Journal Entries for July, 2004

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Tuesday, July 28, 1pm: An editorial (If you're expecting Rush Limbaugh or that jerk from Fox 45, you don't visit here often <g>):

Our Mayor's speaking tonight at the Democratic National Convention. Apparently, just before prime time. An honor and example of his rising star in political circles. He's distinguished himself on the national level as a spokesman for beleaguered cities strained to the breaking point by the federal government's demands for "Homeland Security." It's hard for the city to provide homeland security from International terrorists when it cannot provide neighborhood security for too many of us. From our homemade terrorists. The ones who've killed and continue to kill so many more thousands of Americans than Osama bin Laden could ever dream.

It's no coincidence that thousands of residents of this city are oblivious to the threat of terrorists from abroad. The events of 9/11 were distant, now in time as well. These people live in bombed out houses already. They're already terrorized, afraid to go out in the street at night, apprehensive in the day. Many of their neighbors are oblivious thanks to being fed drugs by amoral children. The many lost boys of the past two generations. The ones for whom crack was created to expand the lucrative cocaine market into the largest multi level marketing scheme the world has ever seen. And these boys and men have been engaged in a terrorist attack on us for two generations now.

Sure, we long ago declared war on drugs. We said "just say no." We pour millions of dollars into drug enforcement to no avail. It's a war, like Vietnam, that we fight and fight and just don't win. The killing continues. Not nearly so gratifying as toppling an unimportant dictator in a misguided effort at revenge. And this has the added benefit of distracting us from our continued failures here at home.

The "war" on drugs and this so called "war" on terror have so many parallels: The enemy seems everywhere. He's ruthless, well funded, determined and does not share our "American values."

Neither war can be won by throwing money and troops at it. That's painfully obvious to anyone watching the results. A whole new mindset must come. We must correct that young Americans with no education who cannot find a livable job and who've been raised (if ever raised at all) see no practical choice than to exploit our weakness, our insatiable appetite for drugs. An appetite many dismiss as a recreational pastime and many more see as an escape from lives of their dismal reality.

We must see that young Middle Eastern men whose devotion to their religion and that pride, that bravado only testosterone can explain, will stop at nothing to strike back at Goliath, that arrogant country which meddles in the politics  of a culture infinitely older than America.  And why do we do that? You know why. Because like drugs, we're addicted to oil, to our lifestyle of consumption. We're driven to make more so we can buy more. And we don't care where it comes from or at what cost.

Just as the money we spend on drugs creates terror, so does the money we spend on oil. And in both cases the money we spend on a reactive war only fans the flames of contempt in those who seek to terrorize us, both those next door and those we pursue in caves half a world away.

Better education in public schools. Encouraging our economy not to export jobs but to make both jobs and real tangible products here. When did we give up on "buy American" anyway? Even legalizing drugs: the single most important step we could take to making our streets safer. Taxing drugs just as we do alcohol and using the money to provide options.
Providing treatment to all who need it. After all, up until last year, I could buy crack and heroin next door twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. Now, I would only have to walk to the next block or wait ten minutes for the passing dealer. Couldn't be any more available.

And if we're serious about Osama bin Laden and his compatriots, we must stop buying the biggest station wagons (SUV's) we can afford and driving them at break neck speeds down ever widening highways, living 50 miles from our work. And we, America alone, must stop dictating to foreign states. It does not work. Never has. We have enough trouble dictating basic constitutional rights and protections from our disparate domestic states. Always have. We must lead the world to freedom by example, not force.

No, I'm not an isolationist. There are times when we must act abroad. When we must be part of the world community when it faces a common enemy. No I'm not an isolationist. Far from it. We must not say the problems of inner cities are not our own because we now live in the suburbs. We must not seek to isolate ourselves by building bigger highways to run as far from city problems as our SUV can take us. We must seek to be part of our own American communities.

We're spending 200+ billion dollars we do not have to topple one small government, creating anarchy in the process and are we safer? "Credible evidence of a nonspecific threat" seems to come out every week. In Baltimore we're grappling to pay for cops to protect us from the drug terrorists of today and school teachers to prevent the drug terrorists of tomorrow. Unlike the Feds, the city cannot print money to deal with results of drug terrorists, but we must deal with the results of our national leadership every day. We do not change the regime in Congress or the White House with bullets. We use ballots, at least if they're honest ones.

