Journal Entries of June, 2004
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Wednes
day, June 30, 1pm: Last night I heard the long swooshing sound of aerial fireworks from the west briefly and one burst from the parking lot of 1715 Madison, about 10, I think it was.

Dr. Dan, who lives on Eutaw, made a guestbook entry about it, too. Apparently he saw it. Said "at least a couple aimed at the back of the houses on Eutaw. I hope we're not going to see a repeat of July 4, 2002."

It's easy to think they were "aimed" if they landed anywhere near, but unless he saw them really aimed and fired, I prefer to think it's just coincidence and carelessness, not armed assault. If he did see persons aim at the houses, he should definitely call 911 with descriptions. He should also call the Pedestal Gardens security company's dispatch line 410.780.0010 if it's happening on PG property and relay the information to them. They might be able to respond sooner. Baltimore City Police Major Skinner wasn't Central District Major two years ago, but I recall telling him about it. Unlike the 911 operators I battled with that night, I believe he takes firing incendiary devices at people and property seriously and will respond appropriately.

For the first time in a long time, I just heard the "woo hoo, woo hoo" of the dealer telling his cohorts "five-O" was coming. Looking outside I see a few of the uniformed boys wading into 1717 through the unlocked "fire" doors, then going back over to McCulloh and Wilson and Druid Heights.

Ah, the joys of urban Baltimore living on a warm summer's day, first of the month, full moon, holiday weekend approaching.

Perhaps I won't be going anywhere over the weekend after all.

Tuesday, June 29, 8:30pm: The kids are hard pressed to find good places to play near their apartments.

Window bays as jungle gyms  Transformer fun

This last one is in the middle of the dumpster lot, just to the south of where they live. These kids sure do need a place to play. Their folks do, too. Especially on beautiful nights like this. That's why we're working on a real use for this unused space. Leslie, a professional architect and neighbor, has drawn some preliminary plans she showed us all last week ....

playground for adults and kids

It features a jungle gym and slide like the children in the main complex have and a BBQ and vandal resistant tables for the folks, too. We're currently identifying funding sources and hope this could be a reality by Spring of next year. There are several possible sources of funding from those who want to help improve the quality of life in Baltimore. Plus we have the offer of matching funds from the property management firm for Pedestal Gardens.

Just watched as Officer Brown and one of our new officers suggested the kids get off the transformer. A mom was out there asking the same thing. It would be a hurtful fall.

Terrorized by the cacophony of a bunch of 3 to 12 year olds. <g> Who would have thought I could worry about such things a couple years ago. They're having a great time. Lots of yelling. Still beats the hell out of "greens, greens, greens out!" and brooding, threatening adult children on every corner.

Vaughn was working with me in the yard earlier this afternoon. A well dressed young man sauntered up to the corner of the house in back, eight feet from the "Police Substation" sign on the parking pad ringed by three private property signs. He was whipping it out, ready to do number one. Vaughn was not happy. "What are you doing? Can't you see the signs? Why are you pissing on my house and a police substation?" The guy's sheepish response was "it's a guy thing. You gotta go when you gotta go." Well, neither of us thinks the alley needs to smell like urine and shit all the time. It's bad enough as it is. As he walked away he said "say hi to Mayor O'Malley for me." Vaughn replied, charging the fence, "and who shall we say said hi?" He backed down, realizing he'd touched a nerve and said "meant no disrespect" as he slinked away.

Of course, there are huge cultural differences between the many on this block and us. Some think drug dealing is OK. A viable and acceptable career. Others think throwing their kitchen garbage in the street or the vacant lot next door is OK. Some think doing number one or two under a floodlight in a space clearly maintained, clearly marked private property is just fine. It's not just a color thing or economic thing. I realize that people in China think nothing of squatting in the streets. I was always raised to hold it if it at all possible. Certainly to be discreet if it was necessary. To show respect for others as much as possible. That this young man said he "meant no disrespect" even though he walked past us, could hear us working, shows he clearly knew what he was doing and meant nothing but disrespect, until we called him on it.

A neighbor sitting on his steps the other day said hi. I told him I was speaking to someone about the future of 1704 earlier. That this prospect had hopes for the block now and might want to invest, that he followed the website. "That website is full of lies," the neighbor replied. I didn't ask him what he meant. He's been here longer than us. Part of the problem, not the solution. Complacency personified. I just replied "it's the God's honest truth of what I see." He just nodded his head no. When I told Vaughn this today he came back with  "I'll bet it's because you wrote something about the house he lives in being a property tax dodge church?" Very astute. I think I did write about the "church's" of a single family, with businesses running out the back of them, dedicated to the religion of avoiding taxes. Not unlike the wealthy Bushies.

