Journal entries for July, 2003

click here for archive index of previous entries

Monday, July 28, 4pm: Seemed like old times late last night to see this out my window ...

officers & a teen driver

I assumed it was crack. It wasn't. Officers stopped this boy who was driving on his learner's permit at night without his mom. Apparently, he's been just taking off, driving like teenagers do and getting one ticket after another. They threatened to take him to jail this time, giving out a good lecture and more citations, but after a frantic call to his mom, she came and got him. She seemed more angry at being inconvenienced than angry at her son, according to someone there. Sort of thing that can happen anywhere. A 15 year old teenaged boy wants to drive.

Amazing how the times when this sight was commonplace seem so far away now. We're talking just weeks. Reminds me of when I put in a window or fix a floor and the house swallows it up, as if it was always there, without so much as a thank you, leaving me to tackle yet another missing piece of the puzzle that is this old house. I was not nostalgic. Most times now, it seems like normal city life on the streets around here. Of course, I did see a young man stand in the substation parking lot the other morning, frantically smoking his crack. He was just there to make sure I don't forget.

Still, it's as good as I could expect right now. I just hope it holds and intend to help keep it this way any way I can.

Officer Brown of the PGP found this on his rounds today in one of the Pedestal Gardens buildings ...

filler or the real thing?

It was a baggie of white, flaky, wax like material, very much resembling the same stuff I've seen in thousands of vials during my tenure here. We wondered if it might be the real thing, but city officers in the substation on lunch break dismissed it, saying it was likely "burn," which I think means what you use to "burn" unsuspecting customers who can't tell the difference. One joked that if you give someone who's already high or drunk or both a hit of it, they'll say "ooooh, that's good stuff." Even crack connoisseurs can't really complain about the quality of product. Not the way we distribute it now. I think reputable dealers are few and far between.

This is the same PGP Officer Brown who recovered what unquestionably was a working high caliber handgun hidden in a jacket on his rounds a month or so ago. Kudos, Officer Brown, for keeping your eyes open and helping keep these things out of our community.

Friday, July 25, 5pm: Imagine this entry to the tune of "It's a Small World After All." Over and over again, through each alley and street.

Ice cream truck. Reminds me very much of going to Disney Land, taking that ride. I much preferred "The Haunted House."

Anyway, God forbid this should devolve into yet another blog about what should be personal life, any more than it pertains to the situation here.

The thing to report today is this assessment from a neighbor across the street, posted in the guestbook last night ...

Dear Mr. Bryan

I've always maintained that most of the tenants in that building are good people. But it's hard to be good when you have to pass through terrorist mobs as you walk back from the grocery or get out of your car or walk through the halls. It's harder still when you have little kids walking home through them. I don't think most readers can fathom it. I know I couldn't ... before. Some still think it's fiction from NYPD Blue or The Wire.

Some are simply in denial and point fingers at innocent people who can't defend themselves. "They're the problem. They accept public money [They're poor] so they've lost their rights as citizens. Let's close down their building and find them better housing. No, I don't know where, but that's not my problem. At least it won't be in my backyard."

I'm glad the good tenants have toughed it out and hope we can all keep the momentum through the entire neighborhood.

Wednesday, July 23, 5pm: It's always a pleasure seeing this type of street peddler ...

fruit monger

I've never even had a problem with the Mr. Softie ice cream truck that Bolton Hillers complain about so fervently each Spring. I've always found his repetitive tune better than "greens, get your greens here, greens out!" over and over again, ad nauseam. Perhaps in time to come I can raise my standards, too, though I doubt I'll ever complain about the sounds of children playing basketball in the alley, laughing from the school yard or the band practicing. Yes, there are those neighbors who've complained about those very things. To me, they're the right sounds for a neighborhood.

Word comes indirectly that IRM is working with SPS on officers here 24/7, even providing a car for their use on site. Of course, hanging out in the car has always been useless for the non commissioned officers. Their purpose is mostly deterrence, but the ability of the officers to back each other up across the large "campus" of Pedestal Gardens is improved by having a car available, assuming the other officer knows his colleague needs help.