It is wrong to force our will on other countries when we cannot find the will to fix America.

I doubt Mayor O'Malley will say much of that. He's a politician with huge aspirations. Half of those who read here, those few who've read this far anyway, will vehemently disagree with me. The other half will say "amen." So goes the country. Unable to move ahead because we cannot work together. Not unlike Baltimore.

Tuesday, July 23, 4pm: In today's Sun is an article about two typical drug gang members raised in the projects, in densely packed, nondescript apartments that resemble prison cell blocks more than homes. Not unlike the buildings of Pedestal Gardens here where boys see so few good role models ...

2 gang members get life terms in series of murders
Lexington Terrace Boys members were convicted in April of killing nine people; No chance of parole
By Scott Waldman
Sun Staff

July 23, 2004, 1:45 PM EDT

Two Baltimore gang members who were also drug dealers were sentenced today by a federal judge to life in prison without parole for a series of drug-related homicides that began in 1999, and that included one witness killing.

Michael L. Taylor, 20, and Keon D. Moses, 21, were members of the Lexington Terrace Boys, a violent gang named for the housing projects where its members were raised. They were convicted in April, after a nearly four-month trial, of killing nine people as they sought to establish territory in the city's drug trade.

As U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake handed down four concurrent life sentences and a 10-year consecutive sentence to Moses and two concurrent life sentences to Taylor, neither displayed any emotion.

In the background, crying openly, sat family members of the defendants and those of the victims. Some of the victims' family members wore T-shirts emblazoned with images of loved ones that had been killed.

The defendants, who saw one another as brothers and refused to testify against each other, waived their right to make a statement before the sentences were read.

"There's nothing to say," Moses said.

"There's nothing to say." That's so true.

Tuesday, July 20, 7pm: Last night I was walking home after dinner along Eutaw just past the Francis Scott Key monument and said hi as four mounted officers clopped past. I recognized one of the horses as the one who swooped in months back during a pursuit that ended at 1715, across the street. The lady officer remembered the pursuit too. I said hi to all of the officers and paused as I saw one. He was Martin O'Malley. If he wasn't, the good mayor has a double. That could explain why we see him everywhere. If he doesn't and it was him, I like to think he was doing a "ride along" with the equestrian officers, perhaps to assess their importance in budget terms. I recall his doomsday budget proposal eliminated the mounted patrol. I invited them all to the substation, offering a trough for the horses. They thanked me and turned on to patrol Bolton Hill. I didn't see them again last night. And I still don't know if it was the mayor. He hasn't answered my email asking. Perhaps he'd like me to guess. I'm still convinced.

This afternoon, two kids hanging out the second floor window of the Section 8 housing across the alley from us were enthralled by the dogs. Lots of questions. "Are they fighting?" "No, just playing, look at the wagging tails." "Wagging tails mean they're happy?" "Yes, if they wanted to hurt each other they could easily but they're brother and sister and love to wrestle." "What kind of dogs are they?" "These two are pit bulls, the other is a terrier." "PIt Bulls are bad!" "Dogs are how they're raised to be, like people." "No, Pit Bulls are bad!" "Be careful about every dog, but watch this." I grabbed the big dog's ear and played with him. The kids laughed. "See, he's not bad." "Would he bite me?" "Maybe if you came into the yard without me here. This is his territory and he protects it for us." "Oh. Pull his ear again!" I tugged on his tail instead and Cino, whose as tall as me when he stands on his hind legs,  jumped up to plant a big wet tongue on my cheek. The kids chuckled.

Nice kids. Kids and puppies are how we raise them. None are born bad. Another lesson abundantly clear, here on Madison Avenue.

Monday, July 19, 1pm: Yesterday, we went to Sam's Club down at Port Covington and bought supplies for the substation ...  toilet paper, bottled waters, coffee cups, etc. We found some more of those little tube popsicles the officers like to cool down, too. Oddly enough, they were out of paper towels. We go through a lot of them for drying ones hands. Sometimes officers just come by to wash their hands after they've made an arrest. More than once I've heard "you would not believe how badly he smelled."

