Journal Entries for March, 2004
click here for index of archived entries
Wednesday, March 31, 2pm: PGP Sergeant Kluver told us yesterday they had arrested a young man for attempted burglary at the Pedestal Gardens building at 1600 Eutaw Place night before last. He was going to check into whether the description matched the man who got away from his colleague Monday morning. Perhaps our neighbors can identify him in a lineup. Would be good to know if it we have one less burglar at large.
Just read in the paper this afternoon four contractors and yet another soldier were killed today. I had just raised the toll we're keeping on the front page of the site to 599. The official tallies haven't been updated yet. Looks like this will be the 600th American soldier to die in Iraq. 700+ if you include Britain and the other countries who sent some troops. Still would prefer to see us putting this sacrifice and these resources into taking back the lawless streets of East and West Baltimore and those frontiers like them in so many other cities here at home. At least most citizens here would be grateful for their liberation from oppressive regimes of drug dealers and drug crime.
I'm helping the former owner of this house board and secure some of those properties he was flipped into in West Baltimore. Apparently, the squatters have complained to the housing department which has cited him for code violations. Housing does not care that the houses are not legally occupied, that the residents are trespassing. He never offered the houses for rent and never gave anyone permission to break in, let alone set up housekeeping. He's had to hire a lawyer to pursue eviction proceedings. Bizarre. Sure scares me into thinking twice about being a landlord anywhere in Baltimore.
Update 9pm: Sergeant Kluver tells me that the suspect they caught at 1600 was not the one PGP Officer Vogt and city officers chased. However, he tells me city officers yesterday apprehended a burglar and rapist who has been plaguing Bolton Hill for some time. He fits the description of Monday morning's burglar to a tee. Let's hope so.
And, yes, the toll has been updated. We've now lost 600 soldiers in Iraq.
Monday, March 29, 11am: Sunday night was uneventful for us, but not so for our neighbors on Eutaw Place. About 5:30 this morning, PGP Officer Vogt saw a man running down the the alley carrying what appeared to be a small caliber handgun. Our neighbor, Christian, ran out of his house (1716 Eutaw) in boxers, shirt and tie yelling it was a burglar. Apparently he'd interrupted the burglar while preparing the for the day. Officer Vogt chased the man to 1708 Eutaw where he went in through an unlocked window and disappeared inside. A Signal 13 was issued. Many officers looked but could not find the suspect. He got away.
The description of a solidly built, but not tall African American man in white t-shirt and jeans won't help, it's hard to describe people in the dark while they're running, but all of us should be aware that we have a burglar not afraid of entering an occupied house, possibly armed for just that purpose.
Experience teaches us that burglars like this don't stop until they're caught. The well to do homes along Eutaw Place and in Bolton Hill make inviting targets. As always, be sure your doors and windows and garage doors are secure, your alarm is on, security lights working, etc. There's always a rash of burglaries and other crimes of opportunity when the weather warms.
And warming it is. The Bradford Pear out front of this house has decided today's the day to open its buds. The little Japanese Maple is about to do the same. Bright red buds all over, ready to burst open. Looks like it survived drowning last year after all.
Friday, March 26, 5:30pm: Heard a car accident this morning, about 4, I think. The type with the loud screeching followed by the ominous thud. The type people don't drive away from. Called 911. Told them I guessed it was over on Eutaw. It was. Two cars had been chasing each other and collided into the Marlboro Apartments. PGP Officer Vogt said he and a city officer heard it too. The drivers ran away. I guess no one was hurt.
There were lots of problems with kids last night and there were drunken disorderlies, urinating in public, etc. but no big news around here that I know of. Spring is certainly here. If that's the worst we have, there's nothing to complain about. Of course the first of the month is here next week. Combined with the warmer weather, I'm sure dealing will be up as usual. What tactics the dealers will use this month is anyone's guess.
This morning, I wrote the following to our Mayor, Council President and Councilman:
"Good morning Your Honor, Madam President, and Councilman:
I'm writing you today to ask for your attention to a serious problem that seems simple to correct.
Did you know BGE does not require proof of ID or legal occupancy to turn on gas and electric at a residence?
This creates problems for our city:
#1. Drug dealers can and do move into unoccupied, abandoned houses and set up shop. An East side city officer has told me of houses where they've found dealers comfortably set up, heat, light, cable TV, even Playstations for the kids they employ while they're waiting for their nightly distribution.
#2. People can and do remove boards from unoccupied houses, change the locks and set up electric, gas and cable service without the owner's knowledge. This encourages such squatting and is a burden to those who may be trying to manage their properties responsibly. People would not take up residence in houses where they do not belong nearly as much without heat and light, especially in winter.
#3. Both activities lead to utilities being left on in buildings where the dealers or squatters may have moved on. Gas burners may be left on, pilot lights blow out, ancient faulty wiring goes bad. Obviously, a serious fire hazard.
#4. No doubt utilities lose considerable money in this way from these irresponsible and illegal tenants, which its customers end up paying.
I suggest an ordinance should be passed to require all utility companies, including phone and cable TV, to obtain verifiable proof of ID and legal occupancy before turning on utilities at any address.
At the very least, I ask that the city request the utility company's require this proof.
I do not consider it an unreasonable burden for the utilities to ask to see official ID and either a notarized lease (or at least a phone number of the landlord that is called to confirm), notarized letter of permission from the legal owner of record or it's authorized agent or an official property tax bill or deed.
Again, this would help protect property owners from property damage and legal expenses required to evict illegal occupants, and most importantly make it harder for drug dealers to move in and set up shop as they please.Thank you for any consideration you may give this proposal.
Such an ordinance would do a lot of good and would not cost the city anything. In fact saving the utilities money might even slow the rise in rates, if ever so slightly. Certainly would make it harder for dealers to create crack houses, one of the essential tools of their trade. A benefit for all law abiding citizens. And if you're a property owner, especially one with vacant property, you don't want BGE to make it easy for people to simply move in and set up housekeeping.
I see no downside to this requirement, do you? Strikes me as common sense. I was surprised to learn it wasn't already utility policy.
If you agree, please write your council members and the Council President too. Their addresses can be found at http://www.baltimorecitycouncil.com. Our Councilman and neighbor is Keiffer Mitchell, who lives just two blocks east on 1700 Linden Street in Bolton Hill. Let's see if we can make this happen together.
