Journal Entries for October, 2002
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Thursday, about 2AM, October 31st: Happy Halloween!
Very quiet in the market today. Too cold. Everyone's waiting for the first of the month. Big sales just after the first when the government checks come out. I'm sure this weekend will be no exception, particularly since word's gotten out that the market is open regardless of the weather, now that permanent arrangements seem to have been made for the use of 1704 as a crack mart.
Was happy to see this the other day. Just as school was closing. An officer and a crew of the Midtown people cleaning. One of the Midtown guys came to ask why I had taken a picture, at the urging of his paranoid boss. I assured him it was a good thing. I was pleased to see them back again. I've also noticed the "security patrol" in their van every once in a while again lately too. The border of their territory is our alley, Tiffany Lane. Until recently, they had quite understandably decided not to send their people over here. Unarmed, their efforts seem a bit futile. I know Mr. Weston, owner of 1704, appreciates them cleaning up for his tenants though.
I'm pleased to see Major Gutberlet is regularly putting an officer on this detail at school closing. I'm sure the officer thinks he's not needed, but watching the kids walk home without seeing the army of dealers is a wonderful improvement. As with all our uniformed officers, their presence alone stops the trade. Doesn't fix it. But slows it for at least the time they're here. That's something.
Was touched to find an officer in the substation warming his hands over the heater this evening. I offered to make him a new pot of coffee. He'd put a cup in the microwave. "I don't need a fresh pot, just some warm will be fine." He put a cap on the foam cup and took it with him on a call. We have some great men and women in the trenches in this city. Unassuming public servants. I don't know where they find the spirit to go to work each day. I see their nobility and am awed, but try not to let on. I hope those who've contributed to the substation are as gratified as I am to see them using it. Our small gesture does seem to be appreciated, by those we meant it for, if no one else.
Wednesday noon, October 30th: I've done it again. Waited too long between entries here. Emails and calls. "Are you alright? We were worried."
Things were pretty bad over the weekend. Saturday was at least as bad as Friday. Sunday was slow but steady. Monday the dealers must take off, like hair dressers. Last night was just a trickle of business.
Actually, I was reluctant to make an entry here because I was so down about things. It seems we are getting no where. The irony of watching the dealers set up shop right next door to the substation has been very disheartening. I suppose I should be flattered by the imitation. I can just hear the dealers inside their new substation. "That guy had a good idea. We needed a substation, too. Makes it so much easier to do business. We're warm, dry and the patrolmen can't touch us inside."
In my frustration, I spent some time Saturday finishing the installation of the heater for the substation. It works great. The substation is holding at 72 degrees. Now it's not only the nicest room in the house, it is by far the warmest.
It's compact and very efficient. Makes a lot of heat and is good for warming one's hands. Got it in just in time for this premature taste of winter. It's been a while since I've used this space to report progress on the substation, its original intention. Not a lot more to do on the station. There's still a lot more to do about the market, obviously.
Like the substation itself, putting in the heater gave me something to do. Anything to encourage the officers to come by and interrupt the market.
The Dawson sign is popping up all over town. It's been distributed at City Hall, in several companies. It's showing up in the windows of many concerned citizens around town. Other than mine, none in this block. The neighborhoods that most need the courage have the most fear and apathy. Both have the same effect.
I just hope it isn't the only worthwhile thing to come of their tragedy. Window signs are nice and they make us all feel like we're making a statement, but hollow statements are just that ... whether from politicians or neighbors. We must act. Not just posture and spew rhetoric and air our grief and outrage in public. We must try something new. What we're doing isn't working. It sure didn't help the Dawsons.
I hope the Dawson's funeral helped us deal with the grief, but I sure hope we don't bury it with them. This city should wear that grief, as a symbol of shame and challenge, until we change what created it.
On Sunday evening, while watching the dealing start up again, I sent another email to the Mayor:
It with profound sadness that I must report I am giving up on Baltimore.
Partly because of the hopefulness you inspired, I thought it would be possible to reclaim a lost house in a lost block as part of a changing tide and attitude. I was wrong.
I could go on, but why? I don't have anymore to give. No one who can make a difference has really been listening anyway.
This was written with only a few hours of sleep over the previous days. For some reason, I haven't given up yet, but it's a day by day proposition, again and still. I've had some conversations in the past two days that give me a shred of hope. I can't share them now since we know that the dealers enjoy it when I slip up and report things to them as well as you. It doesn't take a lot to encourage me, as anyone who's seen the house can attest, but being ignored or just hearing empty promises is as corrosive as the chorus of dealers each night.
Vaughn is staying in a nice warm, secure apartment up the street now, at my urging, but continuing to work with me here. The dogs and I continue on. I'd like to think he'll be coming back. I'd like to think I won't be moving soon. We'll see.
Friday midnight, October 25: "GREENS, GREENS, GREENS, GREENS, GREENS OUT!" All night long. Even in the pouring rain. The dealers are doing a bang up business out of 1704 Madison Avenue. Customers are driving up, pausing in front and out come the dealers. At one point there was a line of one car being served and two waiting. They should install a drive up window.
I think Mr. Douglas' cameras have driven them off his corner and back this way. The SPS guards have discouraged them from using the entryway of 1717-1715 Madison and since they're so well set up in the ground floor front apartment of 1704, why not carry on business there? No one seems to mind.
