January 2004 Journal Entries

click here for archive index of previous entries

Friday, January 30, noon:

snow plow

Ask and ye shall receive. I think that's the saying. The alley access to the substation was plowed and salted this morning. Mayor O'Malley wrote he'd forward it to the Transportation Department to be added to the list and apparently he did just that. Now, officers won't have to slosh through the snow to get to the restroom here. Thank you Mr. Mayor.

Now, I guess I better finish shoveling out the parking, like I said I would.

Thursday, January 29, 1pm:

No more ranting about politics and wars thousands of miles from this one, at least for now. Back to this website's business ...

January 28, PGP officers assist BCPD

Yesterday saw another example of the effective cooperation between the Baltimore City Police and the Pedestal Gardens officers. The city officer was chasing a suspect initially stopped for loitering (suspected dealing) who then ran. PGP Sergeant Kluver and his officer George were able to stop him for the city officer. This is exactly the reason things have gotten so much better around here.

The city officers rotated shifts Sunday. I knew almost right away because on Monday, I noticed officers on patrol in the afternoons and evenings again. It has been a while. Why the shift now on mornings does not seem to do proactive patrols in this area has long troubled me. Huge difference between the two shifts. I hope their new sergeant can change that, but unfortunately I know of at least two officers on that shift who work hard to not work at all. One officer has called them "waiting for retirement." Sad, too, because they have some junior officers on that shift who are motivated, hard workers. I asked an officer I've known for three years why these officers are like this. I love his response, "you might as well ask me why my boots are polished. Pride."

I recently contacted Bob Iber of HUD, as you may have read here, about the radios being picked up, but not put in service yet. He did make a call, as promised. And he got a response. Something about needing to set up and test the system, it being prudent to wait until it was working before setting up the base unit at the city desk downtown, etc. Excuses that do sound reasonable to those not in the know. In reality, a snow job. Some people don't seem to understand that I know what I'm talking about here.

I replied the system was fully tested by Teltronics before it left their offices. The "problem" for John Copinger was that he couldn't hear the officers clearly at his offices in Essex. He needed to install an antenna on his roof. Dah! We knew that. And who cares if he can hear the officers in Essex anyway? The city police desk downtown is a lot closer. That's the important thing. The purpose of the radio system we've been lobbying for a year to get in place is to help protect Pedestal Gardens officers doing real, proactive police work, to back them up as quickly as possible with their willing city colleagues. Nothing more. And nothing more important. They get paid squat. Least we can do is let them have immediate city police backup at 3am when some thug decides to turn around and pull out a knife. Bureaucrats and greedy security guard company owners don't seem to fathom how urgent that backup is. The city and PGP officers sure do.

I've been called impatient about this again. Gee, I wonder why! Months ago, I got so frustrated at the lack of fast response that I rented radios so I could call city 911 directly, rather than the officers trying to get their Nextels to work so they could call their company's Essex headquarters who would then call county 911, which had to transfer the call to city 911 and then explain who these officers were, etc. As anyone who's ever called 911 knows, seconds count. And a PGP officer does not have time to explain a lot while he's running after a suspect or trying to subdue a man with a knife. Many times at 1 and 3 am and sometimes at 1 and 3pm, I've had a PGP officer contact me on the radio, to advise me he's about to approach a suspect, alone, telling me where he is. Not scared, but cautious. I stand by, waiting with 9 and 1 already dialed, hoping things are OK. Then I get, "sorry to have alerted you, he left when I ordered him off the property, just looked like he might be armed" or some such apology. I always say "no problem, least I can do." Sometimes it hasn't gone as well. Those are the time when city officers could already have been en route. If the radio system was working.

And anyone wonders why I'm impatient to take advantage of the city police offer to monitor a simple radio frequency so city officers can help their PGP colleagues? Two weeks delay now since the system was picked up. I'm assured another week of bogus "testing" and they'll contact the city police, who understandably might need some time to set up the base unit. If you were in the trenches with these officers, you'd know that three weeks is one year, two weeks and six days too long.

Mayor O'Malley has emailed me saying that he's forwarded my request for snow plowing the access to the substation to the Transportation Department. I had emailed him that it was sad that the wealthy folk on this hundred block of Eutaw got their alley completely plowed right away, but that for some reason the poor relations to the west, the ones who provide a break room for cold cops, were ignored. Hopefully, we'll get on that list and see a plow truck here to do some work, not just to buy crack, like during the blizzard last year.

Monday, January 26, 9pm: Made the mistake of letting The Simple Life find its way on my TV this evening. Between having my jaw dropped in disbelief and my rantings of contempt, I realized yet again that we have a huge defect, we Americans: the worship of wealth and celebrity and pretend "success," above character and quality.

This was really driven home by the fact that four readers emailed me today, commenting about the change to the front page of the website. You may have noticed the Dawson's are no long "featured." Now it's those men and women of our armed forces who have given their lives in the Iraqi action.

One of the readers felt I should not forget the Dawsons. I assured her I am not. Can not. One of them said "you should keep your politics to yourself!" I replied to him that he doesn't have to read my site and that I don't see what it has to do with politics to emphasize an important fact: that Americans and many others are dying in Iraq. The other two asked me if this "comment" was appropriate when I have repeatedly said this was not a site about my opinions, a blog, or a personal journal.

