Journal Entries for December 2004

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Monday
, December 27, 11pm: By all appearances, it was a good Christmas in the Pedestal Gardens apartments. Lots of new scooters, RC cars, basketballs and tons of wrappings and dinner scraps ...

a prosperous Christmas

Might have been prudent to anticipate this and put in an extra dumpster. It did get emptied  twice today, but by then, too late. The winds had strewn hundreds of pounds of trash around the neighborhood. Not that my neighbor across at 1708 Eutaw has been much better. For days there've been boxes and debris, put out on the wrong days and not picked up by the city. As the mayor often points out, dumping on the city makes us all feel like trash and yet seems part of the culture. Too many figure because others do it, I should too.

Found a Savalot shopping cart in the substation parking lot today. Very annoying because I knew it had been placed there by the lazy shopper who dumped it in the alley. I ran after him up the street, angry as hell. He just kept walking. Too lazy to return the cart he stole. We tossed it in the truck and returned it. One less obstacle in the alley. Speaking of which, the mayor has assured me that the access to the substation will be kept plowed this year. That will be a relief. It was not fun digging out squad cars.

Ah, but listen to me. Sound like a few Bolton Hillers. If our only problem here was trash, I think I'd consider it progress.

To my surprise, the fires that occurred July 4, 2002 are still burning. My neighbor on Eutaw who likes to pretend he is not alone in his burning hate is still convinced everyone at Pedestal Gardens is out to get him. They're all in a conspiracy. He can't tell the difference between the good and the bad so all are guilty. He's still bitter that I was an eye witness to the cause of those fires. Ruined his contention that it had been "their September 11th." Of course, he wasn't there. He certainly wasn't on his roof with a hose in one hand and a phone in the other explaining what was going on to police.

His big problem is that my previous willingness to work with the management of Pedestal Gardens has resulted in the delay of closing it down. No doubt it has, but I considered those fires and the attention his allegations created to be a good beginning at tackling the real problems there. And I saw progress. And I gladly reported it. Dr. Dan, another neighbor with just as good a vantage point also agreed with me that things were better. He also agrees with me now that things are not. Ah, but the arrogant hothead will let by gones be by gones and forgive me if I want to "close ranks" now and join him. BS to that. I respect his tactics and motivation little more than the drug thugs that operate with impunity thoughout this block.

Apparently there wll be no coalition with this zealot. Hardly matters. His credibility with police and HUD is nonexistant anyway. But there is agreement all around the neighborhood, up and down, east and west that the madness must stop. It's time to change management of Pedestal Gardens across the board. Make the very real changes often suggested by city police and other experts now, and finally, or close it down. If it can't be fixed, I'm just as ready to break out the saw and plywood and board it up as I did Clarence Weston's thriving crack house next door and then work on finding responsible owners.

And a special note to IRM: Deed restrictions are really not such an obstacle. Just ask the Staffordshire apartments on Charles Street. And it's amazing what can be ordered by a judge. Just ask Clarence Weston.

Big fight outside my window earlier. Started between just two, then to five and then attracted two dozen. No guns, but one guy in particular was getting thrashed pretty bad. "You got my stuff. Where's my money? This ain't your place!" Things are getting tense out there. The drug market so well accommodated by Pedestal Gardens is worth big bucks to the drug trade, just as PG itself  is to negligent property owners. Police did arrive fast. I was pleased I hadn't had time to call them before I saw the squad car. Perhaps others of my neighbors. Perhaps some of the good ones who live at Pedestal Gardens. I know many of them are just as disturbed by what's going on.

Some of us don't care if drug dealers kill each other. That's OK they say. I hear that a lot from those who abandoned the city long ago. Reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend about Iraq the other day. I remarked how we'd reached 1326 lives lost to this action, thousands more maimed and wounded and tens of thousands of Iraqis dead. Of course I don't agree this was the right course of action, but he does and he implied the Iraqi deaths were not important. I bristled and changed the subject.

Dead Iraqis and dead drug dealers are no accomplishment to be proud of. And in both cases we're talking a hell of a lot innocents caught in the cross fire. And in both cases we choose to fight unwinable wars rather than address root causes. OK. Off soapbox again. It was just a bit pent up.

