Journal Entries for February 2003
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Friday, February 28: The month is nearly over. Thank God. Anymore snow would probably kill the house and sour spirits here beyond repair. This is one of those seasons that begs the next.
This afternoon, just now, I saw this out my window ...
The neighborhood is safe ... right now.
That's an SPS guy. Standing where I believe National Guardsmen with machine guns should be. He's young and stubborn or stupid. All qualities required if this city is ever to come back. I don't know why he does it. I don't know why young men and women join this police department either. It obviously isn't money. As I said, I'm sure stupidity is part of it. At least by the definition of those who've abandoned the sinking ship they see as Lady Baltimore. God knows, I suffer the same affliction. And I thank God for those kindred souls, like the "kids" of Techbalt. They're reinforcements we so badly need.
I know what Believe in Baltimore is. Or has become. I doubt some politicians understand. It's the lunacy to believe things can change. Not in "perception," but in reality. People like this lone young man, standing in the middle of a drug market, daring the drug boys to challenge him. People like the Techbalt tribe who dare to believe and want to join the fray. People who by necessity or choice stick it out in the worst areas of a city where large frontiers are under siege.
This from a would be homesteader: "then i remember how pissed off i can get about the ways baltimore works and how i want the city to be better. this is a life's project; joy and frustration and fear and disgust are all its attendant facets."
Have a good weekend.
Thursday, February 27: More snow. Now it looks to be serious. Fortunately, I've spent 40 manhours and $500 and feel pretty confident she'll hold through a foot of accumulation. Not a permanent repair, but something that will let me sleep. This is what I saw after ripping out the first area of ceiling.
The meeting with BPD brass went well. I was as encouraged as when I met the new Commissioner. I feel a change is coming. Of course, I'm easily encouraged or I wouldn't be here. Still I'm hearing new things. New approaches, and in some cases a return to policies and programs that worked in the past which were wrongly abandoned, like community policing, and an effort at working together with citizens. It shouldn't be an us or them mentality with the police. Most of us are on the same team.
As a BPD Chief left today, a young man passing by said "I know you, you're the new commissioner." The Chief was in full regalia, impressive. He was three weeks late at meeting the new commissioner however, who showed up in a windbreaker, perhaps because he hadn't been confirmed yet. The Chief introduced himself. They do look alike. They're the same age, African American, clean shaven, and they both have a confidence and sincerity that shows in their countenance and carriage. And they both convey the sense that a new energy has arrived. Thank God I didn't get the sense that either was so much a politician as they were a policeman or I'd not be so enthused.
While I was out walking the dogs in the yard, I began to eavesdrop on a loud party happening in the ground floor rear apartment of our local crackhouse, 1704 Madison Avenue, just next door. At first it was just talk of the size of the "blunts" (marijuana cigarettes) they were rolling. Being of a certain, pre Reagan, age, that did not overly concern me, but then the talk went to "you got a 20, that's lime green, woman. Regular Greens are 5." And then "no needles, where's the needles?" This while the two kids I know in the building were sitting on the steps out in front. In the snow.
Of course I called 911. Being gun shy of 911 operators, I asked if she thought this was an appropriate reason to call. She did. Three officers arrived in two minutes. Exemplary. Unfortunately, with no search warrant, they were simply replying to the complaint of a loud party. I'm sure by the time the door was opened, the drugs were hidden.
Party over, two cars that didn't belong here left within a few minutes. The kids were back inside. An SPS officer followed one of the cars to the notorious drug market at Pennsylvannia and Laurens just a few blocks further west, where no doubt the party resumed for the night. Perhaps there, people are too tired or too scared to complain.
Wednesday, February 26: Snow. Again. If the roof problem wasn't urgent before, it's become critical now. I'm ripping out 100 year old plaster ceiling like crazy to get access to all the beams. Propping and shoring up. We did not need another snow load on this roof before it was fixed permanently. Watching it come down so fast, it's anyone's guess how much we're going to see on the ground, or more importantly, on weakened roofs like ours.
There's a good story in the Sun today about Techbalt.com. On the Maryland section or online (click here). I recommend it. Kindred souls are they. I'd sure like to have neighbors here who would volunteer to help with this crisis as I know the techbalters will when they deal with the challenges of old, neglected houses and hostile neighborhoods.
I hope this snow does not delay our meeting with Colonel Blackwell and Lieutenant Rowsey about the renewed block watch plan and what it can do to help curb our market. The last blizzard delayed it, just as it delayed justice for the crackhouse slumlord.
Break's over. Back to ceiling ripping.
Tuesday, February 25: A madhouse. Of dealing. I've watched the local kingpin on his cell phone most of the day. I wish I knew his name. He's so good at what he does, he deserves press. One of the men he'd cornered said "you'll never take this block, it's ours." I think the SPS officers he discussed this with disagrees.
A kind benefactor of the station brought a case of new cups today. He commented how bad it appeared as he came around the corner. Sad to say, as we discussed small arms, I was happy to see an officer show up so I could see him to his car safely.
Just now I realized the time. I was nervous before but realize most dealers and their customers are asleep by now. It is the time the paper man delivers the news, about 4:30AM. I actually walked down, ready for battle. Ridiculous for me. I should know the ebb and flow of this block by now. God knows the frightened and busy paper deliverer does his duty and more. He doesn't need to know the other side of the door he rattled had a shot gun.
It has been too long a night. When Vaughn drove up much earlier, like about 7, I hollered down to the first floor "are you OK?" wondering if he was. Only because he hadn't told me he was coming. While the dealer yammered on the corner on his cell phone, about who and when and how many, I realized Vaughn was OK. Not of interest to him or Vaughn. Paranoia has its roots, and perhaps some of its making here.
Church parking day, February 23, Noon: I woke late this morning to find Vaughn's car parked a bit precariously against a snow bank and the AME Payne Memorial touring van parked in the area he'd dug out directly in front of the house. City dwellers will comiserate. He'd gone to his church early. I called him to suggest he call them to suggest it would be courteous if they moved before he got towed.
I looked out from the third floor to hear Vaughn talking loud. Never a good sign to hear Vaughn angry. I've argued with him about his not getting angry enough sometimes. I think he tries to balance the emotion scale for me. "You're angry enough for both of us."
Anyway, while he and a church sexton marched down the street toward us, I began to hear them.
