law here. They can't be reminded of that often enough.
This bitter cold and wind is discouraging business outside, even if it is near the first when the checks are out. The security guys and a couple of the officers have said it's dead today. I only see a few of our dealers walking by occasionally. I'm sure the upcoming snow will help, too.
I've seen some of the special BPD squad guys drive by in their ominous, unmarked, dark blue cars. There must be more undercover work, too. We're grateful. I guess we'll have to wait for a warm up to know whether it's the cold or increased attention that's putting the dealing off the streets at the moment.
Sunday, almost midnight, December 1: Four dealers on the corner. Five other guys having a business conference across the street in the school parking lot, under the doorway flood. I'm watching cars drive up and get curbside service. Must be the first of the month.
Is there a circular in the suburban editions of the Sun? How do so many people find out that this is where to buy crack and heroin safely? And why is it that those at desks downtown don't see the flyers too? The beat cops here know the problem. It's as obvious to them as it is to us. They can only do so much. For some reason, no one downtown can do anything other than offer lip service.
It's 27 degrees outside right now. Does anyone wonder what's going on? Must be pretty profitable to work this corner, don't ya think?
Why? Why is a problem so obvious impossible to fix? What can we do? What?
Sunday, 10PM, December 1: Nice day.
Looked out my window about 1PM to see what the screaming was and saw one of the kids from next door being kicked, viciously, across the street. Payne church goers were leaving their services, oblivious to it, as that church's members have always been to everything that happens in the real world outside their temple here. They consider this block their parking lot. Nothing more. Dialed 911. Put on hold for 20 very long seconds* as I put on my shoes. Running down the stairs I explained to the operator I didn't have time to give her a detailed description, I needed an officer now. She began to tell me I shouldn't do anything until they arrived when I hung up as got on the street.
By the time I got down there, the boy was back inside and the kicker was back at his post in the doorway of 1704 selling crack, chanting "greens, greens, greens."
I said something that can't be written here. He replied, with a smile "what'd you see? nothing to see." I said something about don't play that game with me and "explain it to the cops." They arrived a few minutes later. His first words were to the officers were, and I quote, "What, I can't kick my own kid?" No. I am not kidding or exagerating. At all.
In the course of the evening I've found that two BPD officers, two SPS officers and I all wonder why he wasn't hauled away in cuffs.
It seems the boy's father is back from "vacation," which is what we call incarceration around here for the sake of the littlest ones.
I can't quite figure out what's going on at 1704. From the landlord on down, they seem to have a pact with the devil. Other than the roof over there, every other aspect of that building is wrong. Everything. 1704 is a malignancy killing this whole block. And there seems nothing anyone can do about it.
One thing I realized while I was ranting in the empty halls over here: At least Denzel knows that being kicked is not OK with everyone. He saw the police. He saw me. He knew why I was angry. Later, while I was seeing my neighbor out, he waved at me with a small smile until his scared mom brushed his hand aside. That makes upsetting this "father" worth the effort. I'm going to be looking out for him. I wish there was more I could do.
Nice day you say? Yes. Ken brought pop tarts and burritos and little TV dinners and some paper towels. It's his weekly Savalot shopping. He considers the substation part of his grocery list. We hung out for a while. He and his six month old son. I think he stayed with me for a while because he felt I needed the company and the encouragement. Seeing his son and putting away the groceries he bought for the officers was good. Thank you, Ken.
Good timing, too. While he was here with me in the substation, Officer Smith came by to put his protein powder in the fridge. He's trying to take care of himself because at "34 it's hard to keep up with these kids." The dealer boys do run fast. The officer met and shook Ken's hand and thanked us both. I hope that meant as much to Ken as it does to me. I'm lucky. I see the officers use the station regularly. I hear a lot of thanks.
About an hour later, the young man who I referred to in my last entry drove up from Pasadena to take the tour. He listened for an hour as I taught him "Baltimore homesteading 101." I felt like an elder statesman passing on words of wisdom. He is a college student, working as a computer help guy at a community college south of here. He heard me go on and on and listened intently. His youth and enthusiasm and determination were wonderful. I think we took away from each other the same thing: encouragement.
One fresh faced rookie came in this evening cause he had to go. I chatted with him for a while. I've seen him use the restroom a few times, but he never lingers. I asked if he knew the snacks were for him. He didn't. He thought they were private stuff. He was amazed that people care enough to buy him a pop tart. "That's awesome." I think that means good.
This evening, Rachel, my neighbor from up the street came over to watch Six Feet Under, a show we both like. We have satellite now and they don't. I met her near her door, of course, and walked her down. She's a very brave young woman, but this end of Madison is not safe for anyone. It was a rare time for me. Watching TV with a neighbor. Pity I was distracted watching the cars pulling in and out of the crack mart next door, but still, it was nice.
All in all, considering Denzel wasn't hurt badly, a good day. It's hard to hurt kids or dogs physically, thank God. You have to work at it, as the folks next door practice. Some of my friends and readers here think I don't know we've done some good. "You don't give yourself enough credit" I heard today, three times, from three different people. I have to admit, if Denzel realizes getting kicked is not OK, they're right.
*I've said this before about 911: Next time you call in a report of prostitution, pot holes, loitering, vagrants, etc, please consider someone might be on hold trying to save a child, or a dad having a heart attack or because someone is shooting at them.
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