Thank you yet again Susan for the flats of water and chips and cocoa. I know it's appreciated. I see them disappear each day. And we appreciate the help. I need to get a hot water dispenser for the instant chocolate. Gave up on the water cooler to save money when I realized the bottled waters are much more popular. We'll figure out a solution soon, so the officers can get chocolate faster than with the micro.

Thursday, December 23, 5pm: The cameras don't see so well when the rain's coming down or I might have noticed sooner that Pedestal Gardens now has "Private Property - No Loitering - No trespassing" signs posted prominently. A good move. One suggested long ago by a city officer who uses them as pretense to stop those loitering drug dealers. No one would loiter at those doorways who wasn't doing business or waiting for someone. And no one waits for hours in the rain. Cameras and security systems and guards who work have long been suggested too.

Dealers have been strolling back and forth along Madison. Apparently in the cold and wet, they take turns and cover more corners. Still going in and out of 1717 Madison of course. Saw either two maintenance people fixing or two others disabling the lock to 1715 early this afternoon. Couldn't tell which. I did see a new red sign inside. All I could read of it was the word "Warning." Perhaps warning about not using the fire door. Hasn't made any difference.

Naturally, no evidence of any security, but I've become alarmed that I'm not seeing any city officers either. Sudden drop off a few days ago. Don't know if it was something I said to brass, a spike in calls, or if the new Commissioner is deploying them in an effort to prevent any more murders before year's end. The candidate, oops, I mean mayor, is very upset about the statistics. Seems the focus is on reacting more than prevention. Ignoring a thriving corner market just invites trouble.

I wonder if a bloody drug shooting here would get the attention of the new commissioner since he lives just up the street. Perhaps he's content to live with the drug dealing if they don't shoot people. Many people are. I can see the 24/7 police car stationed in front of his house from my doorstep. I wonder what would happen if I attempted to knock on his door to invite him to walk down the street to visit his neighbors, the dealers included. Pretty sure his guard would prevent me.

I see Christmas lights in a few of my neighbor's windows. No one's decorated outside in this block again. I was very proud a couple years ago to be told by a long time resident "thank you, that's the first time I've seen Christmas lights in years and years." Don't know why I wasn't so much in the spirit this year. Seems a bit late to decorate now. But then perhaps tomorrow I'll get into the Christmas spirit after all. Seems a holiday all about hope. And I've still got that.


9pm: After the rain stopped about half dozen of our block's dealers emerged. A loud argument went on at the corner for about an hour. "No, you going to leave! This is mine!" Just exactly what I wanted to hear and was afraid would happen. The bad weather must have left some pent up demand. Last minute Christmas shopping perhaps. One guy I know, released last year from prison for dealing, went right into 1717 as someone on the other side of the block yelled, "be with you later _______!" They've gone inside now. For the time being.

There isn't even the semblance of security provided by Pedestal Gardens anymore. Nothing. They do not exist. Except that they cost taxpayer's money for nothing. That is if the security company or Pedestal Garden's management are even providing security anymore. City Police, my neighbors and I wouldn't know. We sure don't see 'em.

Tuesday, December 21, 10am: I get pictures of lots of culprits in and around Pedestal Gardens ...

culprits 

This morning was the on site property manager (two visits in two weeks, how on the ball!), the regional supervisor (the one in charge when things were bad and who came back not long before things got bad again) and an unknown suspect. I suspect a security vendor of some sort. Perhaps cameras? As with any attention to this building, it takes management being forced and even then it takes forever to make progress. They've perfected getting away with obfuscation and neglect. Just like too many of their security staff.

The fire door to 1717 continues as our portal to the world of crack. Even with this Arctic blast, I see the door open a bit, eyes look around and out pops a freshly restocked street slinger. Just inside that door you can find rather suspicious types loitering, ready to serve. You and I would see them. Management and security are myopic to say the least.  I'm guessing they've retreated to their girlfriend's apartments inside now though, having seen the "suits" surveying the building. Of course I seldom see that elusive bird, the SPS Security Officer. It seems there's a mutual agreement: we won't see each other. You just hang out in your end of the building and we'll hang out in ours. Both sides are only in it for the money, of course, but I think the dealers and their property managers make a bit more than 7 or 8 dollars an hour.