Wednesday, March 24, 9am: This was forwarded to me this morning from our friends with the Reservoir Hill bulletin board:
Originally published March 24, 2004, Baltimore Sun
Police Blotter is a sampling of crimes from police reports in Baltimore City and Baltimore County.
Arrests: Officers Jack Atkins and Hadyn Gross arrested four teen-age males Monday and charged them as juveniles with robbing three people in Bolton Hill at knifepoint that day. The robberies occurred in the 300 block of Dolphin St., the 1200 block of Bolton St. and the 100 block of W. Lanvale St.
Sorry to hear they were only charged as juveniles. Robbing people at knifepoint is proof enough to me we need to be protected from these teenagers just as much as any 18+ year old robbers. But that's for the courts. The officers did their part.
Still, another example of fine work by our officers. Thank you, Officers Atkins and Gross. I say this because I know Officer Atkins is a regular visitor to the substation and may read here this afternoon. I'll be sure to put out Rice Krispy Treats for you both! They are hard to keep stocked, popular among all the officers. Apples and oranges are going too. Good idea, Ken.
In today's Sun headlines is an article that should make us all angry. A State Senator from the city, wife of our deputy chief liquor inspector, wants to hamstring the police department's ability to supervise and enforce the law ... at the very bars and clubs her husband's agency does a miserable job of supervising. Many readers here live near problem clubs and bars. There are too many to mention. You know the ones. They're at least a nuisance and in some cases make life miserable for residents and police alike. I know we have big problems from the American Legion and Elks Club halls in the 1400 block of Madison who rent to "private" functions that are completely unsupervised. I suspect these parties are often set up by enterprising drug dealers who have their salesman operating all over Madison, including out of their own offices at 1421.
This Senator's bill is an obvious conflict of interest: the interests of those making money by providing venues for crime versus those of us who live here. I recommend writing and calling your State Senators to make sure this is defeated. State Senators Joan Conway, LIsa Gladden, Nathaniel McFadden and Verna Jones, all supposedly our local city reps, have sponsored the bill. I suggest we tell 'em no. And remember them come reelection time.
Tuesday, March 23, 9pm: Night before last, early evening, PGP Officer Vogt stopped a man who decided that he could simply whip it out and urinate on the corner of our house. He received a criminal citation, after having his ID run for warrants. As I looked out the window I heard him saying I thought it was OK, the house is boarded up." The officer assured him it wasn't. At least it wasn't the lady who thought nothing of doing number two smack in the middle of the parking pad. And then had the gall to argue when I told her to finish up and get the hell off my property. She nearly got pepper sprayed. She was belligerent. And doing it right under a bright flood lamp in front of a sign reading Police Substation. The contempt for ones self and others is amazing and epidemic.
Last night about 3am I noticed the paddy wagon in front of 1715 Madison. Don't know if the arrest occurred there or if the suspect was brought back. Saw PGP Officer Kluver talking with some of the city officers. I suppose he had to go down to central booking afterward. 3am seems a common time for him to make arrests. Must be the bar closings.
In the something's not right department. BGE, our utility company is facilitating squatting and drug dealing. They don't ask anyone to prove the legal right to live in a house they request service for. They simply inquire about credit and the deposit. I remember when I had service restored to this long abandoned house I was prepared with deed in hand. They asked for nothing by way of ID or my right to occupy. The problem this creates was brought to my attention by a friend with several bad properties in West Baltimore. He got flipped into them and can't sell them. He moved to Virginia a couple years ago to accept a good job and thought the properties would be OK, properly boarded and secured. A few months ago, during a regular check on them, he found two of the houses occupied by men, women and children. They'd simply removed the boards, changed the locks and called BGE. A City Officer told me they found a drug stash house the same way. The dealers had just torn off the boards, put up their doorway and had power turned on. Dealers had set themselves up: cold drinks, place to cook, Playstations for the teenagers they hire to run the drugs. All the luxuries. Seems BGE is grossly negligent in contributing to this sort of thing. More on this later. I intend to pursue it.
Yesterday, a city officer visited the substation while I was making coffee. I recognized him from some time back. Turns out he had just returned from a year in Iraq. He was one of the officers who'd been wolfing down lunch while we were being interviewed for the City Paper article when they dashed off to catch a car jacker. Excellent officer. Obviously an excellent citizen, willing to sacrifice his all for us. When he left I said "glad to have you back. I guess you're slightly safer out here." There were twice as many Americans dead in Iraq during the last year as those lost in the wars here in Baltimore. "583 so far," I said. "Yes, I knew some of them." And then he went back out to our front lines. Another one of those moments.
Friday, March 19, 2pm: Up early to go to court. I was subpoenaed in the case of the suspected dealer who was caught in the substation parking lot. Yes, the parking lot! Busy dealers and distracted crack heads don't read. The PGP and city officers were there, too. As expected, the case was postponed to allow the suspect time to get a lawyer. We get to go back next month. Fun, fun.
On the way out of the courthouse, I saw the suspect greet a friend in the hall, he said "yeah, bullshit charge." Trespassing and possession of a controlled dangerous substance. The judge had told him he could get four years or 90 days, he needed a lawyer. He doesn't seem to be worried. Doubt this is a new game to him.
Yesterday afternoon I was working on the house when I heard the familiar brake squeal of city police cars. Several of them. Not such an every day occurrence here anymore. Walked out the substation door to see what had happened ...
The suspect ran from one of our officers who pepper sprayed him. Don't know what the charges were. I'd wager a guess. I really don't understand running from the cops, but there's even a TV show about that. I wonder how many people actually get away. Seems to me they're pretty good at catching their man and if Foxtrot is involved, there's no doubt you're going to jail. I think they can tell the brand of underwear you wear from up there. They certainly can follow your every move.
The Pedestal Gardens Residents meeting went well. Good turnout. Kevin Cleary was there to make a good presentation on the Crime Watch program. Seven residents signed up for their Crime Watch numbers, the ones you give in lieu of your name so your identity is protected from the officers and ultimately, the bad guys. That's probably seven more than would have volunteered last year.