I'm glad to hear of these improvements. They tend to dispel my complacency allegation. Still no radios. I sure hope IRM is not expecting SPS to buy them or the other way 'round or that someone's planning a bigger system than needed here. What we had on demo worked well. Now an officer has told me that without the radios that work, he can't do the type of police work he was doing so well. I understand. I don't understand overthinking the radio issue. Seems a no brainer to me.

City officers have been cracking down on speeders and seatbeltless drivers on Eutaw Place lately. Discourages prostitution and raises money for the city, too, though I'm sure local commuters must not be so fond of that. They also sit in their squad cars sometimes just to write a report on Wilson, often with their water from the substation, aimed down toward McCulloh. Keeps that area clear too.

I've been reading a lot of mayoral campaign rhetoric about spending too much on police and not enough on schools. As if the one should be at the expense of the other. Sure, our schools do seem abysmal, even with scores slightly better, but students need to be safe first. And the only education going on in the crack market streets of this town is how to sell drugs. There must be a way to have safer streets and better schools. To me, that's why we have a city government in the first place.

In a lot that once was kitchen trash and junk, there's now a small garden next to the former crack house.  Today, a gladiola blossomed near the little tree.


Tuesday, July 22, 3pm: I think I'm still in denial about things being better here. Ever since the day we boarded 1704 I've been out of sorts. Not myself. Friends and supporters congratulate me and I bristle. I've been rude, unsocial. For one thing, I do not deserve the credit. To say the improvement here has been a team effort is serious understatement. It's been a coordination of much hard work, primarily by those men and women with the police department, its revamped Flex Teams, and the PGP.

For another, I know it could revert to what it was easily. I've been afraid to jinx it by acknowledging the change. I'm also afraid to report the success for fear the powers that be will move their attention elsewhere.

I've noticed considerable complacency on the part of Pedestal Gardens management in getting proper radios for the PGP. I think they know things are better. There's a new onsite manager who wasn't here when the neighborhood was a continual battlefield. She has no idea what it was. How could she?  There are far fewer complaints from neighbors, including me. I haven't dialed 911 in a week. Perhaps the HUD people have let up in their criticism, too.

Still, the PGP officers go without a reliable radio system. And that's just plain wrong.

The fault is ultimately the security firm that employs these officers, SPS. It doesn't even provide vests or other equipment, leaving men who are paid as little as $8 an hour to shell out hundreds of dollars just to protect themselves on the job. Even though the company charges Pedestal Gardens more than $20 an hour. Grossly unfair. Why they don't just go work at McDonalds where they're less likely to get shot, and the uniforms are provided, is beyond me. Unless, it's knowing that they make a difference in people's lives. Could that be it? God knows, they have in mine and my neighbors. And I'm very grateful.

But Interstate Realty Management is responsible for Pedestal Gardens. Whether principals there are the true owners or not is irrelevant. It employs police officers and allows them to work without an adequate radio system. I will say what officers and I have been talking about for months: If one of the PGP officers gets seriously hurt (they've been scuffed and bruised during arrests) out there due to lack of backup communications, IRM will be culpable. Not getting the equipment by now is shameful. Especially since a police major offered to have sector sergeants monitor the PGP radio band. I spent weeks researching the needed equipment, arranged a demo and provided the info to management. You can lead a horse to water ...

I'd much rather see IRM invest a few thousand now, and I mean right now, than pay out millions for not supporting their officers properly. I would be first in line to volunteer in civil court about the fact they knew the risks and the small price of this equipment, but were negligent. There's no doubting that IRM, a large corporation, has deep pockets. There is no excuse for the inadequate radio system these officers have. None. The fact things are better around here does not mean these officers are no longer needed or at risk.

I've also heard that the security firm has not been paid in months. I wonder if that's true and why that would be, considering so much of the rents are paid by the federal government under Section 8 HUD programs. I still wonder why they don't have a concern about the substandard wages these subcontractors are paid either. I thought they had standards. While this would not excuse SPS's lack of concern for supporting its officers, it would certainly explain a reluctance to make an investment here, however important.

I'll be happy to report here IRM's side, but they don't seem to be returning emails from me anymore. I think my usefulness championing their side of the dispute with neighbors on Eutaw Place may seem diminished now. Or they may understandably be tired of my constant harping. I couldn't blame them. I know Clarence Weston must hate me.