Spoke to the new drug squad sergeant today. She seemed interested in the problems here and said they'd had some luck nearby. When I called just a few minutes ago, she said they were all too busy with some paperwork on a single bust to attend to the market. I had offered her a great surveillance post, as I have offered many, many times over the past year. No one in the police department seems to think it worth the time, except the officers on the beat.
Jimmy, one of the SPS guys, was getting a cup of coffee in the substation about 9 when he heard a commotion, lots of yelling and hawking, going on just across the yard. He and Vince walked around through the alley to 1704 where Jimmy reports the dealers there made veiled threats about what happens to those who call the police.
Some of the beat officers are doing their best, as I've always appreciated. Unfortunately, all they can do is drive the business off the streets for as long as they are present. The dealers are now simply stepping into the entry way or the apartment, waiting for them to leave. The problems would be obvious to any truly plainsclothes officer who used our vantage point or his own. Showing up in full ranking officer regalia in a white Crown Victoria is hardly going to give you a real view of the problem.
Yelled at Mr. Weston today from my window on the second floor. Asked him why he thought it OK to put a trash bag full of debris next to his stoop on his way out. He looked around, from his car door, unsure where the voice was coming from. "Oh, I'm putting that in my car to take away." Fat chance! He left it and the kitchen food trash his tenants put out front on the sidewalk next to their stoop right where it lay. He said "I appreciate what you been doing." I didn't notice a hint of sarcasm. I replied "I'd just like you to be a responsible man and stop ruining the block." He nodded with a patronizing smile, knowing he's going to continue to get away with it as he has for years. Who does he know among his fellow city employees?
He told Vaughn his is not the worst slum in town. Maybe not, but it is bad in every conceivable way. He has violated a consent decree ... yet again. His tenants live in squalor. By night, his building is the McDonalds of crack. He visits his building to collect rent and pretend to work on it during business days when I would think he'd be at his desk or working at his job as a sanitation department supervisor with the city. He owes nearly $11,000 in back taxes and fines to the city. Who does he know?
For an earlier report of this, click here.
His attitude is a classic example of what's wrong with the city. And so is his building.
And no one with the city does anything. Not the police. Not the courts. Not the city. It's no one's department. "It's out of our hands." They all go through the paces. Yet nothing happens. Nothing.
And the block remains an unsafe drug haven where at least 50 kids live, across the street from a school, with one of the largest and wealthiest AME churches on both corners, across the block from Bolton Hill
"Greens, greens, greens!" May I take your order, please?
Thursday night, October 24: Councilman Bernard Young of the 2nd District dropped by this evening to pick up copies of "The Dawsons Live Here" sign. He thanked us for them and explained that the murders were especially tragic for him because he knew both the victims and the alleged murderer, who lived in his district.
I showed him through the house and the substation and then we went to visit Mr. Douglas at his home around the corner above the funeral home. We talked briefly about the atmosphere here being very much like what led to the Dawsons death. We watched Mr. Douglas' excellent surveillance system. He's creating his own home version of The Wire. Only his version is unlikely to sport an entertaining cameo appearance by Commissioner Norris.
We watched as a young boy who sells all day walked past. Mr. Douglas and I immediately recognized him and the color of crack vial he sells. I think the Councilman was shocked. Mrs. Douglas asked why such a young man isn't in school during the day instead of slinging.
The Councilman is attending a news conference tomorrow with the Mayor and council members. Maybe they can all put their heads together and figure out a way we can finally get the policing we desperately need now ... and work on ways to effectively punish repeat offenders and protect the children here and all around Baltimore from the fate of the Dawsons.
Now that the sniper appears to have been caught, I'm praying we can turn our attention to this open attack on all Baltimoreans. The sniper's horrible spree appears to have been random, maniacal, insane. The Dawson murders were a terrorist act. And the terrorists are well organized drug merchants who rule parts of Baltimore with impunity.
Vaughn asked if I thought the Dawson murders are viewed by some as just another random "black on black" drug related crime of Inner City Baltimore. "They chose their fate. They lived in Baltimore. What did they expect?" How else can you explain the overriding, unrelenting and incredibly repetitive coverage of the sniper? A field day for the press. Great fodder for the public's prurient appetite. "We know why and who killed the Dawsons. No mystery there. And we gave up on Baltimore long ago. This attack was in the suburbs!"
Used with permission of the copyright holder. Visit http://www.cartoonista.com for other works by this artist.
Major Gutberlet visited the substation a few nights ago. He talked with us and a few of the SPs about the drug market here, the problems with 1704 and 1700 Madison, the open dealing on Wilson and around to McCulloh. He seemed to appreciate the station and accepted a key and our open invitation for him to use it when he's up here, too.
I was pleased to report to him the substation is being used by several officers just exactly as intended. I've noticed hot chocolate and coffee are going fast in this chilly, wet weather. I'm working on getting better heat in there, but am a bit behind schedule thanks to time and budget, the usual foils to our best laid plans.
Wednesday, October 23:
I mentioned our pilgrimage to the Dawson home previously and the sorrow and outrage their loss has stirred in all concerned Baltimoreans. This was the scene on Sunday when we visited. The day before the rally.
The Mayor emailed back about the window sign, calling it a profound tribute and adding ...
"If there is one out of many messages I wish to convey regarding the tragedy our city has suffered, it is that I am going to do everything in my power to make sure that the sacrifice those children made was not in vain. And I pray that justice will be served."
He was at the rally where many of the window signs were distributed. We've noticed them going up in windows across the city, not just in troubled neighborhoods like the Dawsons or this one, but in affluent parts of the city where one too easily imagines the residents don't care.