I don't believe remembering the cost of this Iraq action to be a political comment. I do believe that as each of us goes about our normal days, worrying about the price of the gas we pump into our SUVs, whether we'll make it to our next appointment on time or whether we can make another few bucks in the market, we should realize that soldiers are dying again at our order. Dying. Not inconvenienced, like Paris Hilton actually having to do her own wash. Dying.

And while we force our will on another country, we divert money and energy from making us the font of hope we pontificate. Look at Baltimore's schools. Look at the rampant drug gang terrorists who plague vast areas of our city. We have enough challenge here. Yes, that's an opinion. I make no apologies for that. I could go on. I'd like to talk about why we're in a "war" there rather than working here. But I won't. Not now.

Don't misunderstand me. The reason the symbol of a dead American soldier is on the front page of this website is because I believe we must remember. We must think each and every day of the price we are paying. I believe in the flag as a symbol of our accomplishments, but I believe in understanding reality even more. The Dawsons represent to me a Baltimore family incinerated by a war against drugs. Today, the figure is over 512 Americans (and more Brits) killed in the Iraq action. Whatever your politics, take the time to remember them. We're talking dead. Not disenfranchised. Not forgotten. Not alienated. Not Republican or Democrat. Dead.

And not inconvenienced, like the spoiled, worthless scum, Paris Hilton and her girlfriend. How's that for politics?

Back to the dead.

Kids are dying here. And soldiers not much more than kids are dying in Irag. Every day now. I don't know of a tally of those lost in the drug wars. Far more of course. A number that boggles credibility, so we choose to avoid it. Iraq is more easily defined. One dead soldier at a time. If you'd like to see the breakdown of the up to date death statistics for Iraq, click here, or click on the rifle and helmet on the front page.

Please remember this each day. Please call, write, scream, yell and vote your opinion. That's why these soldiers, and the soldiers of previous generations of Americans, have died. To allow you that privilege. You owe it to them to apply that privilege well.

And that's why the death count on the front page. And to a much smaller purpose, an ongoing log of news here. On one small front. In just one beseiged city in America.

Sunday, January 25, 9pm: As regular readers here know, we've been working for over a year to provide the PGP with radios providing a reliable link to the city police. They do police work in Pedestal Gardens and the surrounding community and have been very effective in turning around this area, certainly this block, which used to be the second busiest drug market in the CD. Most of the PGP are now commissioned or soon will be. Meaning they are sworn officers and this is their beat. They make official arrests. Over 100 last year. They've seized lots of drugs, two guns, several knives and taken a lot of bad guys and some gals off the street. They've been cited by the State's Attorney for the quality of their service.

They still have to rely on calling 911 to get backup now. City residents know how long that can take. You really don't have time to explain that you're running after a suspect or that he's pulled a knife on you with a clerk who doesn't understand what a special police officer is. They need and deserve the most rapid backup possible to do their jobs efficiently and safely.

And the city police understand this. Last spring the city police offered to monitor a PGP radio channel at their dispatch desk for the Central District downtown, if the equipment was provided. I can only imagine they wonder now why we would take so long to take them up on their offer. I sure hope it's still offered.

John Copinger, their employer at SPS Security 410.780.0010, has had to be forced to cooperate in providing this system. At every turn he has dragged his feet. Excuse after excuse. And now he's at it again.

Friday morning, January 16, John picked up the complete radio system, including the repeater (to give it the necessary range to reach downtown), the base station for the Central District Desk, and the handheld units that the PGP officers here will use.

Over the week, the repeater was installed at the twelve story Marlboro Apartment building across the street. The owner there understands the work the PGP have done for his block as well, being across the street from the Pedestal Gardens property at 1600 Eutaw. It was a quick installation. The equipment merely needed to be plugged in.

John has put one of the radios in the hands of our PGP Officers. I don't know where the others are. Even though the repeater is in place, these officers can't use them to communicate with each other. Why?

And why has John still not called City Police Major Skinner to arrange to give them the base station so they can set it up?

Why did John simply not give Sergeant Kluver of the PGP, all the equipment when he picked it up? If he had, it would have been set up, operational, protecting our officers,  the next day. It's plug and play. Not rocket science. Instead he's waited another week, dragging his feet yet again. And no word to anyone when he'll get it done.

Where are the radios John? What are you doing with them that they aren't where they belong?

John didn't even pay for this equipment. It was paid for by the owners of Pedestal Gardens. And they got that money from taxpayers through HUD.

Why is it not in place already, John? I would ask why you don't care about the safety and the work of the officers here, but you've made it very, very clear repeatedly that's not your priority.

If you have a few minutes, and would like to help drag this man to doing the right thing, please feel free to call him at 410.780.0010. Don't be surprised if he won't take the call or tells you to mind your own business. Probably more effective would be a call or email to Harold Young, Baltimore Director of HUD 410.962.2520, HUD Projects Director India Johnson at 962.2520 x3127 and Multi Family Program Director, Robert Iber at 410.962.2520 x 3055. They will be interested where the equipment has gone and why it wasn't rushed into place when it finally arrived. They've been very helpful in getting things done around here.