With the new year is coming a new movement of neighbors and neighborhood groups intent on finally and permanently fixing the problem of Pedestal Gardens. Hopefully, after that's done, the coalition can stay together to close other crack houses and work more regionally than provincially. Half the problem with the city, if you ask me, is people pretending their neighborhoods are islands, immune to the problems a couple blocks away. "Oh, that's not in our precious Bolton Hill, that's across Eutaw or North. That's not our concern." Yet these same people complain to the cops incessantly about the burglaries and car breakins and prostitutes, choosing to ignore the cause literally across the street. I hope that can stop cause when it does, dealers and the property owners who accommodate them will find themselves out in the very bitter cold.

There'll be more about this movement in coming weeks of course. Just as there was in the crusade that closed the 24/7 mini mart of crack and heroin at 1704 Madison Avenue.

Wednesday, December 15: Saw the on site property manager of Pedestal Gardens walking back from 1715-1717 a day or so ago. Surprised. I wasn't sure she remembered this building was her responsibility too. I had forgotten what she looked like. I doubt she's even visited in months. Part of the problem, obviously.

Spoke to SPS Special Police Officer Tyler. It was quiet in his building. I thanked him. Of course the bitter cold helps, but I still see hand to hand transactions "on the fly" in and out of his building. Hard to control, I realize, but the fact the building is wide open just invites its use for the drug trade.

Not all the scenes outside my window are bad. Some are the stuff of smiles and inspiration.

Head Start kids

I don't remember being so young and carefree that I skipped along as these kids were. But it's good to see kids are kids. Even here. I believe they're part of the Head Start program at NIMROD Center. Of course this program brings revenue to the AME Payne Memorial so it's not an entirely philanthropic venture for them, but who cares? The kids get a good environment, decent meals and the attention of caring adults. A win-win for all.

I heard a high ranking police officer the other day say in conversation "that's why I don't like substations." I let the comment go at the time, but wanted to reiterate the huge difference between the substation (restroom) in the back end of 1708 Madison Avenue and others. This one's supervised by unpaid volunteers. Officers don't hide from their work here. They wouldn't dare, even the very few who would be tempted. While I don't monitor their comings and goings, I do see the patrol cars and motor bikes drive up and pull away. The two officers that time who did spend half their shift watching football have long since been banished. We want to protect the privilege for those who use it as it's intended: the place on the beat to use a decent restroom, eat a quick lunch and grab a hot coffee, chocolate or bottle of water to take back on the road. Increasing efficiency by providing a convenience in the middle of their beat. Other "substations," like the one in the basement of 1715 Madison Avenue for the SPS security staff are not supervised at all and do provide a great place to hide from work.

"Put your head in the sand." The motto of too many SPS security staff and property managers.

Thursday morning, December 9: Looking out the window this morning, coffee in hand, as usual ...

can we break the latch?  let's just jam it open  and how it's left

The first photo is entitled "can we break the latch?"

The second is the girlfriend saying "let's just jam it open."

The third is "and how it's left."

Two days after the doors are supposedly repaired. Yet again.

In this particular case, it may well have been an innocent but lazy run to the market on the corner. An effort to avoid having to go out the actual entrance, shortcutting through the fire doors. But the effect is the same for the dealers who operate from this building.

This door propped open allows dealers to access their stash house and see up and down the street to their slingers on each corner. They can also just shut the door when they see the cops. It's just tooooooo convenient to resist.  I recall last year watching a dealer lieutenant use a hammer and screwdriver at 9am to loudly break the latch to 1715.

I'm assured by two architects that nearly vandal proof fire doors are available, tied to the fire alarms in the building. The dealers wouldn't be too keen on summoning the fire department and police. But they're expensive. Apparently, Pedestal Gardens management, in its infinite wisdom, thinks it makes more sense to pay repair after repair than to do it right. No matter that this practice aids and abets drug dealers.