On a more encouraging note, I'm pleased to hear Pedestal Gardens management is moving offices into the corner apartment of 1717-1715, including a facility for the PGP. It will go a long way toward securing the hard won progress we've seen. Hopefully, it will be an observation post as much as a lounge.

Still, where are the radios?

Friday, July 18, 1pm: After yesterday's rather business like entry, I thought I'd share something nice ...

Thanks for the water

Written on a paper towel and left on the table the other day. The bottled water we and a few substation supporters provide go fast on hot summer days like this. This thank you belongs to all of you who've helped and continue to help. I'm the lucky guy who hears the thank yous almost daily.

Just this morning, during one hour, three squad cars came up to use the restroom and grab a water. One zapped his lunch in the microwave. They didn't have to drive off post or worry about finding a clean restroom. They know they have one 24/7.

A very short, round young boy walks through the alley on his way to the market frequently. Today, he stood in the back parking area for the substation and stared in awe at the dogs. He asked me if "they is police dogs?" "No," I said, "they're just volunteers, like me."

Paul and Lynn have closed on their house up on the 2200 block of Linden. It's been a boardup for some time in an area not unlike ours. I'm looking forward to seeing it. I think congratulations are in order, but in houses like these, buying them is the easiest part. The real work begins when you start peeling off the window boards and assessing what you've got ... or don't. I've joked with him about where he's going to put his substation.

Thursday, July 17, 2pm: A correction: Major Skinner is replacing Major Gutberlet to be in charge of the Central District. I spoke to Major Gutberlet briefly today. He's been "promoted" to Chief of Patrol. In charge of "all uniformed officers in all nine districts." What the Central District has lost, the entire city has gained. Small solace for the selfish like me.

I wish he'd been left where he was, but like all people who're good at what they do, he couldn't avoid getting promoted. I'm sure that's what the Mayor is hoping, too. I wish someone would just stay put here and do his job. The city is worth the commitment, isn't it?

No word on the radios for the PGP Officers. I had to return the system we had on demo. I spent considerable time, gratis, researching and then arranging this demo which coincided with the fourth of the July. We even hosted a repeater station from the roof. Interstate Realty Management people, owners of Pedestal Gardens, promised to follow through. I hope they will soon, though today would not be soon enough. The PGP officers, both commissioned and security, need adequate emergency communication now. And it's downright insulting that we haven't been able to take the Major up on his offer to have the sector sergeant carry a radio tuned to the PGP band to facilitate backup. Officers with over 75 arrests in five months deserve reliable emergency communications. It makes them safer and more effective. Unfortunately, I don't have the $5,000 needed or I would have done it already. They've been that important around here.

Saw someone who looked like a contractor measuring things around 1717-1715 earlier. Don't know what they're planning. It looked like fencing. I hope they're not wasting money on that. Radios and a camera surveillance system would be far more effective use of funds. Locks that don't get used are useless, like those on the common area doors there.

A neighbor of 1720 Eutaw Place has told me he spoke with the contractor working on that property and the derelict garage there will be secured soon. Nice to know. We need to keep our neighborhood shored up against the drug dealers who want it back.

Supposedly, Pedestal Gardens management is opening a branch office with facilities for its security staff in the 1717-1715 Madison Avenue building. Sounds like a good idea. For some reason, there's a lot of foot dragging. The apartment's been vacant for a long time. Reminds me of the NIMROD Center where a "community center and police substation" were going to be housed. That's not materialized either. Shameful waste of space.

Tuesday, July 15, Noon: A scout for the dealers came through on his bike this morning. He yelled "greens, greens, greens, out! Blacks. Yellows." Sang it out repeatedly from the steps of 1712. A young lady ambled on over from 1715. She'd heard the siren song. They did their business and sat to chat and laugh. The boy yelled some other colors. Obviously just to test the waters, or me.

Admittedly, hearing "greens out" today was a surprise, not the constant noise it used to be. I think it had been three weeks since I'd heard it. I had almost forgotten how angry that chanting makes me.

PGP Officer Brown was elsewhere on his rounds, but came over immediately when I radioed him. Sometimes I play watchman over here, as we all know. The woman walked away from the slinger quickly and said he was just joking, I didn't have to call the police. To me, that's a joke like yelling fire in a theater.