Living in an apartment house creates special problems with dealers. I watched as first one and then another apartment at 1704 "went bad." The good people left. One moved herself and her baby after spending one night. The house was crawling with dealers. Used to be the case at 1715-1717, too. But not so much anymore, particularly when the PGP are on top of it. Anonymity is essential to those willing to report the dealing. One guy asked what he should do when he smells crack smoke outside his door. The response from Ms. Tyler of Pedestal Gardens was emphatic "call 911." And then she added that you have eyes. Report the apartment number to her. Pedestal Gardens has been very aggressive about evicting people complicit in the drug trade. Mr. Eckrote with the property management firm said they'd clarified with HUD the conditions under which people can be evicted. I've seen it several times in the past year. Kevin said that in the old days, HUD rules designed to protect Section 8 residents used to have the unintended result of protecting dealers.
I was introduced to the group of about 30 or so. Surprised how many knew me. A couple ladies said I was the one who'd "fixed the block." I said I helped. I was a squeaky wheel, that's all. I figured I was already likely to be blamed for getting the police involved and I felt secure and safe to call them those hundreds of times. One fellow said "they'd never touch you," with some hostility in his voice. I agreed they knew that likely any attack on me would be dealt with very aggressively, especially after the Dawsons, but I wasn't going to apologize for my race.
The officers I know would not come to our rescue any faster because we're white, they do their best for everyone, but they might take an attack on us personally thanks to the substation and our unwavering support of their work. I was reminded of the lady who screamed at us we didn't belong here. We belonged in Bolton Hill cause we're white. I said I live here and plan to for a long while and that's why I call the police and try to help my neighborhood. Simple as that.
We got to discussing possible uses for the vacant lot across the street, which was mostly why I was there. Mr. Eckrote said Pedestal Gardens was behind the idea and we'd have to work out the best, most practical use. We all felt that the picnic park, the use I would like, could be a good rallying point for our Crime Watch program. Something nice that we can risk doing now that the block is not over run with dealers night and day. I'm hoping we can get a lot of input from neighbors on all sides of the lot so we all feel a part of it. It'd be great to have a spring BBQ to kick off our Crime Watch program and plans for that space.
A gentleman with Pedestal Gardens talked about the huge difference he sees from his office across the school from us. Said something about how you used to see dealing going on all day. That's the work of Pedestal Gardens and city police officers. But now I feel it's safer for others to report the dealing and other crimes, to further cement our progress. I know the doors at 1715-1717 remain split open, uncloseable, the work of dealers. Makes it easier for them to get access and to elude officers. Mr. Eckrote said they will be getting that fixed soon. I reminded him of the many times I used to see Quentin, one of our drug kingpins, with hammer and screwdriver out there breaking that door so he and his salesmen could have run of the place. The same delightful gentleman who showed me the butt of his 9mm under his T-shirt in response to my telling him this was my block, not his. Gary pointed out to the group that he was certain splitting the door open made a lot of noise. Someone must have heard. "When you see things, ... drop a dime or 35 or 50 cents now." Ms. Tyler said residents had little excuse not to have a phone. "$15" a month. Must be a program. Good idea.
After the meeting, I was told I have been using the slang "stems" wrong. It was explained to me that stems are the pipe used to smoke the crack, not the vials themselves. "You can buy those at any gas station." I suppose they're right next to the cigarette rolling papers at that corner store that sells bullets by the piece to kids. Thanks for the correction. I guess there's still more for me to learn about the drug trade.
Tuesday, March 16, 6pm: It was another of those days here that make everything worthwhile. Just a small thing. Tiny really, but the stuff which sticks to the soul. I've just come back from two hours spent with Dr. Sherry Norwitz, who teaches string at Eutaw Marshburn, and Bill Garrison, who is a highly regarded piano tuner. Turns out they were classmates at Peabody. Her husband teaches at Friends School. He has children there. Had lots of mutual friends too. I enjoyed listening to their reminiscing. Felt a bit out of place. Musicians, artists, are a mystery to me. They seem to exist on a different plane than guys like me who have no creativity. I'm a nuts and bolts kind of guy. Yet I know that life would not be what it should without creativity, artistry, passion.
And that's exactly why we wanted to arrange for Sherry's students to tune their instruments to a properly tuned piano. Bill took time out of a busy schedule of work at Peabody, private clients and a regular gig at the Harbor Court Hotel. He plays Cole Porter (and other contemporary works) in the Explorer's Room for the tourist and after work crowd. Judging by his performance for Sherry and I, testing the newly tuned piano, spending some time there would be fun. I plan to treat myself to "happy hour" there soon. If you want a treat, go hear him play. The joie de vivre I heard in his brief play for us was infectious. I was humming the tune on the way home. Perhaps part of it was why we were there.
Anyway, sorry to go on. It's just nice to have time to put toward the finer things in life here and our efforts to clean up the block. There's still dealing of course. I had a staring match with a certain member of a career drug dealing family just this morning. Vaughn has been having the same experiences. We've been a thorn in their sides for a long time now and that's fine. But that's not fun. Fun is helping a music teacher get a piano tuned.
Now I hope we can raise some money to tune the school's auditorium piano, as we did at the last School Improvement Team meeting when we all pitched in to get insurance to allow Dr. Norwitz's violin students to take their instruments home.
Saturday, March 13, 10am: PGP Officer Vogt called me last night to say that the entry in the guestbook I referred to yesterday was not his. Surprising. I just assumed it was since he's made several entries and I really didn't have a problem with him posting his opinion, regardless of whether it made sense to me. I've left up this bogus entry because another regular visitor responded. The points of both have been made in several emails to me. I get lots of 'em, especially when I express my opinion. Some readers have a problem with that, as if observations and opinion aren't what a "Journal" is about.
Again, someone has had nothing better to do at midnight, 2 and 3am than play games with the guest book. Juvenile, insipid comments. Like delinquents with spray paint. Same person. Multiple aliases and hotmail addresses. Like those who've made shill entries critical of my stance on Pedestal Gardens or SPS Security's management. These entries contend my concern about the high cost, in lives and money, of a war in Iraq and the plight of city school kids in Baltimore could only be anti Bush rhetoric. The entries are so stupid they rather make my point, but I see no need to give these people a forum. Let them publish their own website.
I guess it's nice to be taken seriously, seen as such a threat, but they flatter me. Not so many people read here. As few as 200 a day now. Far off from the thousands per day who visited after the articles in the Sun and City Paper. Most are neighbors. Many visit from dot.gov servers, some from HUD. Some from dot.mil, including one I suspect is stationed in Iraq. And there are still those who visit from across the country and even the world. I think they monitor this site because they have similar concerns where they live and feel a sense of community with us. Exactly its purpose. And regardless of who reads it, I get something out of writing my thoughts and sending them out into cyberspace like a bottle in the sea. There were times not long back when my entries were written during sleepless nights, armed to the teeth, terrified. More last words than a blog like so many kids are doing now, reporting the movies they've seen and their last night's date. Usually, my ramblings are a bit more intense. Sometimes too much so.