I look forward to reporting here this week that the system is in place. Our PGP officers deserve no less.

Saturday, January 24, 11pm: Things continue quiet around here, but the evening is young. It's late in the month, too. Checks are long gone and dealers aren't into selling crack and heroin on credit. In a few days, they'll be giving out free samples as they've taken to doing a few days before the checks are issued to convince customers where to come for more.

Perhaps others are preparing for the first big snow of the season, like us.

Just penned this email to the Mayor ...

"Your Honor:

As you know, we provide the back of our house for a little break room for city officers. A clean restroom and a place to microwave lunch and get a cup of hot coffee or chocolate which we keep ready for them all the time. Many neighbors, especially those from Bolton Hill, bring us coffee, bottled waters and other goodies for the officers regularly. It makes them [officers] more efficient because they stay in their sector when nature calls or if they need something to drink or to heat up their lunch. It makes them feel appreciated. And it gives us neighbors a chance to show them we care.

Several officers on all shifts use the substation. Especially when it's cold, especially when they're on foot duty.

Last year, when we had the heavy snows, it became unusable for too many days because it wasn't plowed.

After the big blizzard last year, I attempted to get one of the two snow plows that were idling at the corner of Madison and Wilson Streets to just do the 75 feet from Wilson up Tiffany Alley so they could continue to use it. I was told they didn't do alleys. Of course I also observed them buying crack from our now closed crack house. Apparently that was OK. But I digress.

Is there any way you could ask for a special exception to the no alley rule for the substation? I'm not asking for us, just for the officers. We want them to be able to rely on the break room when they need it most. We want them to be able to get to the restroom quickly and go out with a hot cup of coffee, even after a snow.

I can't afford a blower or snow plow myself. I can shovel out the parking lot, but I can't do the whole alley, at least not in a day. I've tried. I'm not that strong.

Please see if this can be done. We'd all appreciate it.

Bryan
1708 Madison Avenue

Here's a map. The red arrow line is the little bit of alley we need cleared.

1708 Madison Avenue, rear to Wilson "

I hope it can be done. We had to dig out two squad cars last year, when they slipped into a pothole through the ice and snow. After that, officers would slog through the snow from Wilson. Amazing how motivated you can be when you need to go and you want some hot coffee on a cold night.

Spoke to an officer stationed in Reservoir Hill tonight. We were the closest microwave he could use to heat his home packed lunch of chicken and veggies. He doesn't eat junk food. Was telling me that in certain areas up there the dealers simply walk next door and onto private property, thumbing their noses at him. "At least when I order dealers to disburse here, they go now." I hope our friends in Reservoir Hill can soon make the same progress we have down here.

Thursday, January 22, 4:30pm: The eviction pile in front of 1700 was removed this morning. It was starting to get around the block and around "dumpers" circles that this was the place to dump, yet again. Food trash and other furniture were starting to appear on top. Some people see trash and take it as license to add theirs.

The Mayor emailed back that Ms. Thompson of Sanitation Enforcement will be looking into 1700 and its market and their persistent dumping of debris and of food trash in the alley each day. Hopefully, his reference will spur her office into insisting these guys stop feeding our rats. I know Mrs. Jackson with Eutaw Marshburn school said that one of the big problems they have is rodents. I told her I know part of the reason why.

rear 1700 Madison, Tiffany at Wilson

Went to the School Improvement Team meeting today in the school's library. Introduced myself, explained the genesis of our tiny block association and things we've done and hope to help with. Discussed working on the gates to secure the playground from dealers and prostitutes at night. City Police Athletic League Officer Graham was there and said he'd been wanting that for a long time.

Several members of the SIT group represent local churches. No one from Payne Memorial is part of the group. One long time member said "they have their own agenda. They wanted the school, you know." I imagine they wanted the school closed down so they could have the building to rent to tenants, as they do with the NIMROD center across the street. Money making seems this church's highest priority. I will always remember their Pastor asking "what federal money is available" when asked if his church could contribute space in the publicly funded NIMROD to an effort to get kids off the street during cold winter nights. Like the kids we used to see often bouncing on their mother's knees next door while mom sold crack from her crotch at midnight.

But these other churches have been helping for a long time. One had contributed $100 toward books designed to help teachers prepare their students for the Maryland State Assessment tests coming up next month. They were $50 short. I ran them over a check just a bit ago. That something so basic and important can't be done for lack of $50 is just plain wrong. The flag was important for its symbolism, and we're heartened kids and staff are warming to it, but things like curriculum books for teachers and security gates for the playground are the real places I hope we can help our neighbor, Eutaw Marshburn Elementary.

Wednesday, January 21, 5pm: Emailed the mayor about the eviction dump. It's just getting bigger and wind and kids keep strewing it about. Five calls to 311 and the city's eviction number, 410.396.1485. He replied quickly, "we're on top of it." Still there tonight. Week and a day later.