"Why do you take my spot and only plow out the area for your church parking? Couldn't you make more room for the rest of us or to even run your skiploader down the alley? I've dug out your member's cars in that alley, why don't you help?"
"We're not the city. We're not doing a city alley or city street with a skiploader that cost us $100 an hour. $100 an hour! These are not all our cars. Many of them belong to the people who live here." $100 an hour is a good point until you consider how very much money this church has and the fact it would have taken less than $50 worth to clear enough room for all their members and the alley the police use.
Vaughn replied, "There are four or five cars that live on this street. The rest are yours and a few drug buyers and sellers." This he says while standing next to a dealer who'd just done a sale in the fire escape doorway of 1715. The same dealer I saw reupping 1704 two dozen times yesterday drove by them both, looking for a spot.
The church van moved.
At least after that, it seemed they'd redirected their mutual hostility toward city hall. The sexton said"That 311 line is a joke. I've called a hundred times and nothing. No plowing. Letting that water run for three months. Why don't you get your Italian mayor to do something!"
This church does so little for this neighborhood that I can see. They've been here so very long and seem to be waiting for government to fix anything and everything. That doesn't seem to accomplish much very often, especially here in Baltimore.
Whenever I've made overtures toward them, kind ones or challenge, my words fall on deaf ears. When we talk, all they hear is the color of my skin.
At least the church and I share something: frustration with our "Italian" mayor. Not that I have anything against Italians, mind you <g>. And frankly, after trying with city services so often with no luck and watching the city employees yesterday, I wonder how much of it is the mayor's fault. Perhaps he's right about privatization of services?
At least I still have confidence in most of our city police officers. And greatly renewed hope with the new commissioner.
Ah, a glimmer of sunshine. There is certainly a God.
Saturday, February 22, 10:30PM: I heard this big commotion, saw yellow lights flashing and saw no less than two snow plow salt trucks parked, having a break on our corner at Wilson and Madison Avenue just now. Don't know why here. There's no place to eat or get a hot drink or other legal refreshment. Reminded me of the city pickup truck I saw earlier today.
Foolish that I am, I changed back into snow clothes and walked up to one. Two dealers walked quickly away as I approached.
I said, "There's a police break room just 100' up that alley. If you could clear and salt it, it'd be appreciated."
"No, I can't go up an alley. Against policy. You need to call ..."
I turned away before he could finish or saw my contempt. "Never mind. Calling anyone in this city is a waste of time," I said across my shoulder.
Same size truck I saw salt and plow for The Wire show just last week.
The substation is only now becoming convenient to the officers thanks to our hand digging efforts. No thanks to the Payne Memorial Church which could easily have swept through it four days ago when it cleared the precious church parking lot with a skip loader or the city crews who don't care about the police or doing anything more than they must. No wonder 2 feet of snow paralyzed the city.
I called 911 to report the crack buying snow plow drivers: "That's not a 911 concern sir. You need to dial 311 to complain." When I tried to tell her how outraged I was at that response, she simply hung up.
Saturday, February 22, 7PM: Thank God the rain stopped when it did or I think it would have been more expedient to just dispense with the roof and tar the third floor. The main house seems to be holding on by sheer willpower and a lot of scarfed in lumber put in between bailing out the water. And am I the only one wading in his basement? <g> I'm going to try to get a nap. Has all the makings of a troublesome night of dealers. Was up most of last night between the shenanigans in the street and next door and the overwhelming rain beginning early and running until mid afternoon.
I was surprised to see a four legged rat trundle across the snow out back just now. I was looking to see where the loud popping sounds might be coming from. I assume they're not gunfire. Spaced to far apart. He's not the only vermin out tonight, by far, but I had thought extermination might be the one bright spot of this snow, ice, flood and fog we have going. Apparently no act of nature can discourage rats or dealers. I wish I had their tenacity and stamina. Of course, both are invariably young. Neither lives long.
If there's a swarm of locusts this spring, assuming the house holds up, I'm definitely giving up or going to church more regularly.
Saturday, February 22, 1 to 2:30PM: Dismal. That's the best description of this day. On so many levels.
Thanks to a beam that broke from the snow load, the roof flexed and many leaks have cracked open in the coating of tar. I've been bailing out the house constantly, throwing buckets out the window, like a sinking boat. Perhaps it is. I have put in some large lumber temporarily so there seems no danger of collapse, but all bets are off if we have another serious snow before we can make permanent repairs. I'm praying for spring, as I know we all are, especially this year.
More aggravating than this is the incredible dealing. Last night there were arguments on the street in front of 1704. Lots of customer traffic. At one point a customer or dealer doing business in 1704 left his car idling, blocking the street. Probably gone 20 minutes before an officer showed up after being called by an SPS officer. It takes some time to shoot heroin into your veins, unlike the 30 seconds or so it takes to smoke a stem of crack. A while ago I watched a well known dealer at 1704, "reupping" his store there. Now he's in 1715, serving customers and doubtless depositing stashes for use by his dealers tonight. This is the same building where one of the SPS Officers, Shaun, found a stash of 100 vials not long back. Same dealer and license plate I've emailed to the Major and discussed with several officers. He's still there, likely a meeting in the laundry room. The same door where they put the "bounty" on SPS Sergeant Kirk Kluver just last week.
Frustrated and angry, not uncommon here, I dialed 911. I like to make sure I do it every once in a while because I'm usually told by city management, including the mayor, to "call 911." As if that accomplished anything. It was busy. Flooding basements no doubt, and officers are likely on fixed post, meaning they are staying put in strategic places, not patrolling. As with the blizzard, the dealers all know officers are busy and unlikely to interrupt them.
Cars are driving through, stopping at 1704, running in and coming out happy. A moment ago, a white full sized Chevrolet pickup parked in front of the NIMROD center, ran across the street to 1704 and yelled up to the second floor "got any?" Apparently they'd run out of this man's poison. The truck has a yellow city seal on the side of it. DPW. I'd expected it was Clarence Weston coming to check on his crack house. He's a supervisor with sanitation.