Apparently the Mayor visits occasionally ...
Subject: RE: Thank you
From: Mayor Martin O'Malley ,firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 3/12/2004 3:37pm
To: Bryan <email@example.com>
Glad I have your intensity on my side!
Anyway, to those who'd abuse the guestbook: You just keep posting your foolishness, and I'll just keep deleting it. Only takes a keystroke. When you tire of this game, try putting your nocturnal energies to something productive, a neighborhood watch perhaps? Or how 'bout a hobby?
And to the rest of my visitors who occasionally use the guestbook: You just keep posting, too, if you feel you'd like to comment and have something to share. However, it is a guestbook and not a chat room or board so please use it accordingly. And remember that you must use a verifiable email address and be able to prove you're a real person. Impostors will simply be deleted.
Other than silly gameplayers on the guestbook, I have no news today. Except that it's still newsworthy here when there is no news. The night seemed pretty quiet. The morning downright sleepy so far. Haven't seen or heard a dealer. Even the Pedestal Gardens dump is just an empty lot with an empty dumpster.
So, enough intensity. It's a beautiful day here at Casa Madison. Lots to do. I hope you have a good weekend, too, whether that means productive or relaxing.
Friday, March 12, noon: Seems my comments about the death toll in Iraq touched some nerves. And made clear we're definitely into a new Vietnam as far as attitudes go. PGP Officer Jimmy made a guestbook entry saying he supports our troops and implying liberals like me don't. Same division we had during the war when those who disagreed with our policies were panned as not supporting our troops, except during the height of the Vietnam war, anti war activists blamed the very liberal LBJ, the author of the Great Society. Someone else added their 2+ cents, too, saying we should next invade Iran and any other misbehaving Mid East countries. However, he will have to redo his entry including his real, verifiable name if he feels it necessary to campaign for Mr. Bush in the guestbook.
Unlike some who feel supporting our troops is about flying plastic flags from their cars, I show support for our troops by providing a flag for our elementary school. I show support for our country and our troops on the frontline here at home by providing a police break room in my house, and helping our school and neighborhood with money and energy. And I try to remind my friends here each day there's a huge cost being paid in American lives. We must at least remember those who are dying every day and coming home maimed.
I still maintain one of the best ways to fight the war against Middle Eastern terrorists would be to pursue rather than stymie energy alternatives to gasoline. Just as soon as we don't guzzle oil and consider it our American birthright, we'll reduce al-Qaida to the poor, impotent, nomadic tribesmen they were only a few generations ago. But that won't happen with oil men in the White House.
And while armchair patriots argue, another two soldiers were added to the toll.
Enough national politics. The Mayor and a reader had some good points about the school board ...
3 of the current school board members just joined that body in November. In addition 3 other sitting members are leaving in June and will be replaced, making over half new board members. And look for more news regarding accountability."
A regular visitor here and substation supporter writes ..."Bryan,
Just read your journal entry. I agree with most of the things you said, but not about Shaeffer. The guy lost it years ago. He has wasted my time with his useless quotes for the past two years!! Take it from someone who knows, he'll do anything to embarrass O'Malley. Schafer wants to have the legacy as Baltimore greatest Mayor and will do anything for it. ... The guy is a real jerk. It's really kind of sad and pathetic. While I share your concerns about the rainy day fund, it was at just over 5 million four years ago. We've never had this much money in it ever before. I don't think we wasted the state's time. It is their problem just as much as it is ours; remember they too were part of the City/State partnership that ran the schools ... This whole school thing sucks. I'm not quite sure why the school board didn't get canned. Although, I believe a lot people were only asking for the six oldest members to be fired. From what I understand half of them a are relatively new and can hardly be blamed. I really feel for parents who have no choice but to send their kids into this mess."
I think his last line is the most important. (I'm not going to say who wrote this because of his job.)
I suppose like so many, I want to see some heads roll for what's happened to our schools. Rather like our wanting to find someone to fight to get our revenge for 9/11.
Thursday, March 11, 4:30pm: Went to update the death toll on the front page this morning -- another soldier killed in Iraq while we slept. By the time I got around to doing it, yet another had died. I felt odd. Like I'd neglected my self appointed duty in not keeping up with the toll. Some say this war is no where near as bad as Vietnam, but at the rate we're losing soldiers I wonder. I read that Congressional leaders of both parties are bothered that President Bush's budget proposal does not cover the cost of our occupation in Iraq. The White House claims it's impossible to predict until two months after the election for some reason. Some excerpts from today's Sun article ...
* Daniel Goure of the conservative Lexington Institute said he expects troop levels to gradually drop over five years to one-half or one-third the present deployment -- meaning 30,000 to 50,000 Americans troops could remain in Iraq through 2009.
* The Congressional Budget Office a few months ago estimated the cost to occupy Iraq through 2013 at up to $200 billion, depending on troops levels.
2013! What have we gotten ourselves into ... and why? We have mires here far more worthy of our money, time and courage.
Apparently, the Mayor and City Council's rescue plan for the schools leaves the old school board in place. Unbelievable. I sent the following email to the Mayor, Council President and the Councilman who introduced the bailout plan who's author says this was supposed to be plan B, but who now backs the Mayor who apparently decided it should be plan A.
"Your Honor, Madam President & Councilman Mitchell:
I have previously expressed my misgivings, mixed with optimism, about your plan to rescue our schools, but there is one thing I do not see as negotiable:
The present school board must go!
There is no option to restore credibility and accountability to this system. They were supposed to be "on watch" while this debacle happened. They have failed students and taxpayers alike. They have egregiously breached their fiduciary responsibility. They must go.
I believe the board should be either elected by city residents, as is the case in all the school systems I've ever known, or appointed by the mayor and city council. Even if reconstituting a board now would entail input from this Governor, I believe that it is essential to restore credibility to the Baltimore City Schools. His input might also diffuse the damage we did wasting so much time attempting to work out more state assistance.
We must not tap our rainy day fund, merely the prospect of which has damaged our city credit rating, just to stop the boat from sinking. Now is the time to haul her out, do a complete survey and all necessary repairs and rebuilding to prevent the boat from leaking again .... and taking our city down with it.
