Journal Entries for February 2005

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Monday, February 28, noon:  Sightings of security personnel at Pedestal Gardens are rare now. Saw a new face in what looked to be a new uniform.

rolling the problems away

They went into the apartment provided for them in the basement. Probably never to be seen again.

The first thing he did was wheel this chair off the PG grounds and next to the curb. Let's hope this isn't his answer to problems at PG. Just roll them away and pretend it's somebody else's problem. They did walk right past two very suspicious characters chatting from PG across the street with someone idling in a car. Sound familiar?

If this is a new security company,
were there multiple bidders? I wonder if it's the one with connections to Joyce, the onsite manager of PG. If that's so, we wonder if the contract wasn't rigged. We can hope not. People just fall all over themselves to latch onto the Pedestal Gardens money machine. The easy money from taxpayers and drug buyers is just too tempting.

The dealers are hanging out mostly out of sight of the PG cameras at the corner, 1700 Madison, across from the school. They keep an eye out for customers and cops alike. They give us the evil eye as we come and go. The security guards seem of little concern to them. So seldom present anyway. And likely not commissioned and/or inclined to do anything more than push the problems PG creates off their property. Just like the wheel chair.

Already the end of February. Winter seems to be trying to make up for lost time today. The snow is falling steadily. Being the end of the month, "testers" (free crack samples) will be out. Government checks will be arriving this week. A great time for drug dealers. And a good test of the new security plan for PG.

We're just about to count the 1500th dead US soldier in Iraq. What an accomplishment. I doubt anyone in neighborhoods like this feels any safer for it. I sure wish their courage and sacrifice could have been spent making kids here safer from our domestic terrorists.

Monday, February 21:  No Pedestal Gardens security visible yesterday afternoon and evening. Even before the weather turned bad. Predictably, dealer traffic to and around the Pedestal Gardens building was quite evident. I'm noticing tell tale activity in front of my neighbor here again at 1710, directly across the street from PG. Cars driving up, idling briefly, residents of both 1710 and 1715-1717 coming out to them, then walking back quickly. Even the driving sleet did little to slow them down until later. Why not take advantage that no security or city officers are around?

You really do have to wonder whose watching those cameras. Or not.

The recent busts at PG, the cameras and the stepped up, though sporadic, security coverage have helped encourage the dealers to look elsewhere on the block again. As they did with 1704 when security at PG was tightened under the first round of HUD scrutiny after the fires. Since 1704's long closed down, they must find some place.

The Pedestal Gardens Community is too rich a drug market to resist. If 1700 and 1710 weren't "weak," as in absentee landlords, I imagine they'd approach us: "You got an apartment we can use? We pay good!" I'm sure they do, whether in drugs or cash. I think the slumlord at 1704 got "rent" from dealers, directly or not. And I know the residents got their drugs as a commission for selling them. Great set up for dealers. A retail storefront and warehouse like 1717 Madison, Pedestal Gardens, was providing just a couple months ago until the city police intervened.

When we first started on the house we were often asked when we were going to be renting. "It'll be a single house again. No apartments," we'd reply. I used to think to myself "I'm not sure I'd rent to anyone who'd want to live here anyway."

No word back from Council President Dixon, Councilman Mitchell's office or the Mayor as to why 1704 seems to have been included in an Upton redevelopment package. Please feel free to email them if you'd like to know why, too. Many readers here worked with us in closing that property and understand the vital importance to this block of turning it over to an owner/occupant ASAP. Many neighbors know that stabilizing this block and controlling Pedestal Gardens would go a long way to help make their neighboring blocks safer.

The Mayor did reply that he'd forwarded the info we provided to the man in charge of property disposition for the city for his "investigation and response." That would be Bob Pipik of the city's Department of Housing and Community Development. God knows how long that will take. Bureaucrats don't like to be questioned. And politicians don't often like to question their bureaucrats, so I'm not so optimistic. I fear we'll see 1704 sold in a package with some totally unrelated properties west and then it will sit in limbo for months more, finally getting "developed" by a developer who'll sell it and walk away, counting his money. And then the buyer will turn around and rent it out, walking away, counting their money. And with the wrong renters, we'll see the dealers coming and going out of 1704 again, counting their money.

That would hardly make the two tough years spent dealing with it and closing it down worthwhile.