The city truck went around the corner to Wilson and McCulloh. Always a thriving market, no doubt they have what he wants. It's doing even better now because it's out of line of sight of most SPS officers and me. Last night I was told by a city officer "it's crazy on that corner. Must be 18 dealers. I've never seen it this bad." This is the same midnight beat officer who used to be so effective here. The same one I've asked the Major and Commissioner be brought back. The Major told me he was being promoted. Instead he's be rotated and assigned jobs that keep him from doing police work. I miss how well I slept when he was on patrol around here.
It's entirely possible I will be moving my computer and valuables to the room above the substation tonight if the rain should resume at this intensity. It is also quite possible I will have to move. I am pondering closing the substation temporarily and taking up residence there. It is the only place left on the property that is unquestionably safe and dry.
Should my entries be suspended and if they don't, I suggest reading Anne's Weblog at http://2321.blogspot.com for your near daily dose of angst, frustration and anger. She even has a webcam now though in the rain or fog or dark, they have limited value. Her players are different, but the problem is the same. Organized drug dealers plying their trade with impunity, as they do in huge areas of the city. No end in sight.
I'm so glad our city leaders believe things are better.
Thursday, February 20, about 10PM, 2003: I shouldn't but I will: Address the concerns of the guestbook. If anyone belongs here, it's Vaughn and me. We own this city, not those who pretend that their longevity here is any claim to bragging rights. Not the dealers. Not local politicians who pretend. Sorry, I was reading the guestbook again. I have had arguments with dealers about who owns this block, not unlike those I've read here. Nasty ones over the fence. At one point a teenager showed me the butt of his pistol. A teenager. A child. A child. He doubted my resolve. I showed him the butt of my revolver and assured him about me. There is a time when a line must be drawn.
I called 911 earlier. I chatted with an insolent, oblivious young woman who needs real training. Again, I can only tell you that Baltimore is a self help city."America's Greatest City," what a joke. America's frontier against drugs, perhaps. We have wonderful officers, I can assure you, but if they are dispatched by idiots, consider that the minutes lost can be fatal. Mr. Ridge thinks we should stock up on duct tape. I'd suggest ammunition. The real threat to those who live in Baltimore and many of our cities is a domestic terrorist network of drug marketers.
I'm wondering now about how to save the roof of my 110+ old house. It occurs to me that the local dealers would be happy to see us succumb and give up. It will be a cold day in hell before I give up. Not now.
I think Vaughn feels the same way, though he's worried about me. And you shouldn't. I have bolstered the broken beam quite adequately. I may be a fool in some areas, perhaps many, but not in the most practical.
The dealing still thrives outside my door. I hear "greens out, greens out" incessantly tonight. I've just watched another deal go down outside the door of 1704. My neighborhood panders to the drugs and violence that mar and humiliate this city every day. We should all be outraged.
Dammit. When exactly have we had enough?
Later this Thursday night: I just had a nice talk with a 311 operator. I expressed to him my frustation at listening to rival dealers have arguments in front of my house. At least he listened. And he said "they're on their way already, sir." Some small comfort. I haven't seen them and what can they do in uniform and marked cars?
Sometimes I wish these guys would attack me. Maybe it's true. Maybe if a white person was attacked overtly, like the Dawsons, maybe then we'd wake up and understand what's going on here. The death, in agonizing, excruciating flames, of seven members of a poor black family does not seem to be enough. Seems part of the attitude of suburbia: "it's just black drug dealers killing their own." The stuff of TV dramas. Nothing important.
Terrorism and death have their home right here in Baltimore and other of our cities. Why pretend that enemies from abroad are our worst?
Thursday, February 20, 2003: The crack house slumlord from 1704's first appearance in court is tomorrow at 9 at District Court on Fayette Street. Considering the snow, I don't think it necessary for all of those who were planning to attend to make it down. I'm assured by the State's Attorney handling the matter that he'll be prepared to proceed with trial tomorrow, but he expects Mr. Weston to ask for a continuance, citing not having a lawyer or some such thing. At least at this hearing it will be explained to him that the punishment if convicted could include jail time. No one thinks Mr. Weston takes this seriously. He's been getting away with it for years.
His crack house's business is in full swing. The dealers know the officers are busy. Customers actually yell up to the second floor apartment of 1704 now. I saw a baggie dropped from the window this morning. I don't know where Sergeant Kluver is. He may be watching, taking notes, getting ready to pounce. Poor guy must be tired. He spent two nights in the substation working double shifts.
Next week Colonel Blackwell will be visiting here to discuss this becoming the poster block for the revived block watch program. That'll be a nuisance for the dealers, but they are a stubborn bunch. Even driving snow and sleet didn't stop the trade.
There's a well put entry in the guestbook today. "We need to get away from the racial comments and stick to the facts. The fact is we who work or live in the area need to focus on the problem. And the problem is not about race."
Tuesday, February 18, 2003: I recommend a visit to the guestbook today. "Morning" is the author's name. Not a flattering, glowing entry this time. A real criticism. And somewhat valid. At least from his or her perspective. Even though it's anonymous, it's worth reading.
I've heard this opinion before. But I must insist, the fight in this city is not about race. That's coincidence. In Highlandtown or Spanishtown, you find "white" and "brown" dealers and their victims too. Crack is an equal opportunity destroyer. Baltimore is not a black city, a white city or any other color. It's my city. And yours. Nothing more or less. And its problems are all of ours, regardless of race or wealth or address. Or should be.
Listen to National Public Radio today. All Things Considered is the program. FM 88.1 in Baltimore and 88.5 in DC this afternoon at 4PM. It's about the Dawsons.
Monday, February 17, 2003: I was going to write about a day of snow and crack on Madison Avenue, as if that was especially newsworthy.
But most important for anyone who reads here is to read this article in today's Baltimore Sun.
In both cases, the link will open in a new window. Hit "back" to return to this site.
The calls to 911 about the fire are chilling. The calls to 911 and 311 from the Dawson family about the problems on their block are frustrating ... and maddeningly familiar. Apparently Mr. Dawson believed 311 was the appropriate number for "regular" dealing. Like us, such dealing was as common on his block as day and night, not an emergency in this city, though something we should treat as one.
And now that the dealers have won that block back again, the dealing has resumed one block away. I've been told this by neighbors and seen it myself. Nothing has changed.