To this end, I applaud consulting Mayor Daley and others with experience and objectivity in restoring city schools. We must also utilize effective financial analysts to make sure school fiscal affairs are handled prudently, not to say we should throw money at consultants, that's part of what's gotten us here in the first place.
We cannot afford this bailout. Period.The only reason I endorse what you're doing is because we cannot afford not to. I am willing to pay a bit more in city taxes, if such increases are 100% devoted to the schools. Please make this bailout truly the first step in REBUILDING not just fixing our schools. Our children and their teachers deserve nothing less than the first class school system we've always deserved but never made the priority it must be."
The Mayor emailed me back when I expressed shock about his sudden new plan day before last ...
More detailed plans will unfold within the next couple of days. Have faith. You may want to check The Baltimore Sun and local media, as they will have the information from all parties involved. I do appreciate your concern. However, we felt most comfortable with the city taking more responsibility.
"Most comfortable." All of sudden. After spending weeks of intense negotiations with the Governor. Odd. I hate to say this, I really do, but I agree with old Shaeffer, the often daft, bitter old Comptroller, this sudden turnabout wasted time "and made us all look foolish." And he means foolish to have wasted the time working with our Mayor.
"Have faith" doesn't work for me from elected officials either. And this reminds me too much of his comments Christmas time before last when in desperation I'd emailed him pleading for help ...
"From: Mayor Martin O'Malley <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: 'Bryan' <email@example.com>
Subject: RE: Christmas greetings from the crack front
Date: Mon, 23 Dec 2002 15:55:33 -0500
Bryan - hang in there.
And have a happy holiday season.
Now's the time for you to weigh in and watch this plan. If it isn't managed expertly, perfectly, and with a lot of luck, I fear our whole city will end up as bankrupt as the schools. The bailout alone, not including FIXING what created the disaster will wipe out our emergency fund. Yes, I know, supposedly only temporarily. It's already got our city credit rating in jeopardy because objective potential creditors see this bailout as potentially a slipperly slope to ruin. And we seem barely able to provide adequate city services as it is.
Make your concerns and opinions, good, bad and in between known to Mayor O'Malley, Council President Dixon and Councilman Mitchell (who authored the near unanimous bill in the council and now says he never intended it to replace the state plan, just to back it up) as well as your own council members, who's addresses you can find at the council web site, http://www.baltimorecitycouncil.com. Now's the time to make your opinion known. The Board of Estimates will be approving this next week. It's your schools, your taxes and your city on the line here.
On the neighborhood front: Indeed, PGP Officer George's tires were slashed by the bad guys around here while his truck was parked. Just yesterday he was pumping up the fourth tire that had a slow leak though he couldn't find knife holes in this one. Vaughn and I have stared down two known dealers who live and work out of 1715-1717 Madison Avenue as they glared at us when we come and go from the house. As if that'll help them now when it hasn't for years. I've been reminding Vaughn to park in back where the officers park. Less convenient to the dealers and I can keep a better eye on it. We've replaced enough tires. Can't wait to get that camera system in place. I think that will help with a lot of things.
The Pedestal Gardens Tenant's meeting was rescheduled for next week, March 17 at 5pm, 325 McMechen, enter through the rental office. The power was down to the buildings there yesterday due to a construction accident. It worked out OK. Mr. Cleary had a lot on his plate yesterday and will be able to spend more time with us next week, explaining the Crime Watch program.
Finalized the deed on 1706 Madison Avenue Tuesday. We'd been using it under the terms of a right of entry and 90+ page Land Disposition Agreement. Handed the check to Bob and Segun of the DHCD and then went right down, paid the city taxes, the state transfer taxes and fees and recorded the new deed. Boy, I know why people use title agencies now. Confusing and complicated process. But anyway, that little slot of rubble and crack vial shards is now ours outright. I hope we can afford the new annual property tax bill: $24.76.
I made some more progress today on the house. Ripping out a rotten old patio off what will eventually be the dining room entry way. Vaughn and I call rooms in the house by what we see them eventually being again one day, though unrecognizable now. The "kitchen" still has falling plaster and beams, holes in the floor and ceiling above, tools and lumber and supplies all around. Disaster area would be a better name for it, but in our mind's eye, it's the big kitchen we will share one day rather than the tiny little galley we use now from one of the old apartments.
Chatted with the owner at 1710 again today. Greg's always been a responsible neighbor. I'm still getting used to that house being occupied. More tenants and more traffic in and out now. So far looks like normal households. Greg's not the type to let his apartment house become a crack mart, thank God. Just last year he decided it was worth making the repairs and renting out the apartments here. Told us we had a lot to do with that. Good feeling.
Improvements to the neighborhood do tend to make improvements to this derilict old crack house seem slightly less insane.
Tuesday, March 9, noon: PGP Officer Vogt turned in to authorities 11 vials of crack he found on Madison at Mosher, the corner of the main Pedestal Gardens Complex night before last. Wrapped in a rubber band. Obviously a dropped or poorly hidden stash ready for sale to the Pedestal Gardens customers and the many who know this is still the place.
But the best part was, acting on a tip, he found a .22 caliber pearl handled revolver next to a trash can on the next block. Great work Officer Vogt.
Nice having a radio tuned to their band. Otherwise I might not have known. Their superiors don't tolerate criticism, even when so often deserved, only valuing me when I have praise for them, as I so often have. Like today.
I see a small white pickup on our parking pad today. I don't mind. Belongs to our newest Pedestal Gardens officer. Looks like three flat tires. I doubt he ran over a bed of nails. Unfortunately, we'd warned him they'd get him if it he let it be known it was his truck. Our tires have been deflated and slashed twice, their sergeant's car twice, another officer had all of his tires slashed. It is a good sign that the dealers don't like him, but part of the problem is driving around using your own car for patrol. One reason a PGP patrol car has been suggested. Only problem with that is we have too much tooling around in cars masquerading as patrol work now, good weather or bad. At least among those officers who bring a car to work. Not enough walking through the buildings and grounds on some shifts, the most effective patrol of a small beat like this.
Tomorrow is the Pedestal Gardens Tenant's Meeting. Hopefully, they'll be a good turnout. We were invited, having arranged for Kevin Cleary of the Mayor's Office to come and explain the new Crime Watch program. I'd like to see a Crime Watch program at the main courtyard of PG. There will definitely be one on this block, arranged with our PG neighbor's here and the rest of us. I'll let you know how the meeting goes as well as the progress on our block.