I did call the police. They never showed. Officer Brown waited. Street dealing just isn't a priority at times. It'd be nice if the 911 operators were honest and said something like "we're too busy for drug dealers right now, it will be a while before a car is sent, if one arrives at all."

Our bike peddling peddler rode away, around the corner to the other side of Wilson at McCulloh, out of sight of Pedestal Gardens. He loitered there for some time. Later, Officer Brown was pleased to tell me a "Flex team" came out of no where. Four officers jumped out and grabbed four of the 12+ loitering dealers there. The others all scattered. This must have been magic in the eyes of Mrs. Douglas who lives above the funeral home on that corner. Perhaps the reason we got no response here was the department is so well coordinated, they knew the "Flex Team" was about to do something and didn't want to interfere. I like that thought.

We still have the radios loaned to us by Teltronics Company as a demo. I was happy to put together the specs and arrange the demo with Brett Phennicie (443.524.4511) of their company, the same one used by the city police. They have been kind enough to give the Pedestal Gardens Police a few weeks to try the equipment, including over the July 4th weekend when we were all nervous about what might happen again. Reliable and instant communication between these officers is essential for their safety and effectiveness. The cell phone paging system their employer, SPS Security, provides is useless. It doesn't have the power to cover the whole area they patrol here, particularly basements and the centers of the larger buildings. The system we've been testing, with a repeater on the roof here, covers the whole area thoroughly. After considerable negotiations, City Police Major Gutberlet authorized his sector sergeants to carry one of these radios for quick backup to the PGP. I sure hope this equipment can be purchased soon. Like today. The Pedestal Gardens property management firm has the information, knows the urgency. The safety of these officers who continue to make an enormous difference around here should not wait any longer.

I understand Major Gutbertlet is leaving his position in charge of the Central District. I've heard Major Eades will be replacing him. I don't know the new Major, but I hope he's of the same school as his predecessor. Major Gutberlet is a very hands on leader, widely respected by his officers. I hope he is moving up to a position where he can be as effective. I know he will be missed around here.

Sunday, July 13, Noon: I'm taking the day off and letting Peter Moskos write today's entry. He's emailed  this op-ed piece, which appeared in the Washington Post. He's the former Baltimore police officer studying for his doctorate at Harvard. He makes some good points ...

Victims of the War on Drugs 

By Peter Moskos

In 1998 the Drug Enforcement Administration sent its Mobile Enforcement Team into Benton Harbor, Mich., while state troopers patrolled the crime-ridden streets. With 42 arrests, the DEA struck a major blow at the drug ring responsible for some 90 percent of violent crime in the city.

In congressional testimony the following year, the DEA boasted: "After the intervention of law enforcement officers. . . . Benton Harbor was being brought back to life. . . . They brought a sense of stability to the area."

This was wishful thinking. Not only has there been no lasting effect on the drug trade, resentment of outside law enforcement in Benton Harbor recently has exploded into riots. Residents of the crime-ridden and depressed city see police as an occupying force.

Outsiders find it hard to believe that residents of dangerous communities -- those most in need of police services -- can be anti-police. Our drug laws create this paradox.

I policed ground zero in our "war" on drugs on the streets of Baltimore. Police in such circumstances, myself included, do the best they can. But faced with constant levels of drug-related violence and hostility, one should not expect the model for Officer Friendly.

Benton Harbor is not the first or last anti-police race riot. The pattern is always the same: a poor community ravaged by drugs, a history of real and perceived police misconduct, a racially charged spark, then riots.

Terrance Shurn was Benton Harbor's spark. He died after crashing his motorcycle June 16. He wouldn't stop for police. He might have been running to avoid a drug conviction. His license was suspended. Had I stopped him, I would have searched him, legally. I would have found the small bag of marijuana he was carrying. Suddenly, it's jail and a criminal drug conviction.

Most citizens in and out of our ghettoes, including drug users, despise drug dealers. But nobody supports heavy-handed drug enforcement.

Those at the receiving end of our drug policy know it simply doesn't work. People will riot as long as police keep locking them up without anything getting better.

Liberals are correct to note that rioting does not happen in the absence of poverty, poor education and poor policing. Conservatives are right to blame the individual rioters. But both sides miss the central point: The problems that lead to riots stem from the drug trade. Eighty years of failed drug prohibition have destroyed swaths of urban America.