Friday, February 18, 11am: Reading the paper this morning, I was sadly reminded of an event that cast an early chill over this household two and a half years ago: The firebomb murder of the Dawson family on October 16, 2002.

"The Dawson's Live Here" sign still sits, dusty, in our window. Next to a "Believe" sign. Both testament to determination and faith ... and stupidity. It would seem the definition of stupidity to stand up alone to face amoral, violent thugs. The Dawson massacre was proof enough of this to many.

It was just the month after we opened the substation on such a fun, hopeful day. We were very, very saddened by the murder. The horror of it. We went to see the sight, as did so many others. Naturally, we empathized with someone who was fed up with the madness. "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore."

I remember how little sleep I got for weeks. If someone hiccuped on the sidewalk, I heard it and investigated. I went so far as to put a metal can under our mail slot. I put plywood behind the one rebuilt wooden window in front. I've often lamely joked to friends about the house's "DefCon" status. 1 being a farm field. 5 being gunshots. If we had been at 4, we were at 4.5 for weeks.  After a while, I talked myself into believing no one would be so crazy as to firebomb a home with a police break room in back. Some said "they wouldn't attack you 'cause your white." Maybe so.

Of course, the reason I've reread my feelings about it all today was not so much due to remembrance of the Dawson family's sacrifice. It was due to money. A suit has been filed asking $14,000,000 from the city because it failed to protect them. Perhaps what the city police and state's attorney did should be reviewed again, this time in court, but I fail to see how taking money from a cash strapped city helps bring them back. I suppose next Donte Stokes, with his mentor/lawyer Warren Brown, will be suing the city and the Catholic Church for millions now that the priest has been convicted. I wish the priest had used the defense "when I molested him, it was an out of body experience."

Ah, but I digress. The one big thing that comes up over and over again about what was done to protect the "snitches" was the city's willingness to relocate the family and her refusal. If the solution to the the violent drug trade that plagues our city is to relocate, then obviously we're admitting the war is lost. I wish we could concentrate on relocating the drug terrorists rather than the good citizens. God knows, hundreds of thousands have fled this city over the years. That's the solution. Run from the problem.

This attitude reminds me of a city officer who told us one evening "you should just move" when we called about a domestic fight we'd interrupted in front of this house. He implied beating a woman and drug dealing were just part of life here. You cannot imagine how angry I was at him. Disgusted he would wear the uniform.

Things are better here again. Hopefully, they'll stay that way this time with the cooperation of the recalcitrant landlords here. People have been looking at 1704 recently. I fear it's developers buying bundles of properties, not caring about more than making big bucks and moving on. Bundling properties is convenient to bureaucrats but by no means assures people who care will end up living in the houses. No doubt when these investors look around now they see its potential. A relatively safe place, by Baltimore standards. No idea what it once was.

I admit I resent someone coming in now and profiting from the work of others. But then I remind myself we didn't do our part to profit from it. That is, other than to be able to sleep at night, and maybe someday feel rehabbing this old place will be worth the effort. When things are better, I don't wonder at the Home Depot checkout line if we should save the money for our relocation fund.

The important thing to remember about today's headline is that a family was incinerated by a young man who placed no value on life. The important question to remember is what have we done to prevent this happening again? And what are we doing to prevent creating such young men? Putting them in jail for the rest of their lives does not bring back five innocent children.

Thursday, February 17, noon: A couple nights ago, about 1:30 in the morning, I awoke to hear a man and woman having a row as they walked down Madison. Unfortunately, that's not so unusual here. I watched as a young man, hands held high, walked up to one of the security guards of Pedestal Gardens, telling him something. A young woman came screaming up the middle of the street behind him. I heard her say something about "he dropped my baby ..." The two quarrelers then turned around and went toward the school.

Madison Avenue, Wilson Street and the school yard were all pitch black. The street lights had been out for two nights. I suspect foul play. It's happened before. Hard for cameras or officers to see in the darkness.

The security guard stood on the corner of his building for a bit. I frowned, thinking he'd decided since they weren't directly on Pedestal Gardens property anymore, it wasn't his concern. Then I watched as another guard came trotting toward him. "You got your radio?" the one asked the other as he came up. He "swiped" the bar code reader and the two walked briskly into the dark after the couple. I did not envy them their job. Not that I ever do. I do highly respect what they did and how they did it, though. I could not recognize either man. I wonder if they know someone else in the dark appreciated what they were doing.