Anyway, as we were loading up at the register, a bunch of firemen were loading their supplies, too. I thought it fun that they were stocking a fire house and we were stocking a police break room.

Last night, while I was out, a substation friend came by with another flat of bottled waters and some home made brownies. I hate to admit it, but I'm not sure from Vaughn's description which of our friends it was and Vaughn can't remember her name. I apologize, but thank you. I notice a few of the brownies are gone. Such a home made gesture means something to them, I know.

And this morning I got an email from a professor at Goucher College who just found the website ...

"Hey, you guys, I found your website. Wow! Amazing! I applaud your efforts! I just bought a rowhouse in Mount Vernon. Can I help in any way? I'll bring by some supplies, or make a contribution?"

Sometimes we go a couple months without anyone contributing, and that's OK, it's our responsibility, but then this happens and we realize people haven't forgotten and still want to help.

I've sent letters to our Coca Cola and Pepsi companies asking for contributions of a case or a truckload of waters and/or soda for the station and for the September BBQ (click here for pics of last year's), which we're planning to have again this year if we can afford it. Be great if they can help, too.

In the past month, three people have expressed interest in rehabbing 1704. All three have said they'll live there, which is a big plus in my book and the city who'll have to approve any deal. Two have seen it, too. Surprisingly, they didn't run. I've asked them both to ponder it for a couple weeks and be very sure. I know too well how overwhelming such a rehab can be, though 1704 is actually in better shape than 1708. I'd far prefer to see it be returned to a single family, owner occupied house. We have too many rentals on this block and that's a big part of the problem. Yet I realize not many people want 4000 square foot houses anymore. I look forward to helping whichever of these prospects is most committed and capable to prepare their proposal to the city to put 1704 back to life.

I notice we're very close to the 900 mark in American soldiers killed in Iraq. I wonder if one day we'll be visiting a wall of names like the Vietnam War Memorial, this wall dedicated to those lost in Afghanistan and Iraq. How many will be the final count? And if, as in Vietnam, we'll have anything to show for their lives except their dedication to duty. OK. Off soapbox on this charged issue. You know my opinion if you read here.

Hard to believe, but it occurred to me a week or so ago it'd been two years since I began this website. Renewed the domain name last week. I just looked up the first entry. Two years ago today. So much has happened. So many ups and downs. Here's the first entry from July 19, 2002 ...

"This is Friday afternoon, July 19, as I write this. 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."

Building the substation gave us something constructive to do to when we felt powerless, surrounded by this city's terrorists and their victims. It distracted us from the despair we saw in our neighbors and felt often ourselves. I can tell you two years ago and several times since I doubted whether we'd still be here now. I still wonder why we are sometimes. But then I look out to the yard and see a big goofy flower where once was a fetid trash strewn garbage dump next to what once was a thriving crack superstore. I don't hear "greens out, greens out [get your crack here]." I do hear kids playing. And just now the squeaking brakes of a police cruiser pulling into the substation to eat their lunch.

And I smile.


Friday, July 16, 1pm: Often lately I've lusted after the substation space. After all, it's still the nicest place in the house. Just ask Cino, my dog. He loves it in there. While I'm cleaning up and making coffee, he curls up on the little sofa just as comfortable as can be. "It's cool in here and the sofa is comfy," he seems to say. Only begrudgingly does he leave after sniffing the trash can and slurping a few gulps from the toilet after I tell him not to.

But I realize sometimes the little break room is really appreciated. Last night, I was coming back from dinner. There was a squad car in the parking area already as another pulled up alongside us as I was getting out of the car. A young lady officer who was rather desperate said she was so glad for this place. Apparently some take out food hadn't agreed with her. The fellow officer in the rest room kindly hurried up for her as I was about to offer her our own restroom upstairs.

It was gratifying to see officers appreciate the space. The gentleman leaving thanked me for the bottled water. I thanked him.

I guess I won't be taking back the space anytime soon. Still seems a small gesture to men and women who do so much.