While the damage from heroin and cocaine use is real and severe, prohibition creates an illegal market based on cash, guns and violence. While drug use can destroy an individual, the illegal and violent drug trade destroys whole neighborhoods.

If the war on drugs were winnable, we would already have won it. Drug prohibition criminalizes large segments of the population, even the majority in some areas. Police can't hire from some areas they police because not enough men reach hiring age without a drug conviction.

We need to accept the fact that drug addiction is a personal and medical problem. We need to push violent dealers off the street even if it means tolerating inconspicuous and peaceful indoor drug dealing.

Users don't belong in jail. Drug dealers see themselves as businessmen. Arrest one and another will quickly move to take the market. As long as addicts need to buy, somebody will sell.

How can tolerance lower drug use? We can learn from our already legal recreational drugs.

In 40 years cigarette smoking has decreased by half. This is a great victory against drugs. Public education hammered home the harm and changed our culture's attitudes towards tobacco.

Alcohol prohibition was tried and failed. Few argue that alcohol is an absolute "good." But for the most part people are happy with their localities regulating sales, balancing the rights of individuals with the harm to society. For both tobacco and alcohol, high taxation discourages new users and raises money for education.

We should implement similar policies for drug use. Treat drug abuse as a medical problem. Separate the problems of drug use from the violence of the drug trade. Acknowledge that drugs are bad, but don't frame drug policy as a moral war against evil.

Until we do these things, people in communities such as Benton Harbor will be under siege and sparks will set off riots.

Thursday, July 10, 5:00pm: Now that 1704 is secure, the crack users and prostitutes are having to look harder for places to do their thing. The laundry rooms of 1717-1715 and the Pedestal Gardens building across the street on Eutaw seem to be the most convenient space open for them now. While the PGP discourages it while they're here, the fact is the doors there are too often ajar, broken locks are going unrepaired for a month and the residents don't seem to understand the need for or respect the constant requests by PGP to close the door behind them. Even locks that work need to be used.

open again

Either the doorways themselves need to removed to keep the laundry room and common areas from being concealed or the doors need strong returns and good locks. Or perhaps these fire doors need to be unlocked only when the fire alarm goes off.

We knew there'd be more pressure on the surrounding properties once 1704 was closed down. That's exactly what's happening. All of us here need to be more diligent about preventing use of common spaces, unlocked cars, garages, alleys between houses, back yards, etc. That includes our neighbors up Madison Avenue, on Eutaw and on Bolton Street. Lighting, locks, fences, secured gates and, most important, eyes open ... the duties of every responsible resident.

Update 6pm: More than our share of irony and timing around here. Officers of the PGP apprehended two unfortunate vagrants doing something in the unlocked rear garage of 1720 Eutaw Place just now. A house overlooking the parking lot of 1717-1715 Madison, the Pedestal Gardens apartment building. Two fresh looking screw drivers were found near them. Open access to the back of the house. Perhaps they were about to do some exploring. They're with city officers as I write this.

irresponsible property owner

Here you see the PGP officers confering with the city officers. What had I just written about the importance of securing one's property? Here, we have a house worth a quarter million dollars with a collapsed, junk filled garage, just begging to be used by the prostitutes who work the corner there at Laurens and Eutaw and the crackheads looking for any place to get high. Our house is still dilapidated, ugly, often with piles of debris on their way to the dump, but it and the lot next door are always secure. Have been since the day we became responsible for it. Responsible property owners are essential in the safety of any neighborhood. And it takes constant attention.

Sunday, July 6, 5:30pm: This morning, it was wide open still. This afternoon, 1704's front door looks like this:


Of course, Weston never came by after the officer called last night. He didn't care if the whores and crack heads partied there all night. He doesn't live here and we all know he doesn't give a damn.

This afternoon, city officers went through the building before I went in to look for the cat. They were looking for human strays and didn't find any. First time I've ever been through every floor. Three apartments were unlocked. The two most recently vacated have no locks to lock. Both had ancient gas stoves, one with a burner slightly on and a strong smell of gas. With some trepidation, I went down to the basement. Heard water running while standing in a puddle from a sewage line. Found the main water valve and shut it off. Then went to the back and shut off the main electric breaker and each apartment's. After getting a wrench, I shut off all six gas valves at the meter.