We need to come together as a city now and set aside the divisiveness that so often keeps us from making progress. Right now, we must not be rich or poor, black or white, West Siders, Bolton Hillers, Hamdenites, etc. We are all citizens together who choose to remain to fight.
We must not let this sorrow and outrage turn to the disillusionment and apathy and fear that is an even larger threat to us all than the drugs that rule our streets.
Copies of this window sign can be had by printing one out from the Adobe Acrobat file you can download by clicking here. Or, you may email me for a copy which we can mail to you or you can pick up. These signs serve as memoriam and statement. A statement of who's side you stand with. We must tell them we stand with the Dawsons, not because we hate but because we care.
Monday morning, October 21: I visited the Dawson home yesterday, what's left of it.
It's boarded up. There's a big police van with towering lights across the street. A circus style tent is next to it, filled with teddy bears. Two gentlemen were sitting there, keeping vigil, watching over the bottles filling with dollars. I don't know where those dollars are going, but I was glad to add a few. It was something I could do. Way too little, way too late.
All of us want their loss to mean something other than that a city failed. We want to do something. I needed to go to their house just to stop crying in my own. I know many feel the same.
Today, we're putting the following sign up in our window ...
We're going to distribute these at the rally this afternoon. Hopefully, many of our neighbors across the city will put them in their windows too. A sign to act as memoriam and as notice to those who killed the Dawsons: We're not afraid to take a stand. We will take back our city. Now.
They do live on in our houses as well as our hearts. We're hoping they will live on in our actions, too. Everything from calling the police when we see dealing to organizing neighbors to take concerted action. Every action we take now to show these people we're through with the madness will help make the senseless death of that mom and her children mean something. The dealers intended it to mean they rule our streets. We can turn this around and make it mean something entirely different.
Anyone who wants a printed copy of this sign, please email me. Or, print one out by downloading and resizing the GIF or the Adobe Acrobat file you can download here.
Friday evening, October 18: Though I've been asked by many readers, I cannot express my feelings about the recent firebombing of the Dawson family. Yet. I cannot begin to convey my sorrow at their loss, especially that of the children.
There is no way I would ever have waged the battle we have here if I had children, but I had the option. I understand that to have children here would make me more determined yet to change things as apparently it did Mrs. Dawson. This is no place for children, yet we have so very many here who have no choice. And many of their parents don't either.
Kids like Denzel who love Vaughn's dog Boo and say things like "someday, me and mom's gonna have a house and a dog like Boo." He loves walking the dog. It brings a smile to his face so wide and bright. He has simple wants. The same as every child.
Instead, kids like him die a little more every day, not usually by the bullet that makes the news and Citistat statistics, but by lack of parenting, lack of a decent education and by constant exposure to older children who prove to them their only option is to sell crack for vicious, sociopathic dealers who cruise in to supply the slingers and terrorize their parents every day.
Maybe I can write about it, after all.
Maybe that's because one of the older children I refer to thought it would be fun to see what rise he could get from me by saying "gonna fry yo white ass just like that bitch" while he and his buddies walked by this afternoon. I was out in the yard picking up after the dogs. I had no idea how much shit I was going to pick up on this bright fall day.
This boy is just that. Thinks he was being big, impressing his friends. To him this is all a game, like Nintendo or basketball. I simply looked up at him and his friends who didn't dare turn their heads so I could tell which had actually made the threat. I was actually surprised, but I'm too shell shocked to be frightened.
We are taking extra precautions and have set additional defense mechanisms in place, please be assured. Obviously, I can't explain them here.
But arming ourselves and living in a fortress is not the answer. I hope that the loss of the Dawsons can be a turning point for the city. Not just an opportunity for more argument as has already begun. Not just hope, but real leadership.
The city is out of control. This is widely known. It is in far too many places "unsafe for occupancy." Perhaps we need to finally hang the condemned sign, push every one out and bulldoze? God knows it seems many are condemned to live in an unlivable city.
Or can we force our leaders to get serious ... finally?
Get serious like accepting whatever help is offered. What we have in place isn't working. That's one thing we all agree on. I would welcome a National Guardsman on this corner more than I do at the airport. There is a more real, daily threat to us here than on any airplane.
And I would more respect leaders who realize the situation is more important than territories and egos, it is time to accept help. It takes a big man or woman to know when to accept help.
And one final thought right now: Why not accept the help of the citizen on the block? Why ignore the information we have to give? Why shuffle officers around so they never get to know their beats, the good from the bad? Why openly tell community associations we believe our officers are lazy, not to be trusted with something so simple as a convenient toilet/break room? Why not let those of us who care about the city be part of the solution? Why let the Dawsons, and Denzel's dreams, die?
While writing this, Entertainment Tonight has come on. That's where many of us have parked our brains for the evening. In a world that doesn't exist. For some reason, tonight, I really don't care who's doing another movie, breaking up with their actor boyfriend or their opinions of award show gowns.
It's going to be hard to enjoy a movie tonight. Here in Baltimore, it's often too hard to escape real life.
Rather than good night tonight, let me bid you "greens, greens, greens!" That's the Friday night refrain here. The mantra of the Baltimore I know.
Thursday, 2:30PM, October 17:
School's out ...
This was the scene just as school was letting out today. I watched the boys divide up this afternoon's sales quota. Very common. The slingers (street level dealers) get together to prey on the parents who come to school ostensibly just to pick up their kids. Junior in one hand while they buy their crack with the other.