 Wednesday, December 8: Dealing again last night, but mostly using the new tactic: Walking routes. Saw several handoffs in passing. Loitering on the corners is more obvious to anyone, including police who often will demand people disburse when it's obvious they're dealing. Selling while walking is much harder to distinguish, unless you have a good observation point, like me.

another 1717 ambulance run

Heard the familiar fire truck and ambulance roar down the street last night. Fortunately we're only a block from an engine and ladder company. Looked outside to make sure it wasn't us. Told Vaughn in passing there was another ambulance run to 1717. He replied "I just assumed that, it happens so often." It does. Just as it did at the 1704 crack house before it was closed down. Perhaps there's someone chronically ill there, but one ambulance driver has told me it is often drug related. Just another sad symptom of the problems there.

Tuesday, School Closing Time, December 7: Very quiet again last night. Actually slept well except for the predictable loud arguments among people coming and going from 1715-1717.

I've decided the reason so many of the Pedestal Gardens security staff spends 99% of their time in the "apartment" is because between Saturday, when it was "off the hook" and Sunday, when it was dead, a sophisticated camera surveillance system was installed, allowing the security guard to simply sit on his duff and monitor the entire complex. Must be so. Apparently many of the dealers got this news before I did. They know most everything first. Or it may have had something to with the good police response Saturday night and a few more city patrols the past couple days. I know it had nothing to do with PG security. They were no where to be seen except in their apartment.

Would that it were true about the cameras. I've noticed the dealers back today. Maybe now the dealers think things have cooled down to the point they can come back. Sometimes you discourage one group and another comes in to fill the void. Exactly the type of turf conflict that results in 300 homicides a year in a city of far less than 3/4 million. I can see the lure of PG clearly. It provides a wonderful place to deal from and dealers must have a stash house. It's essential to business

Spoke to Officer Tyler in front a bit ago. He was escorting two toddlers home up the street. They were being bullied by a big kid in the school yard. As I've said repeatedly, there are a couple of more effective PG security still. Odd, they're the ones who served before the change of management at the property management firm. The other good ones have left for a more decent wage. I absolutely don't blame 'em. After a while knocking your head against a brick wall for an uncaring, abusive employer, you've got to look out for yourself. Just as we feel we've been wasting our time working with Pedestal Gardens management and security now.

Father & Son Entry Systems
Father & Son Entry Systems

I pointed at this truck and he told me they are here to fix the fire doors. Amazing. Finally. These are the supposed to be secure fire doors they've never been able to fix properly. The ones the dealers employ to such advantage. Always half assed efforts and excuses. Could it be that PG property management has been clued in that we're fed up around here? Now they're going to try the tactics that worked before: Appear to be doing something so HUD doesn't intervene. You know, The Department of Housing and Urban Development. The gravy train for IRM Property Management and SPS Security services. Sad for them. Probation's over. It's a case of too little too late. The plug's got to be pulled on this fiasco of mismanagement.

To PG management and your partner in crime, your locked at the hip security contractor, if you cared you wouldn't have allowed it to slide back to what it was before. You imagined HUD wasn't looking anymore and neighbors like us were powerless to stop you. You've underestimated us.

Vaughn tells me perhaps it's a good thing the guestbook got purged. "A fresh start. All those bickering entries gone." He might be right. We are entering a new phase in the efforts around here. Perhaps an effort we should have tackled all along. Sometimes it's difficult to see who the true culprits are. They hide behind each other and pass the blame around in a shell game. And just like the dealers, if you can get away with it, you try to get away with more and more until you're stopped.

Monday morning, December 6: Please stand by. We're experiencing technical difficulties.

This website's server was down yesterday. Was wondering if the company we use to host the site had folded or something. They're in California. When it came back up, I couldn't upload new content and somehow the guestbook got completely wiped out. Still having trouble. Been on hold now with them for over 15 minutes. Apparently we're not the only ones who had trouble.

The joke around here is sabotage! But by whom? Web savvy drug dealers? Angry Security company owners? Angry property managers? They're even some good guys who might like this thorn in their sides to disappear. I know some with the city don't like such public airing of the dirty laundry on this block. Equal opportunity critic. I writes what I sees and that's not very flattering at this point. Ah, but likely it's not a high tech attack, only a technical glitch.