Landlords should be responsible for this eviction debris. After all, they are in business, making money on their tenants. The city shouldn't have to be a dump because of problems they have with their own tenants.

Other than a few domestic squabbles, Pedestal Gardens has been fairly quiet. Intense cold and windchill helps. Most crack customers know the 24/7 crack marts, like 1421 Madison Avenue, to visit. Just like they used to do at 1704.

A reader and neighbor from Eutaw Place tells me his neighbor seen dumping at Pedestal Gardens dumpster the other day seems a good neighbor to him. He's seen him picking up in the alley. If he was depositing trash he'd picked up from the alley, it would have been good for him to tell the Pedestal Gardens officer who was after him, rather than ignoring him. I'm sure he would have been thanked. I would thank him, too. I don't think I've ever seen anyone pick up in these two alleys or streets other than the irregular visits by the red suited Mid Town District crew.

While I'm on pet peeves: I can't figure out why everyone seems to think it's OK to honk in front of houses in a dense block to get the attention of someone they're meeting. Cabs and hacks and pizza delivery drivers do it. Regular visitors too. They're too lazy to go knock on that persons door or call. Night and day, incessantly. Everyone looks to see if it's for them. Dozens of people distracted from what they're doing or their sleep to find out who's honking. Does this happen in your neighborhood, too? At least the rest of the sound track around here isn't "greens, greens, greens out!" anymore. I'll take the honking over that any day.

Principal Mitchell from Eutaw Marshburn called to tell me that the gym teacher and a student are taking over the morning flag raising. We've been pleased to see it up each morning school's in session the past few times. I hope the children come to see it as a privilege, as we did when we were kids at my school. Attending the School Improvement Team meeting tomorrow. Mrs. Mitchell has recruited me. Hoping I can help with things like the security gates, maybe graffiti removal or the like. The way the District is going, I'm afraid volunteers are going to be the only ones staffing city schools soon.

Sunday, January 18, noon: I've found myself to be rather down lately. Don't exactly know why. Might be the winter doldrums. Could be I just need a vacation. Could be things like this ...

1700 Madison Avenue

Was there Thursday morning. Larger pile then. Stuff has been blown and dragged around by the kids at the school you can see to the left. Obviously an eviction. I called the Department of Public Works, Evictions line at 410.396.1485 and was told it was on the list. I emphasized that it was right across from an elementary school. "We'll try to get it today." Nothing. Called 311 Saturday. "We show that was taken care of." Obviously not. "Call back Tuesday, we're closed Monday." Someone at DPW just crossed it off their list as having been done when it hadn't. In the meantime, we get to deal with it. Same landlord who's left dumped refrigerators out during hurricanes and put his remodeling debris in the alley repeatedly. He lives in Gambrills. Obviously 1700 is only for making money to him. He's not part of the neighborhood. I saw him interviewing new tenant prospects in front of this slum house Thursday afternoon, right next to the dump he created ... again.

Dumping on this city shows the mind set that makes so many of our neighborhoods so disgustingly filthy. The lady who lives in the subsidized housing behind the substation here, 1711 McCulloh Street, decided it was time to dispose of her Christmas tree...

1711McCulloh

Just open the door and toss it to the alley. Someone else will take care of it. Same woman who disposed of a soiled diaper by opening her second floor window and dropping it directly into the alley while I was cleaning it up last summer. Sweet.

Greedy slumlords and women who have no regard for themselves or others is bad, but well to do residents who complain about everything: trash, police, poor people, children playing, the ice cream truck music, etc, probably tweak me most. Yesterday afternoon, I watched a middle aged white guy saunter over to the private dumpster of 1717-1715 Madison Avenue and put his huge trash bag into it. At least he didn't dump it in the parking lot like the guy working on 1708 Eutaw Place. PGP Officers called to him as he retreated to his house behind the gate at 1718 Eutaw Place, but he ignored them ...

1718 Eutaw Place

If they hadn't been busy with more important crime, they would have followed. One of the mansion owners on Eutaw, probably one of those most vocal about how bad the poor people who live behind him are. Lots of gall, using their dumpster. Too often it's overflowing with trash from dumpers who come from far and wide. I recall a man who lives on Eutaw, perhaps this one, complaining among so many other complaints that this dumpster was often overflowing. Obviously, he's not above taking advantage, too. Part of the very problem he complains about, but blames on others. Hypocrisy in action.

Apparently it's just too hard for many people around here to be responsible for their own refuse. They don't care. Just dump on your neighbor, literally. I resent it greatly. We had to pay for the six dumpsters hauled away. We have to pay to have stuff taken away when the city can't do it. We wait to dispose of bulk trash until the night before it's to be taken away, not just jettison it in the alley for others to deal with. We run stuff to the transfer station only five minutes away on Sisson Street, like we did when we took the last fridge dumped by 1700 the other day. Why is it too much to ask that our neighbors do the same?

I think property owners should be allowed to do anything with their property they want that doesn't adversely affect their neighbors or tenants. I don't care that 1700 rents to anyone without regard to anything but their ability to pay a deposit and month's rent. It's not my business. I do care when he continues to dump on this block and then drives home to Gambrills where I doubt he would even consider throwing junk on to the street, let alone get away with it. I've written him twice. He's going to see legal action soon if he keeps dumping on my neighbors and me. I don't think he understands. He might well, soon. Just like Clarence Weston.