Not only is the PG dumpster empty, the lot was getting swept this morning. Amazing. Either HUD is coming for an inspection or some VP of IRM property management or maybe, just maybe, this is the start of real effort to stay on top of maintenance at 1715-1717. That would be great and much appreciated. Now, how about fixing the doors swaying back and forth in the breeze, the ones the dealers use to access the building and evade police?
Another excellent column by Michael Olesker today. Exactly sums up my opinion and observations of Ed Norris, especially his publicity seeking and pathetic acting antics. After meeting the new Commissioner, Clark, and seeing big improvements in effective patrol and enforcement here last year, I said "good riddance" to Big Ed. And now he's gotten exactly what was coming to him. I wish now having admitted to stealing money from the city, he'd be forced to pay back that ridiculously high severance package we gave him. We could use the money to pay for this school's bailout program passed by the Council last night.
What do you make of that? I'm very disturbed. No public input. Wasting the state's time. I'm afraid we're just going to throw our "rainy day fund" into the schools with no fix of the reasons the school system fell apart. I have to agree with the Governor, the city schools have not been well run for a long time. For generations they've had bad and well deserved reputations as warehouses for underprivileged children, those whose parents couldn't afford private schools or to move to the suburbs like the Ehrlich kind. Bad schools, bad grades, undeserved grade advancements, poor test scores. That had changed in recent years, but still has a long way to go. And in the meantime, by splitting management with the state in '97, it seems everyone walked away from responsibility. So, people like ousted CEO Russo on down to independent IT consultants and bus companies, just lined up at the money trough unchecked.
I do agree with our Councilman Mitchell, that it was important to prevent the state negating contracts and forcing overworked, underpaid teachers to fix fiscal problems they had no part in creating. I agree with him that local control is best, but only if there's accountability. And I'm not happy about a Council that would commit almost the entire city emergency fund without more consideration and public input. This appears way too much like, "if we can't have the state's money with no conditions, no oversight, we'll just do it ourselves." Well, hey, we all know the City Council has done nothing to supervise the schools in recent years. The Council has had problems supervising itself, for God's sake. I wonder if the voters will hold the Council responsible when this money mysteriously disappears down the sink hole that our school system has become. I say we need a city elected school board, with two year terms, or at least one appointed by the Mayor and Council alone. And in the meantime we need to find out who profited from this fiasco and prosecute, right up to and especially Board members whose only contribution to any solutions have been to wring their hands and say "it wasn't us!"
On the Council agenda for next week is a resolution calling on the Federal Government to investigate the accusation that we forced the president of Haiti to leave. Certain African American members of the Council see it as their duty to endorse a Congressional Black Caucus resolution to investigate. Not again! Why do Council members think this is their business? They keep doing this. And these Council members see this as a black issue, like Jesse Jackson, because Haiti is primarily black and no other reason. I don't know either way. Aristide's allegations could be true. I can believe almost any allegation of wrong doing by this administration. But it's not our Council's job. Running the city is. Maybe if they realized this, the schools wouldn't be on the verge of collapse. This sort of thing doesn't exactly inspire confidence in their ability to run the city and find solutions to school problems they conveniently took no interest in for years.
Saturday, March 6, noon: PGP Officer Vogt had an arrest involving Foxtrot and several officers night before last. In front of the NIMROD Center. Hearing the voice from up high tell you to "turn around and stop for the officers" is very dramatic. Not so much excitement there since the day I heard gun shots and watched a young man fall in front of the school two years ago.
Last night about 3am, Officer Vogt observed this man on our block, cutting a black box off his ankle.
Antoine Evans is wanted for escaping from home detention. Don't know what he did to deserve it, but I guess he'll end up being a guest of the state for the remainder of his punishment, including what'll end up getting tacked on for last night's escapade.
Yesterday morning I saw a young man leaning against the wall on the substation parking lot. Took the dogs down to ask him why. When he saw Big Dog, he ran like he'd seen a ghost. Don't know what he was doing there, but I have an idea now. Later yesterday I was picking up dog poo as it seems I'm always doing, and found this ...
Don't find them full nearly so often anymore. The yard still has hundreds of remnants of its days as a garbage dump and crack park. Glass vial shards and plastic stoppers are entrenched throughout the soil. I'm still very careful when planting stuff out there to avoid needles. And always watchful for what the dogs find to chew on. Concerned they'd be poisoned by vengeful dealers or high from chewing crack.
There was a time when I could have helped pay for the house restoration with the full vials I would pick up in the yard. There's no deposit return for the empties or I'd be making a real killing. I imagined selling them back to the dealers next door or just opening up my own crack mart. Pretty clever cover, don't you think, having a police break room in the back of a crack house? (That would be funny if 1704 wasn't a bustling drug emporium for more than a year while the substation was open.) Often when surprised by officers on the street in front or back, they toss them into the yard to avoid having it on their person. Since I hadn't personally seen someone throw this particular vial in the yard and since it was just one, I dumped the "rocks" in the toilet and threw out the vial, per officers' advice.* But not before taking a picture to add to my colorful collection.
*Police have always offered to dispatch an officer to dispose of it, but why take an officer off patrol for that, I figure, when it has no evidence value at all. Besides it's rather satisfying to destroy it myself. One less hit out there. Still, if you should find items like this, it would be wise to ask an officer what you should do with it to avoid potentially destroying evidence. Especially in a place where it is not common. There must be some places like that in Baltimore.
I should know better than to say anything positive lest I jinx it again, but Pedestal Garden's Property Manager is to be commended. Saw this out my window yesterday afternoon ...
It was red, but I don't think it was a Midtown Benefits District truck. Least it better not have been. The guys hauled away some old mattresses, couches, and other bulk trash that appeared to have been stored in the 1715-1717 Madison basement until they were ready to take it away. What a good idea! Makes sense. Not only does it keep nosey, bitchy neighbors from complaining, it discourages others from thinking it's an open dumping ground over there. Night before last, at 3am yet again, I heard and saw the Waste Management truck empty the dumpster even though it was empty. The extra run we'd asked for. I was surprised it was still empty. It's over half full again already, but hopefully they'll keep up the good work. Now, if they could just take the "welcome dealers" sign off the doors they allow to remain uncloseable, broken.