Last night was deathly quiet. All night long. Don't know why. Didn't see dealers. Didn't see police. Of course I didn't see any security guards at Pedestal Gardens. Perhaps the checks have all been tapped out.

Sunday morning, December 5: Violated my own house rule last night. One I insist Vaughn adheres to. Do not engage the dealers. Don't talk to them if you can avoid it. Don't gesture at them, etc. They're probably packing and they don't give a damn about anyone's life, not even their own.

Came back from watching the Christmas Boat Parade on the Inner Harbor. Was chilly, but cheering. The Pride of Baltimore was holding court, slowly spinning in place across from the Constellation, frequently firing her canon to punctuate the Christmas carols played from many of the boats. Between the Pride and her canons and the pretty boats all decked out, I had goose bumps. Or maybe it was just the frigid damp air. Anyway, I came back happy and smiling ...

... to find the streets crawling with dealers. Everywhere. All through 1715-1717, on each corner, reclining on the steps of 1704, 1700. I freaked. I was enraged. I seethed for a bit upstairs and then had Vaughn call the cops while I went outside. Rather than deal with me the little crowd I glared at while walking briskly toward them decided to retreat. I stopped chasing them as they crossed the school grounds. Vaughn came out as two squad cars arrived. We discussed what was going on. Met a couple officers new to us. Gave them a key to the substation.

As we came back to the house, I noticed one of the new SPS men at his car, still. Not even looking up. Not even taking the slightest interest. I yelled at him. He didn't even acknowledge me. Just retreated to where they all seem to simply hang out: their apartment at 1715. Violated another of my rules. A new one. I called their apartment. Asked the guy who answered, in not a very polite way, where he was, why he wasn't controlling his building. No answer. I used some bad words. Same type I used on the dealer boys. He hung up. I tried to call back. He ignored the calls. Then I called SPS. The dispatcher there was hostile as usual, said I was harassing his officer. I gave him an ear full and hung up on him.

It is useless to speak to anyone at or with the supposed "security" firm retained by the property management. It's useless to speak to the property management for that matter. They're getting away with it, so why would they bother with hearing from or working with a neighbor anymore? They're criminals harboring criminals if you ask me. And I am done with . And I am not alone. It's hard to catch drug dealing boys in the act. Can't hold lazy pizza parlor class security guards responsible. Or ignorant and negligent property managers either. But crack house owners, their shills and arrogant, cheating security company owners can be stopped.

It's an interesting fact, corroborated by former SPS staff, that the bar code system (installed to assure that security staff here made their rounds) is easily circumvented. And is. Rather than using the bar code reader at each station around the property, one just scans the bar code conveniently photocopied and sitting in the SPS apartment. That way, idiot property managers will think the staff is making rounds. Of course that assumes those managers even care. If they actually were here or opened their eyes, they'd know most of the security does nothing.

I'll insert my usual "however" here: Not all the SPS officers assigned here are useless now and not all the time. I have seen some actually discourage dealers. I have occasionally seen some making rounds. But as a team, they're not doing anywhere near the work they did earlier this year and last. Usually, I just don't see them at all. But I sure do see the dealing and mayhem.

There's good reason the property managers of Pedestal Gardens have resisted and are dragging their feet on a good surveillance system. Of course, they're not going to pay for that camera system. We will. The taxpayers. The thing for them is cameras would prove what they are. I wouldn't want to be photographed either if I was dealing drugs or harboring drug dealers and running a foul circus of an apartment community. I would certainly install the worst possible camera system I could, too, so it wouldn't work, but I could say "hey, we tried."

I had such glowing reports for HUD at our fall meeting last year. Reports of progress. Unfortunately that progress has been sabotaged. It's spiraling back to how bad it was a couple years ago. Then a group of Eutaw Place residents wanted to hang everything bad on the residents of PG. They were willing to lie about the cause of a fire to further their cause. I thwarted that effort by testifying to what I had actually seen. Then we worked with the management of PG and the security staff. Now, it's clear PG is far out of control and no one's doing anything. We don't have to lie about PG. It's clear to anyone who lives nearby what it's doing to the neighborhood.