I called Major Gutberlet directly as I watched this and to my pleasant surprise he took the call immediately. With me on the phone he got on the radio to ask for some patrol around the school at school closing time. Something we've asked for repeatedly, but apparently we were talking to the wrong leaders. Let's hope it can be a regular priority now.
His call to some of the overtime officers had an almost immediate affect. We know the dealers have kids on bikes as lookouts, but I'm pretty sure they have scanners. Too often they clear out only minutes before squad cars appear, as they did today. Still, if they're not on the street, they can't deal as easily and cutting down on the volume of dealing during one of the peak sales hours of the day is accomplishment in itself.
The Major advised me that the Central District has slightly different shift change hours to avoid officer's being tied up in traffic at rush hour downtown. As reader's here well know, the Major is extremely concerned about the officers wasting time. Unfortunately, this shift change coincides with the closing of the school day for many schools. Apparently the schools involved are not willing to change their hours to be more cooperative.
I'm also wondering about something called the school police. Where are they? And why are they managed by a school superintendent, not a law enforcement professional? This school needs protection. At closing, like today and every day, the kids and parents are offered crack by a large and enthusiastic sales staff. And after dark the playground is a dark, scary place where dealers hang out. It should be a well lit playground for the kids now forced to play in the street and vacant lot amidst the dealers, often until late at night.
Wednesday morning, October 16: One of our SPs got a bit of a surprise when he asked his dispatch for a BPD officer the other day. Between his company dispatcher and the 911 operator, an alert was sent out that an officer was down. All he had wanted was one officer to reassure a belligerent man he had authority to question people at the building he's charged with protecting. Instead, he got at least eleven cars I could see from my vantage point at the southwest end of the building.
It looked very serious for a moment and I was worried someone must have gotten hurt. After a couple minutes, the squad cars quickly dispersed so I assumed it was a false alarm. I'm sure someone was embarrassed, but reassured that the police take the safety of the SPs as seriously as they do their own. I'm sure his wife was pleased to hear it. Certainly these guys deserve the cooperation and protection of the beat officers. They do almost the same job, just in their specific area.
The SPs are working harder at containing some undesirable tenants at 1717. There have been loud parties I've noticed serve as fronts for dealing. There's more driving up for a moment and dashing in through jammed open doors up there now, too. A quick in and out to buy crack. Let's hope the SPs and management will figure out how to put an end to that soon.
Yet again last night we were awakened by pounding on the door. It was 3:30AM. Rain beating down. Vaughn asked who it was from the third floor. "I want the lady ... the lady on the first floor here!" He replied there was no one on the first floor and had to repeat it with her. She didn't want to believe him it seemed.
I got downstairs and out in front in time to watch her wander over next door, to 1704 Madison, where I noticed the outer doors were ajar, as usual. Same way they usually are at 1717-1715 across the street. I'm pretty sure she found what she was looking for in the dealer's substation there.
The slingers weren't hanging out on the street last night after the rain began. They were simply lounging in their substation/shop. No doubt the plan is to run business out of there as winter weather makes street hawking less comfortable. Why not? This street and that house are known far and wide as the place to get the crack you want. The landlord doesn't care. The tenant is a customer. And apparently those who can do something about it aren't willing or serious or don't listen to squawking neighbors, beat officers or the SPs. They obviously don't read this website, unlike the dealers who are among my avid readers of the unofficial print edition.
Sunday morning, October 13: Late last night we watched as SPs Shaun and Jimmy spoke to several police officers whose squad cars were in front of 1717 Madison. Vaughn went over to say hi and find out what had happened. He came back with very little, but I'd guess the SPs had cracked down on the dealer(s) operating out of that doorway in the building they're charged with protecting. Perhaps they'll let me know. Kudos to you both.
While the SPs and management of the Pedestal Gardens building try to keep the dealers out, we're pursuing 1704 and its dealer's substation with gusto. I'm sure they'll appreciate our help there. It creates a lot of problems for this block which very much affect their building, too. Much of what we've put into motion should be happening soon. I'll be happy to report what's being done and what progress is made when I can.
Saturday evening, October 12: Tonight, I watched as a TV was set up in the stoop of 1704 Madison Avenue. Some people say that a substation for the police should not be luxurious, with a decent bathroom, etc. That'll waste time, etc. I wonder why they think such luxuries should be reserved for criminals. Tonight they're not using the excuse that the tiny apartments are hot, without ventilation. Tonight, the football game must be watched on the stoop, even though it's rainy and cool. Obviously they need some excuse to explain their status on the street, other than the truth: watching out for the cops and covering for dealers.
I was advised that a man I'd love to name, who drives a white Cadillac Escalade, has federal warrants on him that are creating much attention from federal agents and private bounty hunters. He's been a fixture around this neighborhood for years. I have seen him deal with mid level dealers on this block constantly. Usually involving screaming at them and roughing them up. Apparently that's the smallest of his transgressions. I wonder why the feds aren't concerned about an open air market that has been going here for years. Years. What does that say about the ability or motives of local law enforcement?
And when I say that, I want to make it clear I am not talking about beat officers trying to do their jobs. Sometimes they're new. They've been recently recruited or from other beats so they never know who they're dealing with. They're confused. They get information from locals like us and pass it on, only to have it ignored. Sometimes they're encouraged not to upset the apple cart. Others are doing their thing. "Don't worry. We're doing something covert." That's what's been happening here for years. How else could you explain what's been happening on this block? I'd be curious to know, and I know others would like an answer, too.