Vaughn and I put up 3/4" floor board with 3" screws. I think it has a chance of staying up a while and of course I'll be watching along with the officers. It will take some noise and effort to remove. Those using the house the past week haven't been the most ambitious criminals. I transferred C.I.T. Corporation's (Another of Weston's contrivances) city boardup permit to the front panels and then played graffiti artist. The spray can ran out before I could add the exclamation point to "keep out!" or think of some choice words for drug dealers and Clarence Weston ... same people, if you ask me.

To Clarence or others wondering where I got the authority to do this: bring it on! I've consulted a few people in the know. I was acting in good faith as a good Samaritan. No one is living there legally. It was an urgent crime, health and fire hazard. The owner ignored a request to attend to it. It should be noted Vaughn never entered the building. He and PGP Officer Brown stood watch outside. The owner was violating his court order to secure the building. I just helped him. One officer said Clarence should thank me. We laughed.

While we put up the boards, two pairs of the uniformed dealer boys sauntered down the block to check out what was happening to their former clubhouse. Vaughn noted one pair went well out of their way to loop through Madison from Wilson and back on their way west from Savalot.

Last night, during the blackout, Carlton Douglas' had his funeral service limo tires slashed. He lives and works at McCulloh and Wilson. When we spoke this afternoon, he said they knew his cameras weren't on and wanted to get back at us. Not living here, you might not understand his thinking about it. He said it's because we're winning, driving them still further west toward the hub of drug marketing in the Central, the corner of Pennsy and Laurens. Funny to think having your tires slashed might be a good sign. When it happened to us a couple times last year, it didn't seem so encouraging.

Saturday, July 5, 11:30pm: The blackout was blessedly short. Only about two hours. No one could choose a worse time than on a hot Saturday night or a worse place in the Central District than from Madison Avenue, at Bolton Hill's western edge all the way west through the Pennsy and Laurens war zone and north a few blocks. Things went crazy in that ongoing and entrenched open air market.

I thought I'd advise the Major about it. How silly of me. Of course, he was well aware of the situation, already heading up here. When he called I could only say thank you ... for the helicopters and the enormous and swift action of many officers in squad cars. It was clear the good guys were in control, though several fights, one witness called it near riots, were happening just a couple blocks west.

One officer drove through our alley to use the restroom and grab a cold water very quickly, but she did ask if I was OK. I told her I'd seen the Major up here, the helicopters and all the officers and felt pretty safe. She said she'd just seen the Mayor over a block or two as well as the Major.

I wasn't too concerned. We've had these before. The sound of dealers yelling their colors in the absolutely dark alleys and walkways can be terrifying, but I heard none of that this time. I've grown accustomed to the helicopter noise and find it comforting now. And of course I have a well rehearsed plan for the power failure contingency.

Fortunately I didn't hear or see many fireworks. I hope they're all out and done with them till New Year's.

I was leery about 1704 being open, especially during a blackout, but officers are keeping a closer eye on it. I've decided that if it hasn't been secured by morning, and I don't expect it, I will ask an officer to come out and make sure the building is empty. We'll coax the cat out, get it some water and food, and call Julie, who called tonight to tell me she'd be happy to adopt this stray. Then, while Officer Brown of the PGP stands his watch at 1717-1715 across the street, I will board the doorway tight with 3/4" boards and 3" drywall screws, nothing flimsy like Weston would do.

During the blackout over here, another purse snatching/attack at Bolton Street and Wilson, just two blocks east in Bolton Hill. The same block our Councilman, Keiffer Mitchell lives on. This time the victim was hurt, I hear. The suspect(s) got away. What would you like to bet they ran or drove over to the blackout zone? They usually run this way anyway, but how convenient. I wish the victim well and hope all BHers, especially those just a short block or two from the drug frontier, keep their eyes and ears open and watch out for each other.

Saturday, July 5, 7pm: The deadbolting at 1704 didn't last long. Someone pried the hinges off the door so they could go about their business. A spent condom was found in the hall. Must have happened early this morning.

never ending story

Officer Melcher with the PGP discovered the door loose while on patrol about an hour ago. City Police were called. They went through the building. Found the second and third floor front apartments open. Dog feces everywhere. No one inside, but a small stray cat. Perhaps it had been locked in before. Officers called and left a message for Weston. Hopefully, he won't ignore it, as he does mine. If he does not respond soon, I will let the cat out and board it securely and properly. Two officers have advised me that I can't be prosecuted for being a good Samaritan.