Even with our progress here, it seems many residents, wealthy or poor, have no regard for their neighbors. No pride in their neighborhood. They take advantage of a pathetic DPW which cannot prosecute dumpers who feed our rats nightly, like the market at the corner of Tiffany and Wilson. The selfishness, lack of pride, and contempt for one's neighbors is a big downer for me. Especially when so much progress has happened here in the past year. No wonder I get bitter.

Last night, PGP observed a gang of 12 youths making their way down Eutaw Place, near the 1400 block, accosting pedestrians who ran into Bolton Hill. City Police responded, but the gang had dispersed and the victims could not be found.

Unfortunately, I'm still the only link, via 911, between the city police and PGP. The radio system was picked up by SPS's John Copinger on Friday. Hopefully, he'll do the right thing finally and get it installed ASAP. Been a year now. I sure hope he doesn't intend to withhold it until his account is brought up to date or some other lame excuse. He's already gotten the money from IRM for the system. Should have happened last spring. As with tonight's gang activity, lives depend on it.

Was bothered to read on the Bolton Hill Bulletin Board that the thug who stabbed at the city officer in the alley next to Louise's house last month was mistakenly released from jail. Louise reports on the board that officers stood watch for two days at her home until he was rearrested. Seems Central Booking is a horribly run operation. I know each time an officer makes an arrest, it takes at least two hours for them to get through the paperwork process there. Two hours an effective officer is off the street, not doing his job, because of civil servants with bad attitudes who seem unsupervised, answering to no one.

One thing that does brighten my mood is when Substation Friends bring stuff for the officers. Thank you again, Sarah. The coffee, hot chocolate and bottled waters will be appreciated by the officers. In this cold weather it all goes fast. We've always got hot coffee, hot water for tea and chocolate and bottled waters ready. We keep foam cups with lids stocked. The restroom is clean.
It's 70 degrees, 24/7. The idea has always been a quick restroom break and a drink to take back out on patrol. Sometimes when I don't see many officers use the station, I wonder if it's a waste of space. It's the nicest place in this house. I could use it. Then, I see several visits and see a steaming cup go out the door into a squad car. Many officers still use the substation, even for the bad mouthing we've gotten from the two notoriously lazy officers we complained about. The ones who've no doubt found other places to avoid working. Places where they're not so conspicuous.

There are some fine, brave officers who use the station regularly. And it continues to be our privilege to provide them this small courtesy, especially on cold, wet gray days like this.

Just as I was finishing this entry, Vaughn brought a new addition to the substation ...

coffee maker

It's a commercial grade, top notch Bunn coffee maker, donated by Stefan Strein of Vaughn's church. He was closing an office and thought of us. It is overkill. We could go into the coffee shop business with it. A cafe was promised for the NIMROD center across the street, but it has yet to materialize like all the other unfilled promises of that building. Still, it makes coffee very quickly and even has a hot water tap for tea and chocolate. When we run out, officers won't have to settle for instant or come back when the coffee's done. Neat. Thank you Stefan, very much. I will get it installed soon.

The goodies in front are from Ken, Leslie and Ari, our Spicer's Run neighbors and regular substation supporters. Ken has his own key and frequently drops by microwave burritos, fruit and treats. Some officers still don't know what to make of this. "Free?" They still think it amazing that neighbors care enough to provide the place and stock it.

Thursday, January 15, 2004, noon: Spoke to Jesse Halvorsen, Assistant State's Attorney assigned to City Housing again yesterday. It had been a while since we've talked. During the time he was working on closing the crackhouse for housing code violations we spoke at least weekly, some times daily. He worked very hard with us on 1704.

I'd called him because the Mayor emailed me that he was told 1704 had been assigned to the Project 5000 program. Jesse said that "early on, it had been considered a candidate [for P5K]." I had asked the Mayor if he would endorse reducing the tax lien certificate for acquisition by a community association. No one had mentioned the program before.

Project 5000 is the Mayor's initiative to acquire 5000 vacant properties of the estimated 15,000 in the city. In the case of 1704, this means the property will be foreclosed upon by the city, which would then, theoretically, be able to sell it to whomever it wanted. Supposedly, people capable of and committed to rehabilitating the property. It might also be open to proposals for community uses. In any case, it will be easy for the city to foreclose on this tax lien: Mr. Weston is forbidden by the terms of his probation to contest it. And bunching the properties together will save the city and any interested individual the $2k to $3000 in legal fees it might cost to foreclose individually.

Of course, I don't know how long this process might take. Just yesterday, BGE came by to remove the gas and electric meters. He was just about to break through the rear gate and pry off boards when I introduced myself. Had he gone through the rear, he would have found himself in padlocked apartments. Instead, he went through the front where he could get to the basement meters. I helped him reboard it securely. I'm glad BGE has turned it all off officially, but it does seem to illustrate 1704 could be boarded for a long, long time. And that's a shame. Still, far better than it what it was.