Others being homeowners like Mr. Douglas from around the corner at McCulloh and Wilson. He's been noticing an increase all of a sudden in the dealing. Surprise, surprise. We're playing ping pong. We call in the reports of 1717-1715 and 1704 and he calls in reports of the dealing in front of his home and business at McCulloh and Wilson just around the corner. Well, now he has a very good surveillance camera system I wish I could afford. I want to send them back his way, so he can send them further yet.
Still, I wonder why such a blatant market continues even when we offer surveillance posts, information and every other thing we can think of, including something so modest as a decent bath room.
Saturday afternoon, October 12, early afternoon: This letter to the editor was on Sunspot.net yesterday. I think it sums up my objection to the "ultimate solution" being proposed for solving the problems at the Section 8 building across the street at 1717-1715 Madison Avenue. That is, knocking it down and giving the property to the developers of Spicer's Run for more new townhomes with the "moderate price" of $150,000. Some people's opinion of poor is not being able to afford a $150,000 mortgage. How about not being able to afford diapers?
"Letters to the Editor
Originally published October 11, 2002
Displacing poor leaves have-nots further behind
At least a few public officials involved in the fabled redevelopment of the city's west side no longer mince words about the true intent of this brand of urban renewal.
Sun writer Scott Calvert records their hope for "a safe, clean area where middle-class residents live in hundreds of renovated apartments, eat at new restaurants, stroll down the street ... and take in shows." This, of course, will replace an area that "still bustles" with an existing network of retail establishments catering to "a mostly poor clientele" ("Celebrating work in progress," Oct. 2).
Translation: The poor are unwanted here. Nor, it seems, are they wanted anywhere else.
Some proponents of west-side initiatives tout the myth that attracting the middle- and upper-classes back to the core of Baltimore is the only way to improve the lot of the most vulnerable that a rising tide, in fact, lifts all boats.
This myth is clearly debunked by national income disparity data documenting the ever-widening rift between the rich and poor, even during prosperous times.
The myth is further refuted by local policies that ensure massive reductions in the city's affordable housing supply in targeted "redevelopment" areas with no evidence that lost units are replaced elsewhere in the city.
Until public policies lift all boats -- by ensuring adequate housing health care and incomes for poor Baltimoreans -- urban renewal projects such as those on the west side will result in a larger pool for the haves, but leave the have-nots firmly stuck in the mud.
The writer is chief external affairs officer for Health Care for the Homeless."
(end of letter)
It makes no sense to me to shove our neighbors across the street, almost all single moms with small kids, elsewhere. Many of them will be homeless. Especially when all this building needs is better supervision and other steps to protect its residents from the dealers. The dealers use the building's common spaces and occasionally apartments, terrorizing the residents and forcing cooperation in their trade.
I had a nice chat with Mr. Lindamood. He is interested in this current example of how people find themselves clients of his organization, dedicated to providing health care to the homeless. They don't need any more clients.
"Not in my neighborhood" is a fine philosophy for drug dealers. I practice it daily, but that's not the solution when it comes to people who are poor. Being poor is not a crime, though the loud few property owner's on 1700 Eutaw don't see it that way.
Throwing kids and moms out on the street to improve your property's value is a crime, even if it is not illegal.
Friday, October 11, early afternoon: There've been some interesting postings on that thread I mentioned yesterday on Sunspot about the substation.
The one I like most points out that dealers have vacant buildings in the neighborhood to relieve themselves in. Why shouldn't the cops have a decent place, it asks. Actually, the dealers here have had their own substation for a long time. The dealers use an apartment next door at 1704 Madison Avenue for a restroom, office and hiding place for themselves and their inventory. It might as well have a flashing neon sign. During peak sales hours, like right after school and after the bars close at 2, dealers walk in and out, stocking up, stashing cash, etc. They holler "blues, blues, blues" from the stoop, hawking their little blue capped vials. Late at night, their wholesalers drive up, leave their cars running with a lookout, go in and settle up with their slingers.
The dealer's substation is provided by a crack addict as interested in helping her suppliers as we are in helping the police.
I cannot believe the building's owner isn't aware of this, but he does not give a damn about this neighborhood, his tenants or the city. He's made that abundantly clear.
Thursday, October 10, early afternoon: There's a thread going at Sunspot.net about the substation, whether it's good or bad. A surprisingly heated debate. Who would have guessed a bathroom for cops could create controversy?
I posted the following reply:
"I'm one of the guys who put together the substation and make it available a absolutely no expense to the city.
To call it a substation is wrong. This is a bathroom. You can't use the bathroom in your car. You can't microzap a burrito in your car. You can do both here and then go about your work, patrolling your beat. In the area we're talking, there are no bathrooms or places to get a coffee or something to eat at 3AM. The officers have had to drive way out, off their beats for that Now they don't have to waste that time.
And every time they come here to use the toilet, they interrupt the dealing in "the worst open air drug market in central" district, according to a drug squad sergeant I know. Two birds with one stone.
Again, at no cost to the taxpayer.
Private Police? No. Lazy officers? No. Do they have a decent place to use a clean bathroom on their beat or have something to eat or warm up? Yes. Thanks to grateful citizens who respect the officers and simply wanted to make their work a tiny bit easier and more efficient.
That's all it is. No more and no less. There are plenty of things worth arguing about here in Baltimore. This is not one of them.