I listened and watched carefully, fingering the phone, nervous for them. I heard and saw nothing more. After 20 minutes, I came down from my vantage point on the third floor. The same perch that netted a few arrests by officers observing the rampant dealing at our neighbor's, the former crack house next door at 1704.

Vaughn had called 311 to report the lights out the night before. I recall once there was a several block outage one summer night. Then Central District Major Gutberlet sent out squad cars to get people off the street. It had become a mayhem of dealers and thugs. We were quite nervous. That night, Mr. Douglas' hearse had all its tires slashed because his cameras couldn't record what was happening. Mr. Douglas is as much a loud mouth in his own way as I am.

After returning to my bed, I dialed BGE to see if I could get them to do something about the lights. "Oh yes, we have the report from the city. We should get it fixed within three days."

"Ma'am, you don't realize how important those lights are. This is a bad drug dealing area. I just watched two officers go into complete darkness to find out what was going on. Is there anything you can do to expedite this?" Whether commissioned officers or not, their actions that evening warranted the title.

I went back to sleep. At 5am, I was awakened by a big truck, idling under the street lamp in front of the house. The driver was scribbling his report. I threw on my robe and ran down to say thank you and find out if it was indeed vandalism. Too late. He drove off, leaving one happy camper standing in his doorway, basking in the bright yellow glow.

Monday, February 14, 3pm: Happy Valentine's Day.

Late last week I was out in the yard, picking up after the dogs when I noticed two men busy in front of 1704. Naturally, I was alarmed. I assumed dealers trying to break back in as has happened before. I ran around from to confront them.

"What the hell do you think you're doing!?"

"Who are you?!"

As they replied, I realized there was a city truck in front. Turns out they were with the city, sent to inspect 1704's readiness for sale. This could be a good sign. I know it's ready for sale. It has been since the court required Weston to empty it out. And we did a good job of boarding it and keeping it that way. Hopefully, it will not be bundled with a developer's proposal. Another tenement on this block will do huge damage. We don't need any more absentee landlords. We need normal homeowners. Scratch that. We need homeowners crazy enough to believe this could be made a good to place to live.

We've asked the powers that be to review the offers of the two locals who've expressed interest in rehabbing and living there. Hopefully, they'll see the sense in that and get it into responsible hands by this spring.

Smelled smoke Wednesday. Always makes me nervous. After making sure it wasn't from anywhere here, I followed the smell out through the substation and down the alley. It didn't smell like fireplace wood. More like trash or leaves. Found it! The Sexton and another parishioner from Payne Memorial were burning palm fronds for Ash Wednesday. Being the Godless heathen I am, I had forgotten this holiday.

We had a nice chat about the dumping in the alley, who was doing it and who was under pressure by sanitation enforcement to stop. He was glad to hear we're making progress. I hope we are.

Druid House was given a deadline two weeks ago to put their trash out in a container. They've chosen to wait until the deadline to act, if they intend to at all. This morning the mountain of trash was out again, before light. Tomorrow is the deadline. We'll see if they consider themselves above the law. Does make you wonder what's going on with Druid Heights Community Development Corporation when they can't handle such a small requirement as handling their trash responsibly. I guess it was partly my mistake cleaning up after them for so long before finally calling in the authorities.

Saw Richard White out in the vacant lot next to 1715-1717 again with another man. They were walking off the lot with a roller meter. Obviously another prospective fence contractor. It'll be interesting to see what that looks like and how effective it is.

Seems there's a shakeup at Pedestal Gardens as far as security vendors. SPS appears headed on its way out. No doubt scapegoated by the property management firm for all the problems it allowed. Expected this. Now we're wondering if the new firm is being chosen on the basis of merit or because its management is related to PG's on site management. Hmmm. Seems a proposal written by another, and well qualified firm, never made it to the decision makers with IRM or HUD. I'm wondering if HUD will ask IRM why a proposal was not solicited from another competitive firm and how the replacement was chosen.