The frequent complacency and ineptitude of the 311 and 911 operators was infuriating in these recordings. As it is in reality. At one point, Mr. Dawson is calling to tell about a "gas bombing" (gasoline being thrown through his window and set on fire). An operator informs him that's a fire emergency, not police and wastes the time to transfer the call so Mr. Dawson can repeat his request. Similar to the time I was told that fireworks being lobbed at buildings were not illegal, even when they resulted in serious fires, sending people running out of their homes at 1AM. Often, calls for police or fire teams are delayed by stupid questions about details.
Not all of the 311 and 911 operators are this way, certainly, but you better pray you catch the good ones when seconds count.
A list of calls by and about about the Dawsons is available at this link.
Obviously, the Dawson adults weren't perfect. Who is? But we believe they were trying. Trying to protect their family. And while I believe the police tried, we're not doing enough to protect our citizens. If their murders don't convince us of that, nothing will.
From Vaughn: Observations after the Big Snow.
This afternoon after having dug out the sidewalk and my car from over two feet of snow, I noticed that there were a lot of neighbors in the 1800 block of Madison Avenue digging out their cars and sidewalks. The sidewalks are required and even though only those in a 4-wheel drive can still get anywhere, the rest will be ready when the streets are cleared.
Over on Wilson Street, the digging-out was a completely different scene. Between Eutaw and McCulloh there were about a dozen guys not digging out cars or even the sidewalk, but using shovels to dig out the street and piling the snow against the cars and sidewalk.
They were either clearing the street to save the city plows some effort, or they were making sure cars had plenty of access to the elementary school.
But wait, school was closed today and tomorrow. Could it be they were just making sure that customers could have access to the market? No, not the corner store, I mean the drug market.
Yes, they're out there now, chanting their song, "Greens, Greens, Greens Out". If all that energy could just be directed to more life affirming activities. . .
We'll either know this as President's Day, 2003 or more likely, the day after the blizzard of 2003. We're all dug out, but waiting for the snow plows before we drive anywhere.
Two SPS guys stayed over in the substation last night. We didn't see any officers last night. For some time today, two civilian and one police car have been stuck at McMechen and Eutaw. An officer I know called last night to ask how we were. Told me his squad car had been stranded for hours until a good Samaritan stopped to help pull him out.
The snow load on the roof took a toll here last night. And I gather we're not alone. Heard a groan and thump as the old house broke another bone. Perhaps at 110+ years she's suffering osteoporosis. We have a broken roof beam. It had been overloaded by the adjacent beam that had been damaged when they tore down the house next door at 1706. The beam is huge and of old growth hardwood, nothing like the pulp we use in today's construction. Fortunately the ceiling beams are more stout than any new roof's construction too. I was able to brace the broken beam against several other equally strong timbers temporarily. Don't worry, the substation roof is solid, having been rebuilt from rafters up summer before last.
Sunday, February 16, 2003: "Greens out! Greens Out!" After so long, you'd think I wouldn't be surprised to hear the dealer's song. But in a driving blizzard? The dealers are well aware officers are not responding to reports of dealing during the snow emergency.
I was chatting with Sergeant Kluver in the station this afternoon. He's pulling a double shift. Might be spending the night, considering how hard it is to get around. While I was looking out the window, I realized there were two people directly across the alley, smoking their crack in the snow not 30' from a sign saying "Police Substation." They couldn't wait to get home. Seemed futile to pursue them. He's been patrolling regularly out there, much to their surprise. All day there have been tracks to and from 1704.
Officers with the BPD have visited a couple times to get some hot coffee. They can't park in back and have walked over from their cars parked on Eutaw Place.
We wired the substation computer, putting it online this afternoon. Works well, sharing the DSL connection down there using the new router. Now officers can do email while they're here.
Friday, February 14, 2003: Happy Valentine's Day. Been years since I had a Valentine. If I did, I couldn't live here. I'm reminded of a quote: "If only we could choose our passions, yet alas, they choose us, doomed or blessed we become." Can't remember who said that.
Wire Day at Casa Madison went well. Was more interesting than I thought it would be. Less hassle, too.
There was a day shot outside, a night shot in back and two scenes inside. Especially from the inside scenes, you'd never know it was this old house. Didn't go late. They were very efficient.
The real dealers are working out front already. Making up for lost time, no doubt. They're playing cat and mouse with Sergeant Kluver, the SPS man. The moon is approaching full. I'm sure it will be a busy weekend. Baltimore Police officers are having lunch in the substation. I'm taking a lunch break to ramble on here. Things are back to normal. Home sweet home.
Thursday, just after noon, February 13: What a day it's already been, and it's just getting started.
This was on the wall of the laundry room at 1715 Madison Avenue this morning, the grounds our special police officers are charged with protecting.
The BPD officers and the rest of us have no doubt this is a bounty for Sergeant Kluver, seen earlier in this journal arresting a dealer and her customers at the crack house next door. The door is to the same room Kluver found four dealers divvying up their day's inventory yesterday. He said he felt he was lucky he wasn't ambushed when he surprised them. He's been aggressively enforcing the law around here and arresting dealers and customers, costing our drug gangs business.
Officers are waiting with him now for the crime scene units to photograph the threat. More than one of these officers have suggested now's the time for him to transfer to another assignment. I don't think he's budging. "Running doesn't fix the problem." He's going to get nervous if I try to hug him again.
Special Police Sergeant Kluver needs a police radio. We're trying to encourage the BPD to assign him one. He's been making arrests and truly infuriating the dealer gangs who run this block. He needs fast response and backup from the BPD.
The filming for two episodes of The Wire is going on all around the house and the block. Seems like a hundred production people, actors, and prop staff.
I just watched an extra play a dealer making a transaction in the alley behind the house while watching two of our real dealers chat in front. Whether TV is art is debatable, but it's certainly imitating life here.
Telling, that when it's actors and The Wire, the city crew is right here salting and sanding the alley access the officers use all the time for the substation. I guess they're not as important to the city. I've never seen a salt truck back there for them before. Perhaps that's why we finally got some attention last week from DPW about the glacier that formed in our parking area when a leak ran for three months, unchecked. Still not fixed permanently. I wonder if it was reported fixed like so many other 311 requests for service, as reported today in a Sun article.
Thursday, after midnight, February 13:
Tuesday, I met the new sergeant for what I think they call the "charlie" shift on our beat. There are two day shifts here, one is 7am to 3, the other 3 to 7. The swap every 28 days. The midnight crew stays midnight.