I have some calls in to P5K administrators to see what the timeline might be but with so many properties and so many inquiries, it's hard to get a return call. Snail mail is next. Often that's the best way with the city.

Pleasant surprise this morning: The gym teacher at Eutaw Marshburn had already raised the flag when Vaughn went over to do it. I don't know if he's going to volunteer to do this regularly. At least until we can arrange that floodlamp.

Sunday, January 11, 2004, 2am: PGP Officer Tyler reports things are quiet on the home front. I'm sure most of us are staying in, trying to keep warm, watching the game. Walking the beat in this cold is tough, but we're sure glad he's out there doing it. Coffee and chocolate are going fast. Time for another trip to Sam's. We were just talking about buying some of those hand warmers in bulk, too. The type you slip into your gloves and boots that stay warm for hours.

As promised, some pictures from the flag raising ...

Guard & flag
This photo accompanied the article in the Sun.

Color Guard
Thank you, Maurice Williams, Michael Mauldin, Robert Siewierski & Myoung Fisher of the Maryland National Guard, 5th Armory (Howard & Preston Streets) Thanks to Michael Edwards (not pictured), their unit leader, and Wendy Glacken, too.

children
Several children from each class were selected to attend the program about the flag, put on the by the Color Guard Members.

flag folding
Proper folding of the flag was demonstrated. Did you know that each fold is a symbol in itself? The Color Guard in Maryland performs over 1,000 ceremonies each year. The members remarked their usual duty is for veteran's funerals, unlike this event for children.

the new flag
When the flag went up, there seemed no wind at all. Just as it got to the top of the pole, a bit of a breeze kicked up.

Thanks to Baltimore City Police Sergeant Hess for the color photos.

It went very well. Several neighbors braved the frigid morning to watch. Julie, Mike and Adam among them. I remarked to one of the Guardsmen that the little ceremony was a bit hokey, but that we all needed that sometimes. Especially in times like these. We all agreed.

Adam had an observation that makes a comment on one of the real issues staff at Eutaw and all schools have to deal with:

... [there] was one kid with a tremendous purple welt above his eye, it appeared he had been slugged there pretty hard. Two teachers asked him about it and he quickly shot out the same exact story about a basketball game from yesterday. They seemed to believe him, to me it appeared he was telling a premeditated story to protect the person who really hit him. Most likely a larger person of some sort. Pretty sad stuff, and thats just from standing out there for 10 minutes!"

It's hard to worry about a flag when you've got 400+ kids to educate and protect. I'm glad we could help with something so small. Now, we're on to work on security gates for the playground at night. The one used by the dealers for cat and mouse games with the officers.

I'm happy to report that when Vaughn went by the school the next morning to raise the flag, he found it very carefully folded. Mrs. Phillips, the afternoon Custodian, is enthusiastic about flag duty. Such a relief. The students were off that day and the teachers away he was told, but they raised it anyway.

Wednesday, January 7, 2004, 10am: The little ceremony is all set for tomorrow, promptly at 9. McMechen, across from the school will be closed to allow room for the children to see the color guard and the flag raising. It should take no more than 15 minutes, if you'd like to attend.

Members of the National Guard are putting together a little program about the history of the flag, what it means and even the symbolism of each of the folds in a properly folded flag. I didn't even know the folds had a meaning.

This afternoon, I'm fixing the halyard to allow the larger flag.

We have it set that the afternoon custodian will lower the flag each night and put it in the office downstairs. As reported previously, it's against the morning custodian's religion to touch it. I'm going to talk to the teacher who uses Classroom 209, which has the window access to the flag halyard. I can't see any reason he or she won't take a minute each morning either before or just after class begins to raise the flag. Hopefully, they'll see the sense in that, too.
Speaking to electricians already about a flood lamp to illuminate it at night. Tough to coordinate with school maintenance. And the issue of the extra few dollars of electricity has already come up. Hopefully, I can find someone at school headquarters who has a sense of priorities and values. We're talking a tiny amount of money for the electricity to illuminate a flag. The light and installation will be donated, as has the flag.

On to drug news: One of the three brothers whose Mom lives across the street, all of whom have made a lucrative career from crack sales (mom must be so proud), has taken to driving around to serve his customers now. Too cold to be walking his territory as the dealers have taken to doing. A girlfriend's apartment there serves as the stash house. How convenient. A federally subsidized drug warehouse. This car is distinctive. I suppose you flag him down like a hack. I've seen people walk up to his car here at the corner of Wilson and Madison to buy.

I think he needs a catchy little tune to play from his car. Like the ice cream truck. Oh, wait, he does: Rap at 200 decibels. At 2am. You hear that, look out and "he's here, let's get our crack." Delivery right to your front door. Like pizza.

The PGP guys say "We'll catch him. Just like we [recently] got his brother." I wish city police would do some surveillance. Last night he refilled his crack wagon about six times. I'm sure each time he drove away from Mom's he was packing a considerable supply. Perhaps enough to get him arrested like his other brother ... again. Something PGP are understandably proud of.