Looks like I'll be keeping a closer eye on the building until someone at city hall realizes Clarence is never going to do what he's supposed to. This is obviously yet another serious violation of his terms of probation. What a joke! He shows nothing but continued contempt for the city that employs him and the court he swore to obey. His bosses, all the way up to our Mayor, don't do anything to him. After a point, one he passed long ago, the blame goes to the man's bosses. How can they let this city employee continue to do this to us and not even collect the $25,000+ in back taxes he owes the city? What other crimes do we overlook among our city employees?

Weston's inability to even adhere to the requirement to secure the building properly makes the transfer of this building to a responsibe new owner, like our community association, much more urgent. I've always said having a boardup is not good, but it is certainly still better than having children and an elderly man living in dog feces amidst a thriving crack, heroin and prostitution house.

Saturday, July 5, 1pm: Everything seems slow so far today. I suppose everyone's hiding from the heat, recovering from last night's revelry. They're partied out and hopefully out of fireworks, too.


At the corner of Madison and Wilson a bit ago, I noticed this officer talking to three young ladies from his car. They gestured for him to stop and talk to them. My caution flag went up until I realized they were full of giggles, flirting, smiling. Didn't look to be doing or selling. Just visiting. And they seemed impressed by the man in uniform. It seemed odd to see an officer here, just chatting, visiting. For a moment I was concerned about a policeman wasting his time, but then realized how nice it was to see these local girls not running from or taunting an officer, just talking. If I let myself, and I guess I will, I can think maybe they were impressed by a young man working on the right side of the law, rather than the thugs who "used" to rule here.

It was vastly better around here last night. I did not have to go on the roof even once, though I'm leaving my hose strung up there for another few nights just in case. There were fireworks. Repeated booms from all around. At one point I was out with the dogs and ordered them all in when I recognized the pop pop pop of handgun fire. But between the vigilance of the PGP officers and the frequent patrols of the city police, there were very few problems.

Joyce, the new Pedestal Gardens manager, was here with her husband, walking the grounds with the PGP. I was pleased to see her concern. We wished each other a happy holiday, as neighbors do.

Of course, 1704 being closed down has contributed a lot to the peace around here.

Met Michael Seipp the other evening. I was walking home from happy hour through the mean streets of Bolton Hill. He walked over here with me, his dog romping alongside, perhaps to make sure I didn't get accosted by the roving delinquents who've been troubling Bolton Hillers lately. We talked of our mutual concerns for our neighborhoods. He got to see the substation and talk to a PGP special police officer. I think we can count on him for help with our community center project and other efforts, too. He's running for City Council in this diverse district, which includes Bolton Hill, the drug ravaged areas around Pennsylvania/ Laurens and downtown. If you're curious about the new district, click here for his map.

Independence Day, 2003, 10pm: Last year, I was on the roof of this old house, soaking the roofs as far as I could reach, while dialing 911 again and again to report incendiary devices being lobbed again and again at random targets, hoping to cause destruction. As they did.

This year, I'm hearing all the same noise makers, seeing the same fireworks display down on the harbor and nearby. All around. But not here. So far.

I was looking for a flag image to convey a symbol of independence and freedom and patriotism. Thought of a small animated gif. Of a fireworks image. And then I remembered. There is no more important, symbolic image of patriotism and the indomitable spirit of American independence than the old 48 star flag recovered during a search of 1704 Madison recently.


This flag is now with a specialist to be restored to her original glory. One day soon I hope to see her presiding over a community center where once thrived a house of personal destruction and slow (sometimes not) death.

Today, 1704 is locked up. Not boarded, as per his order of probation. He has never complied completely or in real good faith, only whatever he could get away with, but so long as no one can get in right now, that's OK. A couple of hours ago I asked a PGP Officer to meet me because I would not see the night through with its doors open, as they have been for days. I had lag screws and a driver. It was time. To our amazment, it was locked. Deadbolted. First time I've ever seen that.

We got a small BBQ with some burgers going this afternoon for the officers who use the substation. Several had a burger or two. It was such a pleasure to treat them to a meal. One officer's smile and thank you meant a lot.