Wednesday, October 9, 11AM: Homesteading in hostile territory is not for the manic depressive nor the perfectionist. I've had to curb those tendencies. Anger, fear, frustration, despair have often overtaken me. I cannot count the number of times I've said "this is stupid, no one should live here. I can't take it anymore. Maybe they were right. Abandon Baltimore like the sinking ship it is."
Then there are days when good things happen. Those moments of hope, of seeing a step forward. The substation opening, especially the kids part in it, was one such extraordinary day. This morning Major Gutberlet gave us one as well.
He called and asked for Bryan Taylor. "This is Carl Gutberlet, sir." I almost didn't believe him for a moment.
For a good twenty minutes we discussed the neighborhood and especially the substation. His concern was very clear: Officers abusing the substation and not doing their work. He has been assigned extra money from a strained budget and has officers working overtime, costing us all "$35 an hour" from a budget we all know is stretched tight. This extra money this quarter is being spent in the area above Lafayette, east of Pennsylvannia, on Eutaw and up to North. This is the very area where dealing and prostitution are centered and spreading out to neighboring Bolton Hill, North Eutaw, Reservoir and into Center City.
I have never disagreed with making the most of the officer's time. Never. That has been the primary purpose behind the substation: Convenience. Don't drive a mile or more out of your beat when you simply need a bathroom break. In the area we're talking, there are very few businesses, and none open after two when the good citizens are sleeping and most need our officers here, not looking for toilet. We want them to take a restroom break, eat their lunch or grab some coffee right on their very beat or next to it. Saving time, not wasting it.
Kindly, he also expressed concern for us, that we would become targets for retaliation. I assured him both Vaughn and I have been targets for a long time. We resolved some time back to make it very clear whose side we were on and that we would never hesitate to call on the police and act on our own when necessary to protect ourselves and our neighborhood. I strongly believe that because we made this clear, more of our neighbors have felt safer to do the same.
The net result of our conversation: Major Gutberlet officially sanctions the use of the break/restroom by our officers.
His sanction is tentative at this point, subject to his determination whether it makes the officers more or less efficient. I feel almost sworn now to report any abuse of the room by our officers. I assured him I am very aware of what goes on here, even in the middle of the night. I had no problem at all pledging to email him immediately should we notice any abuse. Mostly because I have confidence it will not. "You're the optimist, aren't you?" Perhaps I am, even after all that's happened here. But I've seen our officers at work on a daily basis. I know better than to think they'll abuse this small convenience so many have worked to provide them.
On a side note: Do not send snail mail to city hall or the police. I'm sad to report the Major still has not received the letter we sent him three weeks ago via certified mail from the post office across the street from his address. Any guesses why? Every piece of mail is now being diverted for screening due to the anthrax scare. The terrorists have successfully created a scared new world. Being a hothead, I was ready to believe we were being ignored by Major Gutberlet. I was angry and disappointed. This morning he and Sergeant Hess were reading a terse email full anger, frustration and disappointment. Vaughn had sent it yesterday. Of course I share the sentiments in that email, but I had given up on trying to get through to the BPD brass and was resigned to pinning our hopes on our efforts alone and hoping for the help of Baltimore's Finest when they could.
Sometimes when you've given up, a little bit of progress shines through the muck and beckons you to try one more day. That's as true of crumbling houses as it is of lost neighborhoods and lives.
Wednesday, October 9, very early: One thing I've noticed in my tenure here on Madison Avenue is the difference certain officer's styles make. Some are proactive and assertive. Others seem to embrace the philosophy of management, as I've come to understand it: Don't do anything that might cause complaint, even if that complaint is from the very people who create the problems.
There are officers on our beat who are much more concerned about being policemen than about worrying about those who would second guess them, be they supervisors or citizens. There is of course a middle ground between police brutality and neutral onlooker. It must be hard for the officer on our beat who wants to help but wonders what his supers will think, especially when some citizens will complain.
You can't do anything without creating enemies. I've had that lesson several times of late. If our beat officers make certain people loitering on corners, selling drugs or themselves, or those who must side with them, complain, so be it. That's true of our brave officers. I'm only sorry that a good officer's bravery must be shown more often with his supervisor or a complaining citizen than from a criminal. The nagging and second guessing by brass and citizens alike must take a much larger toll on our good officers than the occasional, perhaps more honest, direct assault of the wrong doer.
It's quiet outside tonight. I know it's at least in part because there are officers out there being brave in more ways than one.
Monday, October 7, late: A long evening with a few ups, but mostly downs.
On the upside, I met Rachel and Edward Carroll, who invited me to attend the Madison Park Association meeting at the Payne Church on the corner, three doors north of us.
We and Mr. Douglas of the Funeral Home around the corner on Wilson were invited to join the association by it's new president. We were pleased about that.
On the downside, Officer Wilkes (filling in for Major Gutberlet who was expected) told us that BPD officers on our beat will not be using the substation as it was intended. She said she, Sergeant Wilkes and the Major all agree that a substation will be abused by lazy officers. And that they will have complaints of officers spending too much time in the substation because we made it too comfortable.
Instead of how it was intended, she said that the community relations office may, at some future date, use it for an hour or so each week as a place to hear community complaints, etc.
We're very, very disappointed and feel misled.
I asked Officer Wilkes why the few bad apples on our beat would not use their cars, donut shops, friend's homes or other places to avoid work as well. "They do," she replied.