The new sergeant, Jackson, reminded me in many ways of the new commissioner. Fairly young, enthusiastic. Both were interested in what's happening here. Both had good questions. Both promised action. Both give me hope.
Tuesday night, Vaughn and I spoke to a meeting of the Spicer's Run Homeowners Association. We sat through squabbles about collecting fees, snow removal costs, neighbors who let their dogs stray. I was impressed with the fact that neighborhood politics there can be frustrating, but at least they have neighbors who care enough to squabble politely. I was pleased to meet so many good neighbors just two blocks away.
Basically, we just introduced the website on a projector and answered questions. At the close or our presentation, one man commented "you're only going to push it elsewhere." My reply was something like, "but you won't let me push it into your neighborhood, will you?"
I hear his comment too often. It seems to be other words for "why try?" It also bespeaks an attitude that some of us should live with it and others not. Others, though definitely not us, should simply be written off, doomed to live amid the terror, violence, poison and death. It's the same attitude a few of my neighbors on Eutaw Place espouse when they say the poor people in their back yard should move to protect their property values. The same attitude I feel from the church on the corner, "we've made it out and you should do the same." We can't beat the drug scourge so we must just resign ourselves that some areas just be left to it. I fear many in city hall share this attitude. It's not in their face every day so if we pretend, the problem is abstract, one to be addressed like faceless, soul-less statistics. A body and casualty count, not real people. Not our neighbors.
Everyone who lives in Baltimore is a neighbor. This is a small town. Isn't it still getting smaller from those giving up? The petty theft problems, car breakins and prostitution in Bolton Hill across the street, and other affluent neighborhoods, are directly a result of the drug trade. Demanding the police do something about these problems without demanding they deal with root causes is shortsighted, selfish and very wasteful of resources. Calling 911 to report non emergencies is an example of that. I'm reminded of the time I was on hold for 911 while watching someone threaten another with a gun a year or so ago.
Those of us left in Baltimore, and those of us who want to join this quirky, peculiar bunch who put up with this city we love, have to remember Baltimore has to be one big neighborhood, all believing it can be better while actually doing something to make it so.
Off soapbox. On to news. This morning at 11, The Wire will be taking over our house. It was strange, downright twilight zone, to be watching a set decorator the other day trying to recapture the decor and ambience of a deserted crack house ... in what was just two and a half years ago a deserted crack house. Embarrassingly, it didn't take that much work to make it look dismal again. We've been leaving the ground floor till last. It almost gives me the creeps as I wander around tonight, and I remember well when it was real. Hopefully it's appearance in this TV show will be it's last performance as a crack house.
Tomorrow, during the exterior shot, I will watch our dealers watch actors play dealers, just as we did last August when things were hot out on the corner, in temperature, tempers and dealing. Hopefully, the dealers, SPS officers and police won't have much else to do. Customers don't like cameras.
Now, if only we could cancel the ongoing, real life crack show next door at 1704 and on our corner.
Sunday afternoon, 6PM, February 9: Unusual afternoon. We had the usual church parking lot going most of the day. The fine cars and Sunday best outfits are always pretty. Dealing was slightly more subdued than usual, though I did hear an argument going on next door at 1704 with the woman who was arrested there again just a few days ago. Sounded like her. Hard to imagine she's been bailed out again. Maybe she's such a good saleswoman it's worth it for her supplier to bail her out.
Spent some time this afternoon with a freelance documentary group. They're pondering a film on a crack market that everyone knows about, but no one can stop and people who keep trying every way they can to fix it. A common story in Baltimore. I was surprisingly at ease in front of the camera. I suppose all the interviews have done that to me. I don't know what good it'll do. Depends on how it comes out.
While they were here, staff from the HBO TV show, The Wire, came by to figure out lighting and cinematography for the scene they're doing in the downstairs living room Friday night. The house is going to be an extra in a TV show, portraying a vacant house. It's a good role for 1708 Madison Avenue, having been a vacant crack house for several years in the 90's. So much irony around here.
No doubt the filming will cut down on the dealing while they're here. The dealers will stand around complaining to one another about business being down. Customers are a bit nervous around cameras.
Friends are excited about the filming. It hasn't excited me yet. I don't think I'm going to be the obnoxious host at dinner parties bragging that my house is special because it played a bit part in a TV show that may be long forgotten by then. I hope to have far more important things to brag about in years to come, like helping close down a crack market and rebuild a neighborhood. And renovating a house that was beyond practical repair. I can dream.
Anne Fresia who lives near the NE corner of Patterson Park, in Butcher's Hill, has her own running chronicle of her neighboring vacant house and crack market going at http://2321.blogspot.com. She has pictures, too. Like me, she can't understand how such blatant crime cannot be stopped. We're still amazed, even though we see it everyday. I think she'd be a good Baltimorean to have on the crack house task force.
Saturday afternoon, 5PM, February 8: I'm not going to make a habit of writing reports here every twelve hours. I'm told you're supposed to sleep as part of maintaining a normal life. I would ask readers and friends here to consider that sometimes life on this street takes a toll and makes me crazy, in more ways than one. Regular readers already know this.
This noon, I was visited by Adam Meister and six Techbalters. These are young people looking to colonize a block of abandoned homes, creating an instant neighborhood. I had words of encouragement and caution for them. Felt like an elder statesman giving advice to the next generation. This on the heels of being called middle aged in the City Paper. I guess it was inevitable. <g>
Anyway, I was very impressed with the enthusiasm and determination of this group, even after they saw the ruins in which I live. One of the points we all agreed on was that Baltimore is a self help city. If we wait for governing from our leaders, we'll be left waiting and the city will be left rotting. Techbalt is a concept all about doing for yourself, pioneering in a hostile environment. The dealers have helped themselves to this city. Techbalt is about real citizens coming to take it back.
Dolph from Bolton Hill came over to donate a fax machine to the cause. He's the webmaster of BoltonHill.org and a long time BHer. I had to tell him I'm afraid the fax machine may be used for sending out resumes by the officers and guards, but still it'll see some use and the substation is about convenience. I'd rather they send their fax here than drive to Kinkos after work.
While I was chatting with Dolph, a young man who lives on Eutaw Place came by with cans of stew and chili for the officers. With bowls, spoons, a can opener and microwave here, they'll be a good "emergency" lunch or dinner on a shift when nothing's open.