The Sexton, I think that's what he's called, from AME Payne Memorial was out early this morning. Gaily whistling as usual. Weed whacking at 7am. I didn't mind. He's been very proactive in recent weeks about keeping the alley behind his church clean. Using the church dumpster when criminals dump trash there. I've told him how much I appreciate the effort on that end of the alley. I try on this end, but still have my nemesis in the little "convenience store" at the alley's corner. The guy who feeds the rats nightly with his uncontained trash. Still it's nice to have neighbors who care, like Mrs. Cummings whose house fronts to McCulloh. She and her family work hard to keep their part of the alley clear, too. Good neighbors. What more can you ask for?

Monday, July 12, 4pm: A PGP Officer reports that some thugs in the courtyard of Pedestal Gardens ...

PG Courtyard

... threw a bottle of urine at him this morning. The group wouldn't disburse, leaving the officer to go hunt down a city officer for backup. Together they ran off the trespassers. The PGP radios are not properly monitored by their employer's dispatch office until later in the day, leaving them useless when an officer is on duty alone during the morning. I've heard this from several of the officers. The dealer boys already know this. Precisely the dangerous situation we intended the radios to prevent.

Fortunately, city officers have been out in force around the Pennsylvania and Laurens crack zone and out this way too. I understand there are foot patrols out there as well. I feel for officers in dark blue uniforms in this heat. I find the sticky summer heat tough in shorts, t-shirt and flip flops, but I suppose that wouldn't be practical police attire unless they're extremely plain clothes officers. I hope they all know they're welcome to take a cool down break and get some cold water here as they walk their beat. Times before when we've had foot patrols, the officers walked from Pennsy all the way through to Bolton Hill stopping here along the way for a few minutes respite. A long circuit with huge demographic differences and concerns.

The fire doors at 1715-1717 seem to be intact still. I don't know if this is just more attention from security or if the residents are getting the message these doors must remain secure. Certainly traffic in and out of 1715 has been reduced. That's always a good thing. Just hope they can keep it up.

Interesting article in today's Sun about enforcement versus prosecution of "Quality of LIfe" crimes in the city. I guess I can see both sides. I'm certainly glad that officers are issuing citations more rather than arresting people on minor violations and tying themselves up for three hours arranging transport and then the dreaded visit to Central Booking.  The corrections officers there work like snails with bad attitudes, or so I've often been told. The current system takes effective officers off the street for two long when they make an arrest, leaving their colleagues and us all short handed. There's got to be a better way.

Note about the Sun paper online: Apparently they're now going require us to register to view their content. Not enough that we see the advertisements, now we need to give them demographic and other information so they can put us on mailing and spammer's lists. I don't know about you, but I get thousands of junk emails a week. Many are filtered out before I see them, but still it's a nuisance only getting worse each day it seems. And I really do want to know why so many spammers think I need pain relievers, generic Viagra, pirated software and a mortgage. I don't remember asking for any of those. Anyway, if you like to visit the Sun online, be sure to register in the next few couple days.

Wednesday, July 7, 2pm: Details of Officer Winder's funeral arrangements, from an email posted in the substation by one of his fellow officers ...

Viewing at Vaughn C. Green Funeral Home, 8728 Liberty Road, Randallstown, today from 1 to 8pm and tomorrow, Thursday, July 8, from 10am to 8pm.

Services at The Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, 5200 North Charles Street, Baltimore, Friday, July 9 at 10am.

Internment at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens, 200 East Padonia Road, Timonium.

I won't be attending, though I'm sure many will. The Cathedral will be packed and the street will be lined with mourners. Leaders will speak, to try to put into words what most of us feel. The family will be moved by how much this murder has touched us all. Funerals are for family and friends to grieve together. In the case of officers, both his family and a larger family: "The Southwestern District regretfully announces the death of one of its family ..." begins the email.

I do know one way we can all really honor this officer and show our respect for his sacrifice: Put pressure on those in charge to improve our criminal justice system. Not just locking people up, but doing follow ups, making sure when people get out of jail they have other options than to go back to drugs and crime, and then making sure they choose wisely. Even more importantly, we've got to provide good educational opportunities so our kids have opportunities to make the good choices.  For many years Baltimore has had a reputation as a murder capitol. For many years, Baltimore's schools have been an embarrassment. Coincidence?