Someone in authority said to me yesterday, "It's going to go on like this so long as the government keeps letting it." It does create a huge economy, both in drug profits and the huge expenditures by the government to stop it. While I didn't think much of former Mayor Schmoke, I agree with him that legalization is the answer, even as I rail against the thriving crack trade and the damage it does. God knows it's more available now than it would be if it were simply regulated like alcohol. The simple logic of that fact is indisputable to anyone who opens their eyes.

I read in yesterday's paper that funds for mass transit were being slashed. Mass transit, as in the only means many poor and middle class Baltimoreans have for getting to work. In the city, public transportation is very bad. Except for getting to the airport, something most poor people don't do very often except to work their jobs at the airport Subway sandwich shop.

Today, I read in the Sun that Suburban Republican Enrlich is saying that his billion plus dollar Intercounty Connector freeway will be good for the environment. Oh, those long suffering suburbanites. Not enough roads for them to pilot their SUVs (the ones that cost more than many Baltimore houses) at 85 miles an hour in ridiculously long commutes. I know I shouldn't be surprised. After all, it's no coincidence Iraq has the world's largest known oil reserves. A dictator controlling it is not a reliable source for our precious gasoline.

Our priorities sure aren't with neighborhoods like this, at any level of government. Understandable why a flag just isn't so much a priority here. We should raise it upside down tomorrow, both as a traditional sign of distress and an illustration of upside down priorities ... but we won't. The flag should be a symbol of hope and many of us have that. Some have nothing more.


6pm: Was out putting new shackles on the halyard, trial fitting the new flag. Seemed enormous as I put it out the window. When I went down to street level for a look see, it seemed barely just right. A 5x8' would fit, but would be too hard to get down and fold. The streetlamps glowed from behind it giving a hint of how good it would look with a floodlamp.

Oddly, like so many repairs I make to this house, the flag didn't seem special really. It seemed like that's just where it should have been all along. Like a wall with all its bricks or a windowframe with all its glass, complete. Still, I was the only one looking up at the old flag pole and though numb from the cold, I noticed the tingle of a stupid grin. I felt privileged to be the first to see her fly.

Up early to greet the Guardsmen. They take this work seriously. They're going to be here at 7 for a trial run and then wait for their cue. Going to treat them to coffee and donuts in the substation while they wait.

I hope you can join us at 9am. Ten or twenty minutes that might make you feel good, if only for the nostalgia of a flag at your own elementary school. That was just a few years ago, wasn't it?

The AP headline that just flashed across my screen as I gush excitedly about a simple flag raising ...

Iraq Mortar Attack Wounds 35 U.S. Soldiers

Tuesday, January 6, 2004, 5pm: Just got back from meeting with Eutaw Marshburn Principal Mitchell and Assistant Principal Jackson. I had been wondering about the management of a school that couldn't muster a flag. Seemed a symbol of a school district in shambles right down to the local elementary. Turns out the one reason for not having a flag was valid: truly no money. Inability to raise and lower it properly still fails me: "Against my religion" and "not in my contract." However, the afternoon custodian has agreed to lower it for us each day until we can make other arrangements, like a way to raise and lower it from outside so it could be up on the weekends and school breaks. Or a floodlamp, which I think would make a beautiful landmark at  night on that busy corner.

The meeting room and offices where we met were a mess. A busy mess. Obviously people juggling a lot of work. It had occurred to me unreturned calls and people too busy to raise a flag was because they didn't care. As I often do, I jumped to conclusions too quickly. I now realize, and perhaps remember, the controlled chaos of elementary school. I can only imagine managing that school, here, with no money.

As I walked the halls afterward to the second story classroom where a small window gives access to the flag halyard, I noticed how clean and tidy it was. The classrooms seemed organized and bright as a 1965 building could be. I was impressed. It seemed as it should. The priority is on the classrooms, not on neat principal's offices and meeting rooms. They don't have the time for that. What's the old line "never trust anyone with a neat desk."

We discussed the history of the substation and the dealing in this block. Ms. Mitchell even mentioned the fact that at one time they had tried to get proper gates to close off the school and play grounds at night to the dealers, but that was shot down for lack of money. That was something the city and PGP officers and I have discussed previously, wondering why the school couldn't do that. I think that should be our next project. Ms. Mitchell told me of the condoms and vials and feces staff often finds in the doorways there that often conceal dealers and prostitutes. Stuff that greets the kids on their way to school. Some gates will cost more than a flag, but I'm sure it can be done. And it should.

school steps

So, this afternoon, I'm hoping this flag will be the start of increased neighborhood involvement in helping the school. Something I should have pursued more long ago.

We'd hoped to have Police Commissioner Clark and/or some other leaders speak to the kids, but like the last BBQ, perhaps the important thing is what you're there for: At the BBQ to let the kids have fun and feed them. At the flag raising to see a flag where one so very much belongs. The ceremony will be very, very brief. All about a Color Guard to convey the proper respect and the kids watching a flag raised.