I asked how she and the major could have so little respect for their colleagues. No answer. After that I was cut off and not recognized again.
On the sidewalk after the meeting she said the supervisors have the keys I gave Sergeant Hess when the substation opened. "Officers can use the substation, Bryan. Their supervisor will let them in." That idea defeats the whole purpose of giving them a convenient, decent place to take a break when they're in the neighborhood.
Other news: The owner of the long established funeral home at the corner of Wilson and McCulloh, Mr. Douglas, has noticed a lot more dealing in front of his house. He's put in a lot of new lighting and a great camera surveillance system with four color cameras. We agreed he's seeing more dealing because we've pushed them around the corner. We are the only two homeowners between us, with several buildings and apartments between, more than one of which contributes to the problems. We walked back through the block after the meeting with a running commentary on the problem buildings, sharing our observations.
While Vaughn and I were discussing the meeting in the yard, we broke up a domestic fight on the sidewalk in front of 1706. Tenants of 1700. He was pummeling her. When I ran up he told her "you just wait until I get you inside." I ran around up front while Vaughn called 911. I don't tolerate beating women. The officers showed up just in time to trail the participants up the stairs to their apartment. According to the officer I overheard speaking to a neighbor on his way back out moments later, the woman said she didn't call the police and they should go away. They did. We called 911 again to ask for a supervisor. When he arrived, he said the same thing. I thought there were laws protecting abused women from their own fear, especially when there are other willing witnesses. Apparently not in Baltimore.
The supervisor also went on to say that we shouldn't take matters into our own hands about dealing on our block. "It's the courts, the state's attorney, the rules... that tie our hands." Pretty much what officer Wilkes said. We were livid about a black SUV that was refueling his dealers in 1704 for yet the hundredth time. We called 911 repeatedly, as Vaughn heard the Major advise citizens to do. No one responded to that. The supervisor was covering both issues. Rampant crack dealing and an obvious crack house are not important enough. If it isn't murder or nuisance crimes, it doesn't seem to get their attention.
Interesting that at the meeting tonight, a former Major of the BPD, with 30 years experience, said "I'm not that concerned about the police." I'm doing it myself and calling the police to clean up afterward. He spoke of beating, but I think he meant threatening, a man on the stoop of his house at 3AM with a stick, not calling the police first. Yet again, it boils down to neighbors doing a lot of their own policing. I think everyone around here agrees with that, for sure.
I hope certain leaders can change their minds about the substation and see its value. Unlike their management, I know our officers can be trusted. Sure, there are a few bad apples in every organization, but there is no break/restroom they have that is better supervised than the one in this house. I know several of our officers. They're trying to be policemen. They're doing their jobs. Apparently they don't have the confidence or respect of some of their leaders. Or so it seems to me tonight.
Monday, October 7, 5PM: The dealing began about 9 this morning. Watched as a young man visited in and out of 1715 Madison, using a doorstop to let himeself in. He was filling orders placed down at the corner of Madison and hiding his stash in the building. Commonplace. Used to be from about 3 in the afternoon until business slowed about 3AM. Now it begins about 9 and becomes much more furtive in the afternoon when the SPs are on patrol. They play cat and mouse all evening.
All this continues within a stone's throw of this sign on the side of Eutaw Marshburn Elementary School, facing Wilson Street. Wishful thinking? Reminds me of "Baltimore, The Greatest City in America." Saying it sure doesn't make it so. The kids here are paying a big price for the petty bickering and selfish agendas so many of us adults pursue here.
Went out to fix my temporary front fencing this afternoon. It had been knocked loose. Was picking up some litter and found a slightly torn purple football jersey. Tossed it in for the dogs to play with just as a dealer sauntered past. "That's someone's shirt!" he said. "What are you doing?" "Putting them on the scent," I replied. He didn't understand my joke, but, thinking me slightly deranged, continued on down the street.
A couple days ago I found a handful of full crack vials in the front of the yard, as I often do. This time, one of the boys reported as dealing the other day had been wearing this jersey. Just before the squad car pulled up, he tossed what he had on him in the yard and took off the conspicuous shirt. Uniform dictates multiple shirts, when the weather's cool enough, for just that purpose.
People ask why I didn't finish The Corner and don't watch The Wire, NYPD Blue or Cops on TV. They're too often reruns ... here.
Sunday, October 6, Noon: Yet again the hook and ladder roared up to 1704 Madison just before the paramedics. Talk of someone having a seizure. Might have nothing to do with drugs this time. It's possible. Though of all the many, many times I've seen paramedics at that door, most have been for overdoses or related emergencies.
A couple days ago, one of our neighbors who lives there flagged down Vaughn from her bike. "You gotta get me a bucket. There's water coming down through the light fixture in my apartment." We suggested she call Clarence Weston, the building's owner. "There's no answer!" What a surprise. I did see him yesterday. Maybe it was to fix the leak. Obviously, we couldn't help. I doubt the slumlord there would want either of us to see any more of his apartments than we have.
There are 6 apartments in 1704. 24 in the Section 8 building at 1717-1715. Yet 1704 causes nearly half the problems on our block, or so it appears from my vantage point. Not the good tenants there, mind you. Just the few bad ones. Even the two landlords across on Eutaw, who had their buildings heavily damaged by the Roman Candles launched all over the neighborhood last July 4, would agree that landlords cannot be held responsible for their tenant's criminal actions. But landlords must care about who lives in their buildings and help secure them from the criminals who pray on their tenants. Pedestal Gardens, 1717-1715, is trying. They are working on improving security there in the long run and have greatly stepped up the security patrols, the SPs, in the short run. The landlord at 1704 is not trying at all, in my opinion.