Was reading that both suspects in this murder had long criminal histories. I suspect the one who shot himself early this morning deserved such an end. Perhaps he realized what he'd done and had remorse in the end. At least he won't be doing anyone else any more harm. And the suspect arrested will doubtless be put away for life. But I agree with Commissioner Clark and most officers I've met who say " We make arrests. We try to put together good cases and then we see them back out on the streets the next day." There are no consequences, too little actual punishment for playing the game of crime and drugs.

Consider this example of the effectiveness of Patricia Jessamy's State's Attorney's Office ...

"Two men and two women were arrested July 27 after police - armed with a search warrant - raided their house in the 6100 block of MacBeth Drive. Police found $50,000 worth of cocaine, a loaded .22-caliber handgun, two scales and $1,410 in cash.

The four were indicted on possession with intent to distribute drugs and use of a firearm during a drug trafficking offense, among other charges. Their trial was scheduled for Jan. 31.

In the six months between the arrest and the trial, prosecutors did not turn over any evidence, such as a copy of the search warrant. When the case came to trial, prosecutors asked for a postponement to comply with discovery. Circuit Judge M. Brooke Murdock refused, calling the state's failure "inexcusable" and "outrageous."

She referred the case to Judge Wanda K. Heard, who that day was overseeing postponement court. When the defense attorneys told Heard they had not gotten any discovery, she was shocked.

"Nothing?" she asked incredulously. "Not a single solitary piece of discovery?"

Heard said the state's errors did not amount to reason for a postponement. She sent the case to Judge David Ross for trial that day.

Prosecutors quickly assembled the evidence and gave it to defense attorneys. When Ross asked why the evidence had not been turned over earlier, prosecutors said the case had changed hands and gotten lost in the shuffle.

Prosecutor Catherine C. Hester said she reviewed the file nine days before and did not realize that no discovery had been filed.

"I guess I will accept responsibility, Your Honor," Hester said.

"I guess I will accept responsibility." I wonder who will accept responsibility for letting two men with long criminal histories back out on the street. Men who obviously never intended to change their ways until they finally got to the point they thought it was OK to gun down a policeman in a cold blooded ambush. I wonder how many others are out there right now, completely amoral. And how many children are we raising (neglecting) to be the same?

Independence Day, 2004, noon: Was cleaning up in the substation about 11am. In came one of our regular city officers. Offered my condolences about his colleague. I noticed the internet connected computer we provide was left on the Sun article. He paused, looked down and made a few comments that will remain private. He knew this fellow officer. We did remark how bullet proof vests don't guarantee anything. He's working overtime today. "Have a safe one," I said as he left, never meaning it more, thinking to myself a cold bottle of water and a decent restroom is pretty lame support for someone risking his and her life each day to keep us all safe. He wished me a safe holiday too. It was one of those moments in the substation.

I heard the news last night just as I saw bottle rockets careen from 1715 into the back of houses on Eutaw Place. I hadn't realized how shell shocked I still am from two years ago. I overreacted. Called the Pedestal Gardens guys frantically, Called 911. Apparently the PG man assigned to 1715-1717 was investigating some dealing going on inside. He can't be everywhere at once. Vaughn went out to talk to the responding officers. He was reassured by Officer Tyler that things were under control. Off duty officer Vogt even responded to our call though he was out of town. The rest of the night seemed OK.

We have lots of new PG officers. Most weren't here two years ago. Most have no idea what things were like here then. They must think we're hysterical crime hypochondriacs. Can't say I would blame 'em. Unless you've lived through it, you have no idea what living in an open air drug market is like. I hope you never do.  And I hope one day we can forget.

Earlier last night my friend Thomas Idoux and I cruised past the Francis Scott Key Fountain at Lafayette and Eutaw.

Eutaw & Lafayette
I took this shot a few years ago. I think this is the most beautiful fountain in the city. Poised between the haves in Bolton Hill and the have nots across the street in Upton, it depicts man in struggle, looking to Lady Liberty.