The people who live in the Pedestal Gardens community are not bad. Not most of them. I know this. I've talked with many. I see them walk their kids home amidst drug dealers at school closing time. And many of those who are involved in drugs are intimidated or romanced into it. I'm sure many use drugs. I might too if I could buy them in my hallway anytime of the night or day. If I was given free "samples" from time to time. Many of the kids who live there see 20 year olds with Cadillac Escalades and girls and gold dripping from their necks. They make money tooling around on their bikes acting as lookouts. Apprentices to a life they see romanticized on TV. And the apartments themselves are sterile cell block like boxes with no place to escape but the streets outside. Residents of Pedestal Gardens are sitting ducks. An irresistible magnet for drug dealers and the crimes that surround them, like the burglaries, muggings and prostitution necessary to support addictions. With virtually no supervision, the complex is an uncontrolled haven for crime.

Concentrated subsidized housing does not work. That's clear to socialogists, city planners, movers and shakers. That's why the city is decentralizing subsidized housing. Like at Heritage Crossing. Where once stood a hell hole of public housing, now exists homes, some owned, some rented, some subsidized. You must have homeowners in a neighborhood. Those invested, who care. Junior should grow up next door to a Mr. Smith going off to his job to pay the mortgage, not a young man slinging drugs.

Does the line "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore," ring a bell? And there are many others mad as hell too. But unlike the character in the movie Network, it's those we're mad at who're going to suffer. One way or another. We're fed up. Our patience has been used up. For those in this neighborhood, the war on drugs has a very real battlefield: Pedestal Gardens.

Wednesday morning, December 2, 2004: Watched just now as what appeared to be a young woman hopped out of her Japanese sedan at the corner. Could have been a young man, but certainly young, with a bright white smile. Up walked a big husky guy who haunts our block. Right in plain sight, she pulled out a large baggy of small brown looking things. She handed him a handful, he handed her some cash. They chatted cordially for a bit. He sauntered away ... to the other corner and then to 1717's unlocked fire door. She stayed parked for a few minutes and then drove away. No doubt to finish her rounds "reupping" (stocking inventory at) other the crack houses on her route.

I don't pretend 1717 Madison Avenue is the only crack house in the city. It's just the only one I see every time I look out the window.

Not a lot to write about in the last week so I haven't. Lots of dealing, but what's news about that? No doubt only getting worse since there's no one but the foxes minding the hen house at 1717 anymore. And it's the first of the month. Regular readers here know that's "samples" time. The time when dealers give out "testers" of their product to lure loyal customers. Then government checks start getting cashed and the dealers make a killing. (In more ways than one.)  Heard an officer say the other day he was busy, "samples are out, you know." He was clearing dealers from the streets around here at 3am.

Put in a door return on the substation door yesterday. Now it closes firmly by itself. I have no worry about officers fumbling for keys or even worrying about it being properly closed now. Keeps the door sealed tight, too. Gotta save the heat you know. Bought it and keys at Robert's Lock Service on Read Street. First rate place. Not cheap, but worth it. Of the two dozen keys I made at Home Depot, maybe 6 worked. Of the three dozen made at Robert's, three dozen worked. The door return wasn't cheap there either, but it's good quality. Oddly, the keys are cheaper at Robert's than Lowe's or Home Depot. BTW: this is an unsolicited testimonial. I was just impressed by the value of dealing with a local business.

There are a few things brewing I wish I could write about. Nothing very exotic or dramatic, but since drug dealers and their hosts, uncaring property owners, read here, I can't show all the cards till the game is over. That's happened a lot over these past couple years. Many think I'm not discreet, but they're wrong.

Installing a new heating system in the old house. Going back to radiators. Very old fashioned ones of the type that were ripped out of here many years ago. That'll keep me home even more than usual. Watchful eyes and all. Not that I'm away that often. I've got lots of home projects planned for this winter. My To Do list this winter includes closing down a crack house across the street, by whatever means necessary. Just as important to the quality of life here on Madison Avenue as a new roof and heat.

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