See? I'm not that tough to please. Just don't sell drugs, facilitate dealing or dump in my neighborhood. Not that much to ask.
Thursday, March 4, 6pm: Dan Rodricks has a good column today, as usual. This one's about Jamal Lewis and the fact we care about one young black man in Baltimore: he's essential to our football team.
Dealing out the window has been light or at least more discrete today. Middle of the week. Checks are getting spent. I can see some of the dealer boys are very aware of my windows. Too often today I caught the eye of a suspect staring intently up at me, no doubt wondering if I was watching. I've also seen PGP Officers Brown and George together on patrol this afternoon. They're getting out, doing their patrols. It shows.
Was tempted to go to the Mayor's Open House at City Hall tonight from 6 to 7, but political social events aren't really my thing. Vaughn might go. He's not uncomfortable in such circles. Perhaps he'll get the ear of Kevin Cleary, the Mayor's man on the Crime Watch program. Never met the Mayor yet. Keep hoping he'll visit our neighborhood one day, perhaps during the annual BBQ. Still, meeting him isn't important. I just want him to do his job. Work hard on the issues of concern here. Right now, the most important thing is the schools and he knows that.
Thought the "town hall" meeting about the schools last night was interesting, informative and telling. Not impressed at all by Mrs. Grasmick or the Governor's budget man. Both were busy supporting the Governor's arrogant point of view. Ah, but we're stuck with a governor the white flighters and other suburbanites chose. Certainly I'm not against the fiscal oversight obviously lacking in our schools, but I am against political opportunism and ego trips at the expense of Baltimore City school students and teachers.
A couple weeks ago, I wrote our US Senators about the school crisis, asking them to encourage federal investigation into how a school system could get so completely our of control. His reply ...
"While I share your concerns about the recent revelations concerning the financial situation of the Baltimore City Schools, I must tell you that this matter does not fall within the jurisdiction of the United States Senate."Not impressed. Heard the same line from him, Elijah Cummings and Senator Mikulski a couple years ago when I pled for their help when things seemed hopeless here. Mr. Cummings lives three blocks north of us. My reply ...
"I asked that you request the Federal Attorney to investigate the matter. There is a very real possibility and certainly a perception that the Baltimore schools debacle has at least included crimes having to do with improper award of bids, etc. That is a Federal concern, both morally and because Federal dollars are involved, as Mr. DiBagio has shown recently by making it clear he's interested.
Plus, Federal laws require specific performance in our city schools, yet leave the city and local taxpayers to find the money. The same problem we have with Federal mandates about our sewage infrastructure and "homeland security" requirements. Oddly, there is no money for Baltimore's children, but we can spend hundreds of billions of dollars we don't have mortgaging their future on unjustified wars abroad and tax cuts for our wealthiest citizens.
I would also submit that, yes, the "war on terrorism" is a Senate concern, but that the war on drugs, right here in cities like Baltimore, Maryland, should be an even bigger concern. Far, far, far more of your constituents have died due to drugs and the war on drugs than those who've died at the hands of foreign terrorists. In the long run, the only way to solve the ongoing crisis in Baltimore and too many American cities is to educate and help it's citizens, beginning as children. Fighting our battles here at home should be our number one priority on all levels, federal, state and city.
In summation: The failure of Baltimore Schools and the occupation of vast areas of this city by drug terrorists should be of concern to the U.S. Senate. Support for this war has been too long neglected. Cities like Baltimore are not properly assisted by the Federal government to fight the war against terror: whether threats from abroad or the very real battles here at home. And because of this, our own children suffer. Everyone's concern. Especially should be the concern and highest priority of our elected representatives in Washington.
If you like, I can show you the real threat from Weapons of Mass Destruction. They're right here in my back yard."
Tuesday, March 2, 2pm: Five hundred and fifty is today's death toll of American soldiers. I guess we're lucky it wasn't many more when yesterday's attacks went off. Sun article here. Only Iraqis were killed. I don't think anyone is counting them. Too many of us are in denial about our own losses, whether overseas or in the war on drugs right next door.
The lovely weather and first of the month checks made traffic on the street busy last night. Everyone was out. As most should be. Unfortunately, so were many of the money and life sucking drug vultures always hovering nearby, waiting for their next victim.
What Foxtrot missed yesterday afternoon they made up for last night. Heard and saw their huge spotlight often. Lots of squealing tires and sirens. Police were busy. Activity was brisk several times on our streets late and into the early morning hours near bar closing time at two. Foxtrot's out, busy again this afternoon already. At the moment it sounds like it's over a bit west, near Druid Hill and Pennsylvania.
I had finally started to doze off about 2:30 or 3am, but was awakened by what I thought was yet another drunken loud conversation. Turned out to be one of the PGP Officers getting dropped off by a city police car. They were just good naturedly saying good night. Sound echoes around here whether it's kids playing or dealers chanting "testers, testers!" (That's free samples often given out around the first.)
The PGP Officer was likely getting back from a dinner break or maybe from Central Booking after making an arrest. At least his absence explained the extra activity on the street and to and from the 1715-1717 apartment building. When on patrol, whether I see them or not, they always have a sobering affect on street activity.
Whether for public urination or murder, an arrest takes the arresting officer off the street for at least an hour, sometimes three on busy nights. Readers here know how I feel about that system. I don't have a better suggestion, I just know taking effective officers off the street during their patrol shifts works great for the dealers and other bad guys. Especially when they know the officer on duty is away. I wish there was a better way. And again, just like with the Mayor's reliance on statistics, PGP arrest numbers alone are not progress. Deterrence is. The importance of the arrest must be weighed against what can and does happen while an officer's doing paperwork, whether at Central Booking or in his own office.
One big measure of progress against crime here is the most intangible: what does not happen.
Saw a firetruck out the window this morning. In front of 1704. I was afraid there was a fire or someone had broken in there. Since it's closure last summer, I've made myself its unofficial caretaker until something's done with that property. It's a lot less work now than when it was the block's crack and heroin 24/7 mini mart. Turned out to be a medical call for one of the many residents of 1700 where the tenants change almost as often as the steady stream of night and day visitors. Looks like a target for the Crack House Task Force to me.
Officer Brown is in his new digs in Bolton Hill. Moved in yesterday. He sounds very happy about it. His two minute walk to work commute is a huge plus. Going to visit him later. Thanks again to readers here who responded to my inquiry on his behalf for an affordable apartment nearby. I know he will be an excellent neighbor.