It's not all cultural, but it's always seemed we live in a hostile land here just because we're white. As guys walked down the alley today most of them seemed quite disturbed I was out in the yard, as if it's "us against them." A far cry from the days two years ago when the dealers felt they ran the block with impunity. But the attitude remains. And I think there's resentment now. "You've gotten in our way, but one day we'll have free run of this turf back.." I have no idea if they will, but I'm just glad they don't have it now, today, this minute. I've never heard so many kids playing outside, some with their moms watching ... or seen so few dealers on this street on such a fine summer's night.

Tuesday, June 29, 2pm: Very light dealing in front of 1715-1717 this morning. I saw maybe two suspicious handoffs and for all I know it could have been nothing. And for most of the night you could have heard a pin drop. Looking outside I seldom saw anyone after about 10:00. Lots of kids out and about enjoying their summer vacation, looking for things to do. At one point, I had to shoo a bunch of them away from the garage at 1704. It would make a great fort for 7 to 12 year old boys, but that's what the rats have decided, too. Hopefully, we can get that property in responsible hands and exterminate the infestation soon.

A few fireworks surprised me about 9ish, but only one or two had the long swooshing sound of aerials. Most this year seem to the be ones that just bang on the pavement or put out sparklers. The type that burn small hands. A lot less dangerous though than the ones that hit people at high speed and land on rooftops and balconies setting fires.

Traffic next door at 1710 is way down. I suspect the dealer has indeed moved out.

Unfortunately, the end of the month is tomorrow. There's a full moon on Friday. And the July 4th weekend arrives just as government checks are coming out. That will keep the officers busy. Good news, though, later this week, Pedestal Gardens officers will be on 24/7 through the holiday weekend. I believe their plan will keep the entire PG neighborhood under control.

Monday, June 28, 1pm: Was cleaning an egg off the truck parked in back this morning when a regular substation officer came by to wash his hands. He'd scraped his wrist on a fence top while catching a guy who'd mugged someone on Pennsylvania at Laurens and then jumped into a passing cab. Bystanders chased the cab, pelting it with stuff to stop it. Apparently, the innocent cab driver found people trying to wreck his cab from the outside while the bad guy sat next to him with a .38. When the cabbie stopped, the bad guy, with his gun, ran. The officer said the squad worked well together and caught him and his gun in the Eutaw Marshburn playground. Thankfully, school is closed. That explains the number of squad cars I'd seen earlier. I thanked him as he ran off to a call about a disabled car stuck on 83. From foot chases with armed robbers to directing traffic. Quite a job.

A little while later, the sergeant Vaughn rode with on the Ride-A-Long came in to get a bottle of cold water. Very thankful. I said no, thank you. Least we can do. The cold bottled waters go fast here. Best price is at Sam's Club at Port Covington, hint, hint.

Apparently I wasn't the only one to be cleaning egg off his truck today. I see egg on a church car across the parking lot, too. Nice to know we weren't being singled out. As I told the officer while scrubbing it off, if that's the only thing that happens here over the 4th of July, I'll be a happy camper.

Just saw Officer Tyler speaking to a young woman who was pointing to her car parked in front of 1715. Thought maybe she'd been egged, too. No. Turns out her boyfriend stomped on the trunk, putting a big dent in it. An ongoing domestic dispute. Just the sort of thing officers really don't need.

Still hoping for extra Pedestal Gardens patrols over the Independence Day weekend. I've been invited to two parties. I'd like to go, but like last year, I'll probably stay around the homestead. Fourth of July two years ago was a nightmare. It will take me some time to forget it. I have little doubt that if I hadn't spent the evening on the tinder dry roof with a hose in one hand and a phone in the other, this house would have been burned down, too.

Sunday, June 27, 1pm: Seems the Pedestal Gardens Officer's new longer schedule has the dealers under control. They still try, but two specially commissioned police officers staring at you tends to make for poor sales. You move on.

Fireworks are down this year again, too, from two years ago when we heard them night and day for three weeks before the holiday. That night, the neighborhood seemed like downtown Baghdad does now.

Now, of course, I've jinxed us. Fireworks and dealers will be all around by nightfall. <g>

The Community Council meeting last Wednesday was good. Jesse Halvorsen gave a talk and took questions on what his department does to prosecute housing code violations and how that can be useful in closing down drug and other nuisance properties. A local pastor was interested in a vacant lot near him that's a trash dump. I discussed our experience with the one next door which we now own.