I look forward to the September 10th BBQ in celebration of the substation's first year and, so much larger, the block's progress. Every resident of this street has reason to celebrate, reason to be proud. It's been a team effort. I just hope by then things are still better or even more so. We could so easily slip back. But perhaps now we can all encourage each other more and continue to say "This is our block. We live here. We want it back. And we will keep it."

July 4th in the flesh

When we went to Sam's Club at Port Covington for the burgers and a BBQ this afternoon, Vaughn and I noticed there was someone raising full colors aboard the old Navy tug moored behind the store. That's been the best part of all my visits there, pondering this old warhorse, berthed modestly and usually alone, behind a Walmart. We went up to say hi to those aboard and met the couple spearheading the ship's salvation. Details can be found at

We expected just to say hello, but were given a personal tour of a vessel built in 1943 during a war too often forgotten. We were privileged to see a workhorse of war, not so far from her original state. Even better, our tourguide had served aboard her sistership many years ago. His pride, his passion to preserve her and the effort she symbolized were the largest observance I could ever hope for on an Independence Day. I do not understand why the throngs of shoppers at Walmart Island were not lined up around the block to tour the ship today. I suppose they were too busy with their party plans. Parties they're all lucky to have thanks to the men and women who served in ships such as this ... in those times when the very high price for liberty was paid.

Wednesday, July 2, 3pm: A new month. A clean slate again. This month is the anniversary of the website. Doesn't seem like it's been a year at the moment. Other times it seems an eternity. The website was just about progress on the substation back on July 19, 2002 when I made this first entry ...

"The sub floor is completely done and rock solid. A new steel rear entry door is in as well as a door to the house which will be locked most of the time. Tomorrow, Vaughn, Bryan and Patrick, a friend and volunteer, hope to be installing the new suspended ceiling. We've got all the parts here, just need to install them. After that, it'll be some wall patching and paint, then floor tile and then we'll be ready for fixtures and furniture. After that, its the fence, clearing the parking area. I have a couple trucks there right now that'll be moved by opening."

Chronicling our progress was a way to stay in touch with the new friends of the substation, those people who volunteered time and materials to help us with the project. We encouraged each other. It gave me something to do, like the substation work itself, to take my mind off the trouble around here. Every nail, board and tile, every journal entry felt like progress. It was something tangible to do. There seemed nothing else we could do. Nothing anyone could do to take the block back from the dealers who owned it.

Did I say "owned?" Past tense? <g> That's a long way from the time last July when a thug lifted his tshirt tail to show me the gun he felt assured his claim "we own this block, you ain't touchin us!"

Last year the crack house next door was a 24/7 mini mart for crack and heroin. This week, it's getting boarded up. The last tenants are out, though I do see them occasionally going back in still for things. I don't know why the boards have not been put on the doors yet. Perhaps Mr. Weston must wait for the Sheriff's notice to be posted.

Last year, the Pedestal Gardens property across the street was a stash house, dealers parading back and forth from the market right on the corner at the school entrance. Now, there's security there nearly round the clock. Pedestal Gardens Police are working with the owners to set up a new radio system, monitored by a city police sergeant. Two nights ago, an executive with the property management company came to town from his office in Pennsylvania to check up on things again. It was quiet.

Now neighbors feel safe to sit out on the benches and visit. Some of my neighbors wave their whole hands at me now, not just one finger.

And last year, about this time, barely a minute would pass before the next barrage of "greens out, greens, greens, greens, greens out! Yellows free! Blues here! Nights and days have passed without that chanting. Was beginning to think it would never end.

Will it last? Will the progress spread another block over where Carlton and Mrs. Douglas have hours and hours of videotape of the dealing at their corner. I don't know. But I have reason to hope it can now. And that's amazing in itself.

Officers Jester, Gorman and Vogt and an unahppy suspect

Our Flex team officers are on the job. These are City Officers Jester and Gorman and Pedestal Gardens Officer Vogt. I believe the Commissioner's new deployment of officers is working more effectively than the old drug squad system. We are fortunate to have these dedicated men on the team.

It's these and the other men and women of the city and Pedestal Gardens police we have to thank for the progress around here. A little break room is hardly much of a thanks. Still, when I see a couple squad cars in that parking area as I did an hour ago, it feels good.

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