Tuesday, February 8, 10am: Awoke Saturday morning to a yelling match in front of Pedestal Gardens. Surprise, surprise, huh? Was a man with a broom and trash can yelling at a boy, about 17 I'd say, in a gray hoodie. The boy was walking away from him down toward Wilson and yelling back over his shoulder.

It was hard to make out what they were saying, but you could tell the man was angry. At first I thought the cleaning man was saying "where's my stuff?" I hear that hollered so often around here. Then it occurred to me I might have heard him say something like "get out of here. I'll call the police." That got my attention. When the boy turned the corner to go down Wilson, the man resumed his cleaning.

I watched cleaning man for a while, wondering if he was a resident, perhaps working an arrangement with PG management. That seemed a smart idea. I didn't care, I was just pleased at the thought of someone else telling a drug dealer or courier to "get out of here!" I don't think I've ever seen anyone on this block other than an officer or Vaughn or me have the balls or stupidity to stand up and yell that to dealers or their minions.

Steady stream of people into and out of PG Saturday morning after the maintenance guy left. Including the boy the maintenance guy ran off. He did at least three round trips out of the door of PG, through the vacant lot and down Wilson to the west. Same circuit of the dozen others. And that's just what I saw. Some of those I'm referring to are known dealers. Lots of tenant traffic, too, but I'm not talking about them.

Never saw a security guard Saturday morning. Nor did the dealers or their couriers obviously. No police cars either. Early that afternoon, I spoke to a city officer coming out of the substation with a cup of coffee. Asked her to see if the powers that be could do a few more patrols to break up the dealer traffic, that PG was obviously not being supervised again. She wasn't surprised. I saw a few slow moving squad cars that afternoon, thanks to her no doubt. They do interrupt the trade.

Of course dealing was brisk all over I'm sure. It was early in the month. The government checks were out and cashed and fast being converted to crack and heroin, as usual.

If the cameras are not already broken, it's apparent no one's worried by them anymore. Obviously, whomever is watching the images doesn't know what they're seeing or doesn't care or they're only watching certain hours. Perhaps they don't work Saturday mornings.

Did see one security guard Sunday morning. He came out, looked around, ran his bar code station and went back into the security "apartment." Traffic started right up again.

Monday morning I saw what looked like Officer Tyler of PG security on duty, doing regular rounds. In the afternoon I saw Mr. Brown doing the same. Saw being the operative word. I see what the dealers see. Always happy when they're on. The block's a lot quieter. Shame there are so many gaps in the security coverage provided.

PG Officer Brown
Pedestal Gardens Security Officer Brown on patrol.

Again Saturday morning, I watched as a resident of Eutaw Place labored to tote a big contractor's bag down the alley. Thought he was heading toward PG's dumpster, but instead he's the one who puts his construction debris in the church's small dumpster behind NIMROD center. The man obviously knows this is not his dumpster, but is too lazy to take it to the dump himself or put it out on trash day. Or, maybe an unlikely but pleasant thought: he had picked up the debris himself in his end of the alley. God, what a foolish thought I murmured to myself.

On his way back, he stopped to talk to someone. Couldn't see who it was until she climbed down from the fire escape at the back of Kenset House, at 1700 Eutaw. She looked too large to get over the fence but wiggled through a hole. First she went one way, then another, they weaved back and forth as she finally walked down Wilson. I looked for her trick or shooting partner, but no one else came down from the building. Likely, she'd just gotten high and found a place, however unlikely, to enjoy it.

No doubt the Eutaw Place dumper was warning her he was going to call the police, being the good Samaritan he is. <g>

What a strange group of people inhabit the space of one simple block. I should know.

Just watched a plain clothes unit dash into the substation. Two flushes, two bottles of water, two minutes and they were on their way. A pit stop. Maybe that's what we should rename it: Police Pit Stop.

Wednesday, February 2, 2005, 3pm: Though I haven't been writing much, things are happening around here. Not all good things, but some good things are in the works. If rabble rousing is a science, I'm in the graduate program.

Yesterday I went apeshit. Excuse my language. Several times that morning I heard what sounded like a squawk box from a car broadcasting inaudible language. I thought it was a kid's car. They often put PA systems in their cars and drive around to make themselves heard. Turns out, it was 1715-1717 Madison Avenue. The new camera system includes a PA system so monitors in Rockville, MD, can ....