We chatted for a bit. Billy is very much like the Techbalters. Young and committed to the city. Renting now, he's looking to buy something, using sweat equity. I'm hoping he and the other Techbalters will be my neighbors soon. They won't be next door, but they'll be in Baltimore, and that makes them neighbors. A concept more and more embraced by those from Bolton Hill who are realizing that to address their problems, the affluent neighborhoods need to look beyond their borders.
There seems to be a meeting tonight in the NIMROD center. Most activity I've seen in months. Maybe they're going to do something with the three floors of vacant space finally, the space largely subsidized with taxpayer money. I can hope. A reader here cites a line in the church's website "god's love is best demonstrated in one's own back yard..." The Payne Church uses this block as a parking lot, and nothing else. They're like a benign growth here, unlike the malignancy that is 1704, an obvious crack house that operates like a 24 hour McDonalds of crack right under the noses. Their website speaks of wonderful deeds and programs, none of which seem to help children in the backyard of their church.
We're forming a community association to address the problems of this block. None of the neighboring community associations or churches here has represented this block or addressed its problems in 25 years. That's why this block is like this. It may only have a handful of members to start, but it's going to offer to buy the $12,000+ tax lien on the crack house as it's first item of business. If we get it, that house will become a community association center, an after school place and maybe a few apartments upstairs to help pay the bills. I'd love to see a crack house that's been killing this block turned into a community house that helps save it. Once the drug market is closed here, I'll bet the membership will swell with my neighbors who want to have a decent, safe neighborhood to raise their kids, but who haven't been able to speak up for fear of the dealer thugs.
On Sunday at about 7PM, I had a knock on the door. This time it wasn't a confused crack addict. It was Police Commissioner Designate Kevin Clark and detective Harris. He introduced himself and said that the City Paper article had brought him here. I had thought the mayor. We chatted in the substation for a while. A couple officers on dinner break drove up. They were quite surprised to find their new boss here. He encouraged them to sit down and eat as they usually do, but I think they were relieved when an emergency call came in. Of course they were nervous. I was, and he's not even my boss.
After talking about the substation and the morale boost we all agreed it gives the officers and citizens alike, we went out front. They changed their outfits a bit to look slightly less conspicuous. Though neither was wearing a uniform, the new commissioner had a windbreaker on that said "police commissioner" on it in small script. "I found this in the closet [of his new office]." The detective had a police ball cap on. Even with me, they looked slightly less conspicuous as we walked about. They'd driven up in an Expedition or Navigator or some other brand of excessive, garrish SUV which looked for all the world like the drug kingpin's who usually visits the corner and 1704 to supervise his dealers. In that odd way he was actually undercover.
We toured the "corner." Dealing was obviously going on in 1704, not 25 feet from where we talked at one point. The new commissioner got to hear "greens out, greens out!" from around the corner. Jimmy and Vince, SPS guys, met him and talked about how the market here works. We talked about market share: prostitutes, local addicts, suburban kids. We watched the traffic in and out of 1704.
He was impressive. Confident and self assured without being arrogant. He listened not to hear what he wanted, but to hear what you had to say. He asked good, pointed questions. "What would you have the police do about the problems here?" We were not the only place he was visiting. He's been learning about his new city. And actually talking to it's citizens. An obvious, but under utilized way to address the city's problem.
We have high hopes, but no one individual can change the city overnight. I understand now why the mayor chose Mr. Clark. And I have a feeling he'll work well with Mr. McEntee, or hope so. They both seem to understand the value of community policing, of knowing the people you serve.
Saturday morning, 5AM, February 8: Was awakened a bit ago by someone knocking on the door, thinking it was 1704. Doesn't scare or surprise me anymore. Even the dogs are not so worried as we shuffle down the stairs to answer the knock.
"No, there is no one here by that name. She does not live here. You want the next door down." Through the peep hole, I see the man is so eager he has dollar bills in his hand, ready to do business.
Happens pretty often. A few minutes ago I heard someone yelling "greens, greens, greens." It's nearly dawn. No SPS guys or police around, so I suppose they must take their opportunity at whatever time.
Brandi, who works at City Cafe (1001 Cathedral Street, Baltimore), donated two "air pots" to us today. Insulated coffee dispensers. Thank yous to Brandi and her boss. Now, when we make coffee, it'll keep without being cooked and be ready any time. Seeing the pots, though, I'm expecting to hear "where's the Brazilian hazelnut?" Next thing you know I'll be frothing milk. <g>
Several people besides me were disappointed that Mr. Weston's court date was postponed. I didn't mind getting the calls about dawn yesterday. "Are the courts open? I'm ready to go if it's still on." An officer called me on his way home about 7 to report that the station had posted the news the courts were closed.
We're talking about putting together a Midtown District van shuttle ride over to court for those interested in attending Mr. Weston's court date the next time. I'll be sure to post news of that here. It's amazing to me there are so many interested. Amazing and gratifying. We have a large, wonderful, diverse neighborhood of people who want a chance to help make things better. I think that's true of our immediate neighbors too. I'm sure that will be a surprise to the owner of our crack house.
Friday morning, 2AM, February 7: I'm watching the snow fall, wondering if Mr. Weston will be getting a reprieve this morning. Coming down pretty steady. I may just stay up to get an early start on digging out, but at this rate, I'll bet court is cancelled.
This is just one of the reasons we're so interested in Mr. Weston's court date. That's SPS Sergeant Kluver arresting Wanda and her customers in 1704 Madison Avenue Thursday, about noon, with the eager support of many BPD officers who also want to see this crack house closed.
Now that they have their commissions, these security officers have been clamping down on the building that's been plaguing us for so long. The Pedestal Gardens building at 1717-1715 Madison is often blamed for all the troubles of the block. Not true, especially since July when the SPS officers began nearly round the clock duty there.
1704 has no supervision and a landlord who allows his building to be used for dealing as well as having egregious housing code violations that are what we had hoped to see him in court for tomorrow.
This is my neighbor's second arrest in less than a month. Trent, her supplier, bailed her out last time. I doubt he will be able to again so soon, or so I hope. I actually sympathize with her. She's just an addict desperate enough to deal. It's the suppliers who are so hard to catch, the real criminals. Their undoing takes undercover officers, planning and police manpower, not just one competent and enthusiastic security officer doing more than his job.