Jesse used 1704 Madison as an example of the way the Housing department's website can be used effectively. You can just go to http://www.baltimorehousing.org/CELS/Search_On_Map.aspx, enter the address and up will come outstanding violations, court orders, status on any property in Baltimore City. Good way to keep track of vacant/abandoned ones, too.  Other information is navigable from the main page of http://www.baltimorehousing.org, check the right hand side. It will even give you scalable maps ...

Housing department map
legend
A very handy tool. It only works in Internet Explorer's current versions.

Pedestal Gardens Officer Jimmy Vogt  tells me that the MICA student responsible for the graffiti in the PG neighborhood and in Bolton Hill was ordered to pay restitution and given one year's probation. Officer Vogt thanks the readers for phoning him with the additional sightings, "that helped in court."

LTS

Hopefully he's learned his lesson. I don't know what MICA did to him, if anything.

Officer Vogt made a good entry in the guestbook about this time of year in the PG community and asking for the neighbors to keep their eyes and ears open, to report what they see. He even listed his own cell phone. Officer Vogt is on duty most nights.

Two people have come to me expressing interest in buying 1704 to rehab, and get this, live there. Live there. Music to my ears. With a determined and qualified buyer in hand, we could get the foreclosure on that house expedited before any more damage is done. First thing the new owner will need is a gas mask and tons of bleach. The odor is horrid. The rats aren't helping.

Tuesday, June 22, 10am: Been a bit mixed lately about the the new security regime at Pedestal Gardens. Over the weekend, I noticed the fire doors on the Madison side were closed securely. A good thing.  It really interrupts the flow of dealers. I recall Quentin, one of my favorite dealers from two years ago, at 9 in the morning with hammer and screwdriver, breaking the locks there so he could have easy access -- and escape -- from the building. Last night, I noticed the fire door was propped open. Apparently if anyone was on duty, they weren't here. A couple security officers together cruising around in a car told me "they want us to concentrate on the courtyard." The myopic property manager doesn't realize there are security needs at 1200 and 1700 Madison, too. The door is still open this morning. Guys streaming through the building.

fire doors
It'll be nice to see a place for the kids to play on the block soon.

The extra officers at Pedestal Gardens this summer are great. Except when they tool around together in a car. They have good taxpayer provided radios. Radios acquired at great effort so they can communicate reliably throughout Pedestal Garden's buildings. When they ride around together, they defeat the whole purpose of extra officers.

On my walk down Eutaw yesterday afternoon about 6, I was walking past the little park at Mosher and Eutaw. A BBQ was going. A lot of guys in their white tshirts were hanging out. Looked pretty innocent until one hollered "what's that website?" Without missing a beat, I stopped and said "You must mean rebuildingmadison.info. Remember dot.info not dot.com." And that was all we said to each other as I ambled on. They just don't frighten me anymore.

Vaughn was a Chang's last night, the little market at Eutaw and Wilson. On his way out, a gang of boys said "Watch out, he'll get you for open container." Apparently, they're sure we're cops. I guess I don't mind. I wouldn't suggest they mess with either of us for their sakes. They'd be most unpleasantly surprised, but we've never said we're cops. If we are, this is the deepest undercover drug operation in history. Four years and thousands of dollars of Home Depot runs. Convincing cover, I will say.

As I was writing this, I looked out back and saw an officer with two young men he was escorting up the alley. Apparently, Mr. Douglas of the funeral home at the corner of Wilson and McCulloh had made a CDS (controlled dangerous substance) 911 call. The officer was working with another and wanted to find out if these two boys were the ones observed. After, they came to the substation to use the head and get some bottled waters and I realized they were the shift that is always proactive, on top of things. Unfortunately, I can always tell when the shift changes from morning to afternoons. So can the dealers. The good shift of the two is on mornings now, the graveyard shift is excellent, dedicated. While there are some very good officers on the current afternoon shift, there are others just biding their time to retirement who bring it way down. You don't see them or see the patrol, the proactive work of this shift currently on mornings from 7 to 3pm. It's a problem I wish Central District Major Skinner could address and we've told him so.

Speaking of the Major, his Community Council meeting is tomorrow at Eutaw Marshburn School, 6:30pm. Jesse Halvorsen will be the featured speaker on the subject of using housing violations to close problem properties. Jesse is a dedicated public servant. He's actually part of Patricia Jessamy's office, as she's quick to take credit for, though he's assigned to housing code enforcement. He and Judge Hong closed 1704 Madison Avenue, the crack house next door. We call it the Al Capone approach to closing drug houses: They didn't close the house because of drugs, but because of housing code violations like two feet of sewage in the basement thanks to a broken soil pipe. Al Capone was prosecuted not because of his murders and terrorism, but because of income tax evasion. If you have a public enemy property near you, you should come to learn about this technique. I hate calling such places "nuisance properties." Nuisance is a vast understatement when describing 1704. It was a malignancy killing this block and spreading its disease every day.