It is there to allow the company to inform loiters and others that they are being observed and that police/security will be summoned if they fail to disperse.

Residents of Pedestal Gardens, people I consider my neighbors, were asking me when the German Shepherds, razor wire and gun towers were coming. God knows, Pedestal Gardens is already enough like a cell block.

I screamed to HUD. HUD listened. I appreciate a short conference call with them very much. I know they understand our point that a public address system is not right. I also know the city police agree. If there are "live" security guards at PG, as one email we received yesterday stated, they should be able to contain the problems of one simple 24 unit apartment house. If they can't, then how viable is such a property?

Sometimes it seems we are surrounded. In front, we have Pedestal Gardens. In back lately we've had Druid House. Not the dealing issue. The former Major agreed with me that this building has not been like all of Pedestal Gardens. In fact, PG should take lessons. This building's problem are with an uncaring employee who was put on the spot and a property management company who think it's OK to dump on the city. As I've written before, this property's management company decided to save money by dumping the building's trash in the alley in bags. As early as the morning before city pickup. All night long the rats had a field day. Property owner bureaucrats blamed property management companies. Sound familiar? Passing the buck. Probably the single largest problem in Baltimore if you ask me.

Anyway, Dale Thompson with Sanitation Enforcement has intervened. Druid House (1711 McCulloh Street)  has until Valentine's Day to get its act together, as in to contain its trash, and in the meantime is forbidden to put out its trash the night before. After then, it will be out in cans or dumpsters, properly secured from the rats. I'm over this. Just glad it's going to be fixed. We have much larger issues here than property owners who don't understand the law or common decency and just dump on us.

This will no doubt make the Sexton of AME Payne Memorial happy too. He has shared with me his angst over this problem. And also offered the Payne dumpster if I was willing to fill it. Unfortunately, though, the jerks who look for alleys to dump their waste too often have found this one. Obviously other illegal dumpes were encouraged to see properties like Druid House that haven't appeared to care either.

Ms. Thompson also has requested the city fix the huge pot hole in the alley and take away the bags of clippings and construction debris up the alley. Saw asphalt being shoveled into the pot hole today.

Ms. Thompson and I also discussed our former crack house neighbor. Mr. Weston has finally and officially lost this property. It now belongs to the city like our yard and former city dump/shooting gallery at 1706 Madison. Couldn't have happened to a more deserving guy. Unfortunately, the powers that be with city housing want to lump it into a "program" related to Upton, which is not our neighborhood at all.
We are planning to conduct a "Homesteading" type program in that area [problem is, they don't seem to understand this is not the same area]. This
involves selling the property to an owner-occupant rehabber type (like the
person you describe)[I told them of two prospective homeowner/occupants]. We would market as many as we can at the same time, have a public event[I'm sorry but PR crap is not what changes a city], get some media etc. The idea is market the neighborhood more broadly [private developers making a private fortune is not what's needed here]. We welcome your help in staging and promoting the program. In the months ahead we will be working closely with Upton Planning Committee and other groups to pull this off. This is what we did in Res Hill the last two years with much success. [I have neighbors in ResHill who are still waiting to see this success.]

We have two prospects of the three I've shown the property to. People who are actually insane enough to live here. It's a disease, mind you, but misery loves company. They didn't run. They actually think that two homeowner/occupants on the block could turn it around. Imagine that! I sure do.

Vaughn sat next to Sheila Dixon at the meeting Thursday night. He discussed this with her. I'm impressed she remembers this block. Remembers cutting the ribbon that opened the substation. She asked him to forward to her the letters we have from qualified people who are interested in the property and the emails about it being lumped in with a "program" in Upton. I have hopes we can go to the Board of Estimates like we did with the lot at 1706 Madison and simply get this property into responsible hands and out of the rats. Frankly, I'm tired of being the city's unpaid custodian of 1704. Though I admit I will continue to protect and watch that building until the fine day someone moves in and says "hi, neighbor!"

Someone asked me the other day why I shoveled the snow and ice from in front of 1704. I've written this before. I take great pride in my part in closing down that crack house. I take pride in having boarded it up personally with Vaughn that day. The least i can do is shovel out the ice and snow in front of it for the kids while we work to find someone responsible to own it. Soon, I hope we'll have a neighbor. Same threat/invitation I make to Pedestal Gardens.

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