Odd, but as I look out the window now, after 2AM in a blizzard, the only tracks, in an otherwise pristine landscape, are from cars down the street and people going to and from 1704. Regardless of the weather, the business is relentless.
Wednesday midnight, February 5: Regular readers here will be pleased to see that I was able to get all the guestbook entries dating back to August, when the feature was added. I had to make an archive page with all 78 entries from the beginning to today, but they're all there. The guestbook has been reset to receive another 78 entries.
Our website is hosted by Omnis.com. I have been very pleased with their exemplary customer service and prices. I recommend them highly. They even waived their fee for finding me the archived copies of the guestbook when I told them what we were about.
In restoring it, I had to go through each entry. Some of them are from far away, Ohio, Connecticut, California and Sweden. A few were the reason I didn't pack my bags those days. Reading them again brought back memories of imagined successes and failures, of hope and despair. The roller coaster ride of life here. I hope you'll peruse them, too and see how many care about this little block and the hope that still lives here. Perhaps you'll want to leave your own comments, too.
It seems so much longer than six months I've been doing this site. It seems so much longer than two years we've been fighting this fight.
A woman from East Baltimore read the City Paper article and called us.
"You have no idea what I'm dealing with. The Dawsons didn't live there, they lived here." We went to visit. To shock me, as we walked up to her, she showed me three small vials with silver stoppers.
"Would you like me to go home and put together a collection for you, too? I've got more colors though, reds, blues, greens and pinks," I said with a sorry smile.
She realized maybe we weren't spoiled white guys who didn't know what were talking about.
Rather than a substation, Nia Redmond put a computer lab and after school space in the ground floor of her tiny home next to a grill at the corner of Chase and Patterson Park in East Baltimore.
I felt I had met a kindred soul in Nia. She gets on tangents and can't stop. She has a passion. She felt she had to convey everything she could to me as quickly as possible, like a desperate salesman. She didn't know she was preaching to the choir.
Kids Scoop is a newspaper done by kids in the neighborhood, right out of her space there.
This is Nia on the right, and a volunteer and neighbor on the left, a high school senior.
While we were chatting, school let out and a boy came to the door with a timid, hopeful smile. "I'm sorry, Roger, we're still not open. We just had some visitors to try to get open again." His smile went out, replaced by an air of resignation and despair that does not belong on an eight year old. As he walked quietly away, I wanted to grab him and bring him back, and volunteer to run the place that evening.
"He used to stay with us until closing every night we were open, till like 12 or 1. I never met his mom or dad. I can't afford the utility bill. With heat and AC and all these computers, it runs about $300 a month." She's donated the space, but can't afford the expenses.
Kids Scoop has a commitment from Hewlett Packard for $60,000 of new computer equipment, according to Nia, but doesn't have the framework needed to accept the donation. I hope we can change that.
For a time, she was able to provide a home to budding journalists and kids who just needed a place to spend their lives. A place where they could learn and smile. One big project was during the election. Kids Scoop did an election issue. It paid some bills. Now that the election is over, the politicians have no use for the program. They distributed their election edition as "look what I am part of" and that was that.
It's easy for me to bemoan the ills of my block, but Nia's is as bad or worse. But Nia is black. The unusual part of our story here is that we're white. And that we are not afraid. I can tell you that last is not always true. We had parked around the corner from Nia's. When I realized the car was at risk, I excused myself to move it closer, where we could watch it.
Three large thugs were sitting on the car. As I approached, they unleashed a stream of epithets and threats. I tried to keep my cool and let them imagine I might be a cop, might be packing, might be as angry as I am. When they continued, I told them in no uncertain terms to get the blank off the blank blank car or I would blank them to holy blank. I guess I've gotten pretty good at pulling off a bluff.
Some would tell you that the new biotech park that is to gobble up Nia's property one day is the answer. We all know she and her kids will simply be pushed away. Now that the park is certain, no one wants to do anything to help those who live in that space now, eight blocks from the Dawsons.
For some reason, Nia wants to Believe. Most of all, she wants Roger to believe. I do, too.
Nia can be reached at 410.534.2472.
Clarence Weston's first appearance on criminal contempt charges is Friday at 9AM sharp at 501 Fayette Street, Courtroom 2. If neighbors and others show up, it will drive home to him that this is not going to go away as it always has before. The prosecuting attorney now calls this a "high profile case" thanks to the CP article. I just hope Mr. Weston finally realizes his days of killing this block are almost over.
I always like to report progress on the substation construction, this site's original purpose. I had an hour and needed a small project. I'm submitting it to the Home and Garden channel for consideration by Martha Stewart's people ...
"When wondering how to improve your police substation room, consider a snack rack made from closet organizer shelving ... it's a good thing."
Sunday, 5PM, February 2: Someone who knows an officer told me today that they mentioned the article in the City Paper to him. His response was "more police bashing" from the usually cynical CP.
"You haven't read it. Not police bashing at all. Quite the contrary," she said.
He read it and was surprised. He'd never heard of the substation and was amazed that private citizens in a bad neighborhood would donate part of their house for a break room for officers and still more amazed that neighbors from near and far bring snacks and supplies regularly and are donating money to help pay for the parking pad for the officer's cars. I think his morale got a boost.
We're not about police bashing here. That seemed the job of the former commissioner who was often heard to lament the youth and inexperience of his officers. And I left that to a "Community Relations" officer who called the beat officers "lazy," in front of a community meeting no less. Click here for my report on that.
That caused a debate thread on Sunspot's forum which was very heated. It got the attention of the major who finally spoke to me directly. Once he understood what we were about, he agreed to let his officers use the station and now we have a cordial relationship. Citizen and cop working together sort of thing. Imagine that.
This afternoon, Vaughn brought back a dozen individually sized soups made for the officers by a lady who's a member of his church.
This cute little sculpture was hand made for the substation by another of his church members at First & Franklin Presbyterian. That's a donut and a cup of coffee with an 8 point cap on top.
I see many Baltimoreans anxious to show the officers how much they care. Paying taxes is not so personal as making soup and art for them, or bringing paper towels and cookies and meeting young men and women who chase car jackers and dealers and murderers for a modest living. I've often seen officers surprised and touched to meet citizens bringing stuff here. I think most of us have a lot of respect for our officers and appreciate the opportunity to show it.