Thomas badgered the mayor and then the Parks Department to get the fountain turned back on. Finally, it was. Seems it had just fallen off the city's radar screen and no one else thought to ask why. Too often we see things as they are and don't think to ask why, to paraphrase Robert Kennedy. As we drove past, a couple was taking photos of the fountain. We stopped and he offered to take a picture of the two of them in front of it. She said something about how she'd lived here for a long time and had never seen the fountain running, how beautiful it is. Tom was quite touched. Amazing what the little guy can accomplish when he's persistent and how much such a small thing can mean to so many.

As you enjoy your Fourth of July, do give a few moments thought to the huge efforts and supreme sacrifices our soldiers and our police officers here at home make every day. Be proud of them. Resolve to be worthy of them and not to waste their efforts and sacrifice. Next time you drive down President Street at the foot of 83, take a look to your left, beneath the Shot Tower. See the bronze officers, one frozen in salute, looking to their headquarters. Think of all we take for granted every day.

With utmost respect and appreciation ...

Officer Brian D. Winder
Officer Brian D. Winder
Baltimore City Police

Friday, July 2, 1pm: Caught in the act!

Fixing the door ... again

No, not dealers this time. These are repairmen trying to get the fire doors at 1715-1717 Madison fixed yet again. I'm sure they're here because management is trying to do all it can to control the building over this weekend. It's a tough problem. The dealers like to have these doors wide open and unlockable so they have an extra means of escape and entry to the building. The residents block it open and use the door because they're too lazy to go through the front doors. When we first moved here, there was a constant buzz, day and night. I wondered if it was bugs of some sort for a day or two. Then I followed it to these doors. Residents didn't seem to notice it.

Makes a big difference when the doors are secure. Dealers fear being cornered in the building so they stop visiting it every few minutes. It also keeps the in and out from car traffic at the front doors where it belongs. The subsidized building behind us
(facing McCulloh) has only one entrance tenants use and is far less a public nuisance. Pedestal Gardens needs to put a very loud alarm on these fire doors so residents and dealers alike know they are going to set off the alarm if they use them and to install cameras to monitor them. I've heard the excuse cameras will get vandalized. True, if they're not the right ones and put in properly, including having one camera watch the other. Most people aren't stupid enough to want to be photographed damaging the other camera. Plus, cameras could easily be high and in steel housings outside with the recorder in the PG Police substation. A surveillance system at PG should have been in long ago. Even Police Commissioner Clark said that almost immediately when he saw the situation.

Last night did not bode well for a relaxing 4th of July weekend for us. Saw full scale aerial fireworks from the parking lot of 1715 for a bit. According to the busy PG officer, it was kids on bikes. These were only aimed at the sky and thanks to the showers last night were low risk, but to those of us still shell shocked from 2002, they were unnerving. But that wasn't as disturbing as the noise last night. People coming and going until 4am, just as loud as could be. I've never understood having loud yelling matches across entire streets rather than just walking up to your buddy and speaking in a normal voice. But I especially don't appreciate that at 4 in the morning. To some extent, that's just what you get for city living. It's also indicative of the problem of having so many people jammed into a small building.

Another thing I don't understand about this neighborhood is hacks and rides coming up to a building and just laying on the horn, night and day. Taxis do it too. Even at 5am. No one thinks to call ahead or to press an intercom button (if there is one) or just to be looking for your ride so as not to disturb the neighbors. Long ago, I told my friends, don't waste your time honking in front of my house. If I went to look each time, I'd be running to the window every five minutes.

Maybe it's a cultural thing. I don't know. One of my nice neighbors from 1712 was coming back from the grocery store a bit ago, we waved and I saw his vintage "OJ, We Love You" T-shirt. One thing about living here, I've learned a lot about urban African American culture. Learning is always a good thing.  Doesn't mean I understand or agree with it all the time, but who cares? Lots of people on this block don't understand or agree with me. Major Skinner says a great many of them just think I'm insane, a rep I don't mind at all in some circles. I guess the challenge is just to learn to live with each other, isn't it?

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