Speaking of the Commissioner, very good column today by Michael Olesker ...

http://www.sunspot.net/news/local/bal-md.olesker06jan06,0,6575514.column?coll=bal-home-columnists

And a very good article on what happens when we don't raise kids with pride respect for themselves ...

http://www.sunspot.net/news/yahoo/bal-md.arrests05jan05,0,5635039.story?coll=bal-newsaol-headlines


So, I'm running the dogs in the yard and decide to make coffee for the officers. Normal routine. I'd seen a few police cars and figured they could use some more on this chilly morning. I'm feeling a bit blue about the Commissioner not coming to the flag raising and my dismal impression that there was no interest from the school in getting a flag. Feeling down as used to often happen around here. Thinking "why try."

And then I realize I've locked myself in the substation.

Not good timing considering my mood. I tried picking the entry door to the house. No luck. Gave up. I've done it before. You'd have to do real damage to get in or get out. As with a sledge hammer.

Only choice? Slide out the window into the yard while the dogs wonder what new game we're playing. Cursing all the while. Muttering nasty things about the city, the neighborhood, the old house, stupid Bryans.

Went out feet first, trying to land on the chair I'd tossed out first since it's a bit of a drop. After I land, still cursing, I turned to find a police car, paused, in the alley, an officer watching intently. I stopped cursing, waved and smiled meekly. Feeling like a complete fool. A not unfamiliar emotion. He backed up and drove into the parking area.

"I couldn't figure why anyone would want to break into a police substation in a yard with three dogs. Then I realized it was you." We smiled, but he didn't laugh, at least not in front of me. He's an officer who's used the substation for a long time. We discussed lots of things, including the progress here and even over toward Pennsy and Laurens. He's on foot a lot more now. "I know the dealers and they know me and know to stay away."

We talked about how important foot patrol is.
Old fashioned policing. Knowing the good guys and the bad guys. I'm grateful he knew me or I might have had some more explaining to do, maybe at gunpoint.

Anyway, after he used the restroom and left on an emergency call, lights on and siren blaring, I smiled and realized yet again it isn't the fact you aren't winning the war that counts. It's the small battles won. Like putting a flag up at a school or rescuing one from a crack house. Or giving an officer a clean restroom and a cup of coffee. Wish I could remember that more often.

Saturday, January 3, 2004: Heard Foxtrot and then some chatter from the PGP officers, sounding serious. While asking them for status, I was already on the line with 911. She asked twice "are you calling for a Signal 13?" I didn't know I had that authority. Was impressed with her immediate understanding and attitude. Perhaps I'd said the right words when calling to describe PGP officers encountering a large crowd. I assured her they hadn't called for a Signal 13, merely backup. And that reluctantly. They had begun to tell me of problems with a crowd and I had alreadly dialed for backup.

Apparently things went out of control two blocks over at Pennsylvannia and Laurens, the central drug market of the Central District. PGP officers had responded to a Signal 13 there and then pulled back to their own terrirtory when assured the response was adequate. Often, the bad boys will call in 911 calls to distract police attention. Our PGP guys are aware of that and thinking.

I was so hoping the new year would bring new things. Wishful thinking. Still, I know it's better and will be. Even if the bad boys figure otherwise.

New Year's Day 2004: The boys are out in force this morning, already. I don't think they're abiding my New Years resolutions for them. Divvying up their day's stock. I can plainly see the baggie of vials. No officers to be seen.

So starts another year on Madison Avenue.

Serious vandalism continues at Pedestal Gardens whenever the PGP are not on duty or on the ball. Impossible to be everywhere at the same time. This time, it was graffiti and damage to the boiler rooms of one of the main buildings. A resident I know said it was pretty bad. A cost of doing business, I guess. A cost taxpayers end up paying.

Yesterday, we took the refrigerator lately blocking the alley to the transfer station a few blocks away on Sisson Street. We had a load going and decided to do the neighborly thing. Vaughn did go in and explain to the fellow who did it that this was us, not the city and that he shouldn't assume we'll do it again. He began some lame complaint that he'd called, but the city changed the bulk trash day. I guess he figured it was OK for him to leave it out there for six weeks as he has other appliances and renovation debris. His trash isn't his responsibility. In future, we will make formal complaint and could easily have him criminally cited for illegal dumping. I'm so tired of people dumping on the neighborhood. The Mayor is right. Trash and dumping in this city is a big problem. If you live in a dump, you feel like trash ... and act the part.

It finally happened. The report of another two soldier's deaths in Iraq was a minor headline, well below the Raven's Playoffs. Sad comment on our priorities and attention span. Same with drug dealing and murders here in Baltimore. Commonplace. Not news. The murder score here was 271. Up again. Used to be that was the big stat the Mayor liked to cite. In the past few years, the rate of crime went down across the country and Baltimore benefited. It made nice political hay. But just as the figures flattened out across the country, they have here, too. No longer good for resume building.

Things were much better around here in 2003, though. And we have the hard work of the Baltimore Police Department and the Pedestal Gardens Officers to thank for that. It's not coincidence that for 2003 we had a new commissioner, too. The same one who read the City Paper article and met with us to discuss the problem during his first week in town, even before he was confirmed. He actually goes into bad sections of town as a policeman, not a press hound. We've seen him often. And hope to see him often this year, too. Perhaps at the flag raising next week.

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