Unfortunately, it's becoming apparent at least one of the new renters next door at 1710 is dealing heroin. Another is a prostitute. She just saw me in the window and said "look out, we'll be on the internet." I hollered out, "no, you'll be in jail." Called Special Officer Vogt who observed dealing and spoke to a guy searching for his girlfriend to keep her from buying. Then I called  the owner of 1710, Greg Jenkins. He's a mailman. I've always thought he was a good guy. Still hope that's true. I guess time will tell. For the first time I reminded Greg of the boards on the doorway to 1704, suggesting that's what's going to happen to 1710 if he can't police his tenants better. There's no way in hell we're going to allow crap to happen next door here again. We know how to do it now. We have to have more owner-occupants here. That's the only solution. The dealers just thrive on slum rentals where the absentee owner either doesn't care, takes a payoff, or is oblivious.

Greg just told me the dealer at 1710 is on his way out, evicted. I hope so. Good riddance. He can take his professional lady friend with him.

Saturday, June 12, 10am: The guestbook got a bit out of hand lately. A reader and former Pedestal Gardens security sergeant. Deleted a few entries that were simply argument and personal attack. Better to take them up between themselves, though I see merit in both points of view.

One comment I did agree with from Joseph: If you live in taxpayer subsidized housing and are arrested for dealing and/or using drugs, you should be evicted. He wrote we shouldn't be buying people's drugs for them. Drug use helps create the very problem that puts so many in public housing in the first place. A vicious circle. The first of the month is a field day for dealers, after the government checks are out. They even go so far as to give out samplers the day or two before to remind people where to come when they've cashed their checks. I'm sure several dealers have check cashing places of their own so they can get their hands on the addict's cash first.

Reminds me of buying huge gas guzzlers, commuting a hundred miles a day and then wondering why the Arabs have such power over us. Stop using oil like it was water and the whole region would revert to the nomadic tribesman they were, towing the Rolls Royces we bought for them with camels.

Met with Dan Miller, VP for IRM, the Pedestal Gardens property management company and Richard White, the returning site manager on Tuesday. Good meeting. We discussed a few things, including the changing tactics used by dealers (how they commute to and from their property down Wilson and Mosher from Druid Hill Avenue), the continued lack of secure fire doors at 1715-1717 and increased security during the peak drug season we're getting into.

We also discussed what seems to me to be less aggressive efforts to rout dealers and their accomplices from the Pedestal Gardens properties. I know there are at least a few apartments under surveillance again by the police and PGP on the properties. Hopefully, when the well deserved arrests come, PG will act promptly to evict those tenants. That's essential to protect the good tenants and the neighborhood. Needs to be a consistent, conscientious effort and one tenants clearly understand.

On a more cheerful note: Mr. Miller offered to provide matching funds "within reason" for the improvement of the vacant "dumpster lot" adjacent to the 1715-1717 building. That will greatly help us to find grant money. Now that things are better, we agree it's time to work on something to serve the tenants there, to help keep the kids off the street when playing and to make the block look better for all of us. A few neighbors on both sides of Madison have been happy to hear about this possibility, but I think they'll believe it when they see it. And see it they will, soon. Leslie Kupfer, an architect and long time substation supporter, has created some renderings we'll present soon. Ideas of what can be. We're hoping we can bring all the residents of the block together on this. Nothing discourages drug dealers more than neighbors who work together and have pride in their neighborhood.

I'm reminded of something I recall hearing Robert Kennedy said: "Some men see things as they are and ask why, I dream things that never were and ask why not?" It's not to much to ask "why not" for a place for children to play and their parents to picnic on a wasted lot. A tiny little thing overall, but for those who live here, it can be more: a symbol, not of victory, that's too far away, but progress.

Monday, June 7, 10pm: A man took his girlfriend hostage, apparently threatening to hurt her this afternoon at the 1516 Eutaw Place building of Pedestal Gardens.  Across the street from our school at about school closing time. You might have seen it reported on Fox 45 TV.

SWAT team

Here you see officers and a blow up insert of the "SWAT" team on site. At least 12 city police cars. Pedestal Gardens Officer Brown came in early to help Officer Tyler with crowd control. It was very tense. The man has a history at Pedestal Gardens, of abuse. I understand Chief of Patrol Gutberlet, our former Major, showed up to supervise tactics. Fortunately, it ended with no one hurt. Likely a tribute to the patience and professionalism of those officers involved.