Still, there's a lot of distrust of the police here in many corners. Some warranted, much not. I understand calls to the drug tip line are way down after the Dawson murders because of fear that caller's anonymity will not be guaranteed. I'm assured it will and that officers are being reminded about how to protect those who report dealing. I hope that's so. I gave up calling that number long ago, not out of fear but to stop wasting time. Seemed like the report was taken and then dropped in the circular file. I saw no effect after a hundred calls.
I was just reading the city website at www.baltimorecity.gov. One thing I notice is the headline on top of the scroll announcing the mayor's Democratic party reaction to the President's weekly radio address. Such news would seem more appropriate for the no doubt upcoming O'Malley for President website. I say this as a bleeding heart liberal Democrat far from pleased with the president's domestic agenda. I realize one of the mayor's points was that the federal government is leaving local governments to foot the enormous bill for "homeland security." Our mayor has been an important voice in raising that concern. Still, it reminds me of the council's resolution against the war on Iraq. Our city leaders need to be city leaders first. There's enough to do here.
To be fair, I visited again the council's site at http://www.baltimorecitycouncil.com. This used to look like the Sheila Dixon for Sainthood website. Now, it's a bit more subdued. In her letter of greeting she says ...
"We are experiencing a great Renaissance, and our city's challenges have changed: yesterday we faced decline and blight; today we are looking for the time, resources and infrastructure to nurture our newfound prosperity."
Where do these people live? What gated, guarded community or affluent enclave? We're still facing decline and blight and the ravages of uncontrolled drug markets and drug criminals who operate with impunity through vast areas of the city. Pretending problems don't exist or extolling us to click our heels and believe them away isn't leadership. I'm reminded of the council's inspired resolution to encourage the film and TV industry to portray Baltimore in a more positive way, not quite so honestly as in shows like The Wire. Mr. Simon's response to that was quite strong and true. In testimony, he suggested they might do well to try to make the reality different, not the TV image different.
Ah, but I digress. I actually was reading the Believe Campaign's report in relation to the fear we have to call and report drug dealers. The mayor is quoted in it as calling on us to "risk action on faith." Much of the report talks of how successful city hall and the police have been in reducing crime, citing mounds of statistics. Some in leadership see the problem as our perception that this is a dangerous city, not that it actually is.
I'm here to tell you it is still a violent, drug infested city. There are many, many blocks no better today than they were three or five or 20 years ago. This is one of them. Blocks where people live in fear, with good reason, where open dealing and crack houses thrive. I'm not afraid, very often, but then not everyone has a police substation in the back of their house. And not everyone has a crack house next door and thriving drug market on their corner either. But many still do and have seen no change or cause for hope.
An officer is paying close attention again today to the corner and 1704 Madison. Seems to be making it his station between calls again. Good to see, but not the answer. Marked cars and uniforms cannot effectively curb dealing. When he's gone I hear "greens out, greens out, greens out" from the steps of the Eutaw Marshburn School across Wilson, right on school grounds next to the "Drug Free Zone" sign. When he's gone for long, sullen hooded boys walk over to 1704 to get high and visit their stash.
Saturday, midnight, February 1: The market was pretty much closed prime time tonight. An officer in his cruiser parked his car directly across the street several times with his headlights on the corner of Madison Avenue and Wilson. He stayed for 15 minutes or more at a stretch, interrupted occasionally when he got calls. But he returned several times. He really did a number on sales tonight until his shift ended. Now, there's already two dealers on the corner, but they look lonely. Perhaps they'll get that after bar rush.
A couple of days ago, Vaughn remarked on something he'd overheard on the steps of 1704: "I ain't makin' no money today, not at all." Apparently it's not quite so lucrative a turf lately. I know the commissioned SPS officers have been doing their part to put a crimp in the market too.
This morning I was alerted to the unmistakeable sound of a car skidding across the ice out back and then a loud thump.
This woman was stuck in the ice floe out back. That's four cars and one police cruiser in the past few days. The warmer weather is causing the ice to melt very slowly, leaving it absolutely slick on top. She'd sent her young son back up to the church for help when I came out.
Tired of the carnage and giving up on the city, I sprinkled a lot of salt over the entire 100' glacier and put three wheel barrows full of sand over it. For now, it's safe to drive and walk on. Begrudgingly, I scooped the sand out of the crusher run pack on the parking pad. See the help page for more about that. I wonder if the church goers tomorrow will care that I helped them be safe when parking in their lot.
Sometimes it seems Baltimore's theme could be the "Baltimore, the self help city." If you don't do it yourself, it won't get done. I've missed two trash pickups because the garbage truck was afraid to get stuck in the foot thick ice because the City Department of Public Works can't stop a leak that's been running three months. While shoveling, mad as hell, I was ranting something about if you don't do it yourself, it doesn't get done in Baltimore. Seems the same with crack houses. Fortunately, that's not entirely true of crack houses, a small army seems to have joined that fray, though we don't seem to be winning the war.
If you'd like to know more than enough about the water leak that's been plaguing us since early November, click here.
Lots of other things happened here today. It's been hectic since the City Paper article. Some may develop into items of interest to be reported here, but I'm tired.
While it's off topic, I want to close by saying my piece about the shuttle disaster today. Please forgive my sappyness.
The whole world lost seven soldiers of science today. Theirs was a noble pursuit, that of knowledge, and the betterment of mankind. The sole consolation in their loss is that they died quickly doing what was their passion and dream in life, doing what they felt called to do. Who can have a better end than that? They died exploring the heavens of earth and now explore the heaven of God.
There is a quote from a childhood hero, Winston Churchill, that comes to mind. "What is the use of living, if it be not to make the world a better place for those who will live in it, after we are gone."
When the first shuttle disaster happened, Ronald Reagan, decidedly not my hero, spoke an eloquent eulogy, closing with the phrase, I hope recalled correctly, "they touched the face of God."
I had a thought I want to share with those of a spiritual bent. Perhaps the newly arrived astronauts will have occasion to answer the questions children always have for astronauts and other adventurous, brave, explorers. (Are there press conferences for those new to heaven?) I imagine five Baltimore children, recent arrivals to heaven themselves, raising their hands eagerly with questions asked as only children can.
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