Update 3pm: The warm weather and the first of the month are making for bad news here. This morning I watched as a young man went to and from his car, as it was parked across from this house. The last time he changed his tshirt again before driving off for half an hour. A moment ago he came back with a friend. Another new shirt. Parked in front of the house, looked up and down the street many times and passed cash and something concealed in his hand quite tightly. Then he was hanging around with a neighbor from over here, talking to a girl in a window of 1715 and went inside there. I can also see the usual loitering dealers who'd been hanging a few blocks west back over here. The new ones from yesterday don't seem to be around. Perhaps they were afraid.
Pedestal Gardens property management is becoming a marginal neighbor, in more ways than one. A neighbor concerned with doing the least possible work they can get away with to maximize their profit margins.
No PGP to be seen all day till just now. It's not just me watching. When I see this activity outside, I know they're not here. Might well be working other parts of the Pedestal Gardens Community on direction from the site manager, but she wasn't here when the PGP were formed in part to bring 1715-1717 under control. Her approach is like running around putting out fires. What have I just written about proactive work, prevention and deterrence making all the difference?
Officer Tyler just called me when he met one of the good city officers on this shift in front of 1715. I had called 911. I explained what I was watching, described the suspected dealers and am making a flyer with the plate of this suspect's car. Sure enough, he was supervising things elsewhere on the property. His cell phone is back on. I'll be sure to ring him when I see things here.
Along with compromised deployment, complacency has set in, sometimes aggravated with defensiveness. I am going to be a lot more sparing in my praise for the PGP officers or PG property management. There are those of both staff who've taken my praise and support as license to let their efforts slip. That's sure obvious on those days the weather's been nice, like the past few.
In the case of the PGP, I think it's officers working too many hours on this and other jobs, burning out, along with having a new officer here who is not special police yet, unable to be as aggressive as necessary. Then there is the notion that any arrest is a good arrest and hours spent on paperwork is fine along with hours spent in court needlessly, but making overtime pay. This is not all the officers, to be sure. There are still the dependably good ones when they're on. They're all doing good work mostly, but any lacking in their efforts now is sure to set the stage for this season's dealing and make their work that much harder.
As for the property management itself: Readers know the battle lately with just keeping up with their dumpster. More importantly illustrated today is the fact the doors to the building I watch have been unclosable for many weeks. Since the HUD inspection, maintenance of the building has fallen flat on it's face. The door I watched the dealers go into earlier has been split open, hanging ajar for at least a month. Not a tough fix. The other doors seem to swing in the breeze, too. Leaving it open has always made their building a convenient stash house, with easy egress for the dealers. Seems like reliable, simple attention to the building is too much to ask of them. It isn't.
Monday, March 1: First of the month already. Don't know if checks are in hand, but it doesn't matter. Dealers sell on credit a day or two before checks come out. Probably take the customers to Lexaco or better yet their partner's check cashing/liquor shop to get even more out of the customer's check. New boys have been loitering on and off at the corner again today, dealing whenever a PGP or city officer is not around. Haven't noticed any Foxtrot patrols this afternoon. Conspicuously absent. I hope there hasn't been an accident or something more urgent than our drug markets to attend.
Pastor Jones, my good neighbor with the church/apartment house on the other side of the former crack house, 1702 Madison, stopped on his way through the alley today to remark how the "boys are back on the corner [loitering, selling]. Good weather." I was standing talking to one of the PGP officers on the steps of the substation. I had the feeling Pastor Jones was waiting for me to explain why. As if it was my responsibility. Or perhaps he was implying all our work has been for naught, that his long time live and let live arrangement with the dealers was the only way. I don't know. He might just have been letting us know what he'd seen. He's been a good neighbor.
To a much lesser extent, it reminded me of the owner's wife at the overpriced, stale, junk food mini market at the corner of Tiffany and Wilson, at our alley. The apartment above her store, rented to a relative of hers, was supposedly burgled a few times. The store owner saw me in the alley and asked why I would let this happen. "You got that substation, right?! What you doing about this!?" Of course, the store owner and the landlord there don't give a damn about anyone but themselves. What tenants do or what's done to others is not their concern. Though I usually ignore them now (except to complain continually to the city about their incessant dumping in the alley) I did reply to her at the time. "I got a burglar alarm, good locks, dogs and I wouldn't just rent to anyone with $200 cash in hand. Try that. The cops can't be everywhere and they can't make up for carelessness. We gotta help ourselves." The burglaries were almost certainly "inside jobs" or worse and it didn't help the doors and locks are flimsy.
I can't seem to understand this attitude, though it seems shared by several on the block, including the big church. Things are a lot better here because of good, proactive policing brought about by good leadership and to some extent by a few people getting involved, complaining, proposing, working with police and bureaucrats, supporting officers even down to things as small as providing them a toilet. No progress was made here with the live and let live attitude or "that's not my job" approach. That's responsible for 30+ years of drug decay on this block, as related to me by long time residents and officers who've done this beat here over the years.
Some people think I have the substation to assure this house's safety alone. My own "palace guard." It helps sometimes, I'm sure, though often the perpetrators can't read, are too high, too greedy or simply don't care enough to be deterred, as I've reported here many times. For the short time the officer is in the back of this house using the restroom or stirring up a pack of hot chocolate, he's not watching the street. It's when they drive or walk up and when they leave that helps us all around here. Several arrests have been made because of what officers saw on their way to and from this break room. Better to have them visit here than drive a mile out of their beat for a break. As all who read here know, that was the idea. And in return, we give them an efficient convenience right in the middle of the beat they work. Before the substation, especially because officers did not believe anyone on this block gave a damn, the only time we'd see them was when we called 911, if then. Patrols were few and far between. Proactive patrolling is much better now most of the time.
Proactive is the word. I like the mayor most of the time. I believe he tries. But I disagree with his bus bench slogan. We're not "The Greatest City in America." Check out this posting with other's points of view on this. My bus bench slogan would read, "Baltimore ... Fix it Yourself!"
No doubt the Governor and his fellow out of towners would approve of this slogan, taking it to mean something quite different. I mean you have to get involved yourself. And you have to keep at it. A never ending part of living here. Resign yourself. It's the price we pay for living in a city we has the potential to be "The Greatest City in America."
End pep talk. I have to convince myself sometimes. Believing it's all worth it takes constant effort, too.
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