This incident certainly illustrates the importance of two officers on PG at all times. The necessity of it. For their safety, the safety of residents and the safety of neighbors.

I met a new PGP officer just a bit ago. Stanley Bowser. I'm glad he's not a kid. Seems to understand what he's facing here. Hopefully, he'll stay on. As he left we discussed the few but gratifying rewards of working here: the old folks and kids and neighbors like us who are so very grateful.  There's no other reason to work here. For sure, it ain't the $10 an hour.

Monday, June 7, 2pm: There's a lot of dealing going on today and was over the weekend, it's just being done differently. No where near so blatant as it used to be to the point of hawking their wares out loud like the fruit vendor. Now it's guys patrolling back and forth from down Wilson, near the epicenter of crack in the Central District, the corner of Pennsy and Laurens, and back past the school to 1715-1717 Madison, the Pedestal Gardens property across the street. It's obvious there's only one Pedestal Gardens officer on now most of the time and I suspect the new one doesn't know or doesn't care what he's seeing. Untrained, probably and not commissioned either. The more experienced day officers are too busy covering the whole post. The very reason they went to two officers on at a time.

At the night shift, we regularly have Officer Vogt. I see him often. So do the dealers. This morning about 4am, I heard him talking to someone. Called him to make sure all was well, mostly out of habit. He was just talking to his supervisor. Said "it's dead out here." The boys usually are home an hour after the bars close and Sunday nights are usually quiet. This morning hasn't been.

Don Miller, VP of IRM, the Pedestal Gardens management firm, sent this email ...

"Brian,
 
It's been quite a while since I had any correspondence with you.  I know at the last, you did not appear to be thrilled with the changes that were taking place with the security service.  The main point for this e-mail is to solicit any opinion/concerns as to the status of the neighborhood.
 
To the extent that "no news is good news" I'm hoping that things have (from your perspective) been relatively quiet.  I've been keeping track of the activity on your website (some good, some bad).  Please let me know your thoughts on our attempts to be "good neighbors".  Thanks.
 
Don"

I reiterated my concerns in reply. I hadn't corresponded with PG management because I have been terribly disappointed with them this year. Seemed a waste of time to try to communicate, as had happened with old Clarence. More effective to speak to the city police and to HUD. He let me know Richard White is coming back to supervise the property again. He was the supervisor for years during the time things got so bad here. Getting even more apprehensive things are going to slide back to what they were two years ago. Something we will not allow. Complacency seems the relevant word. Don is visiting tomorrow. Perhaps we'll both find time to talk.

Wednesday, June 2, noon: It appeared to be a pretty quiet holiday weekend around here as far as dealing. Don't know how much of that was truly the case and how much was proactive police work by the shorthanded PGP and the city police.

Last night was a bit different. Deja vu. We were watching a movie upstairs and happened to overhear some yelling. "Empty your pockets ... there's a no loitering sign right there ... "

handcuffs

Apparently, they were having supper on our steps, but we didn't hear it over the movie.

waiting for the wagon
Yes, Major, the faces of the officers have been smudged and I intentionally cut out their unmarked car.

I suspect they were arrested for more than loitering. Don't know for sure, but I believe they had crack on them. Of course, who doesn't in this neighborhood? Even me when I come back from the yard with my newest collection. Yesterday was clear tops. A new color. That usually frightens us. Territory disputes.

Was pleased to see the Flex officer point to our very big, spray painted "no loitering" signs as the probable cause for detaining the guys. I almost felt sorry for them. Just eating their supper. But I couldn't count the many thousands of drug deals I've seen done by guys and gals "just hanging" on our block, or so they tell the officers.

For those of you in the burbs I have an analogy: As annoying as you find the cicadas now, just imagine people yelling "greens out, greens out, greens out!" night and day, seven days a week. That was just a year ago. No more. Most nights are quiet here. An amazing change I have to remind myself about often. Don't know how much of that has been police work or different tactics on the dealer's part. Both, I'm sure. I don't care. It's just better. Better that last night's arrest was unusual and not the norm we'd become used to, though never accepted.

For it to go on this way will continue to require vigilance and proactive police work. It will always require special attention to the Pedestal Gardens properties, crack magnets that they are. I hope the complacency of PG management is fixed soon. Their acceptance of inadequate coverage by their security vendor simply shows they've forgotten what happened two years ago. I hope IRM is at least saving some money, which I know is their big motivation, and not paying full price for half the service. If they don't wake up, they will find themselves before HUD yet again. This time with us on the other side of the table, along with Police Majors and the other neighbors, both this side and Eutaw.

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