Saturday, October 5, 11PM: Finally quieting down out there. The dealing's been sporadic. A black Dodge Durango has been in and out of 1704 again, quite suspiciously, when some of our street dealers are there. The SPs have been in and out of the substation a few times.
Most of the noise tonight has been kids playing. "Too many kids out late and no one watching them," an SP said to me as I was out in the yard with the dogs. Dozens of children live in the Section 8 housing at 1717-1715. A half dozen live in three small apartments at 1704. Some are well supervised, you never see them out late. But tonight, as usual, we had at least two dozen running around completely without supervision around the stairs to the back of Nimrod Center, deserted as always, and all over the street and alley. Considering how often we hear squealing tires as customers and dealers run off, it's amazing more kids aren't hurt. They're mostly in now. Just a few teenagers and 20 somethings, a few on bikes, looking around, huddling, trying to do their business discreetly.
One of the security ideas soon to be presented to 1717's owners includes a suprisingly affordable card access system that would keep a log of who entered the gated area at what time. Perhaps this could be used to follow up on children who should be in their homes long before now, if left unsupervised at all. These kids are often precocious from necessity, but 2 to 10 years olds should never be on their own, especially here. Sometimes the moms are at work. Sometimes they're not at such respectable pursuits. The PAL program seems very limited in its hours. I haven't seen their trucks on the school grounds so much this year either.
The cooler weather tonight is a reminder that the long hot summer is drawing to an end soon. Our dealers have all switched to their long pants uniforms now. As the weather cools, more of the dealing is drawn indoors. I remember hearing the mayor was hoping for a serious cold snap late one December so that the murder rate tally would stay under his target. I suppose I should hope for a rainy, cool fall to dampen the dealing.
Friday, October 4, 11AM: A couple nights ago, I was up late, as I often am. It was about 3AM. Outside the window I saw three squad cars in front of 1704. Not an unusual sight. I went out to see what was going on. One of our most vigilant officers had arrested a dealer and had him in cuffs. Not surprisingly, he was also wanted on warrants out of New Jersey. Perhaps New Jersey won't turn him back out on the streets so quick as we seem to.
I told the neighbors sitting there on the stoop I hadn't called this time. The officer had done this on his own. One was the suspect's girl friend who lives in the building, the other was a young man I don't know who apparently lives there too. We chatted amicably enough about dealing drugs as a viable career choice. You might imagine my opinion. As we were talking, a dark blue sedan pulled up. "That's my boss," the guy said. I thought perhaps I was not where I should be at that particular moment.
The "boss" was a grouchy looking fellow who chose to ignore me completely, looking through me. I sat with the girl friend while the two of them adjourned a bit down the block to do business. Settling for the night, no doubt. And hearing what happened to the guy taken away.
"It's getting tough to do business around here" I wanted to hear him say.
Wednesday, October 2, 11AM: Just when you think you're making progress the infestation resurges. Last night was bad. Several times there were groups of as many as 15 guys hanging out on the stoop of 1704 and directly across the street in front of the often deserted Nimrod Community Center. Dealing like crazy. The SPs chased them away when they came by, but I suspect last night they were called away by more pressing issues at other properties. There are only so many of their officers to go around too.
Same thing with the police. After reporting it to 311, a cruiser came by and sat there for some time last night, about 9, headlights trained on them, just watching. The dealers began to drift down the street. Then suddenly his siren and lights came up and he was away fast to attend to something urgent. Dealing and prostitution are bad, but they are 311 issues in this town. There's too many times when bullets are flying and people are running for their lives to dial 911 for anything less than a life threatening emergency. Though I admit at times, out of frustration, I have.
I finally got to sleep after talking to one of my favorite Baltimore officers who always helps roust the dealers from the block. Just knowing he's on makes me feel safer. When he has time, he just swings through. If he sees anyone, he asks where they live, why they're out at 1, 2 or 3 and tells them to go home. After a couple passes through, the dealers give up, knowing he'll be driving through again sporadically.
This morning at 1715 Madison's door ...
Same thing off and on at 1704. The dealers been working hard all morning. It's first of the month. Welfare checks are coming out. I've been hearing "greens, greens, greens out!" since 9 this morning. They've got to start earlier here now since they know the SPs will be here later as will more BPD.
If I dial 311 and an officer shows up, the boys will get warning from a lookout in the building and from a boy on a bike (who's selling "blacks" from a stash he has hidden in a crack in the porch of 1704, the slum and crack house next door). Before the squad car shows up, these boys in front of 1715 will duck into the building, hide their stashes in cubby holes they make by breaking out fire alarm covers and switchplates and either exit through the rear, out of view of the officer, or visit one of their customers happy to oblige since it no doubt earns a free hit.
I've paged an officer with the drug squad and am hoping he's thinking about doing something. Any under cover car they haven't seen would net at least one and probably more of the dealers in front of 1715 right now. I just watched a deal go down with a burgundy Caravan. I've taken down the plate number. Perhaps I have to just go sit on my stoop with camera and phone in hand, as has been done with a crack/prostitution house up the street.
1715 would be a far less convenient place for the dealers to operate from with a fence that limited their escape routes and surveillance cameras. Cameras alone would do wonders. I was sweeping the dealers back and forth as they tried to avoid my camera until they'd had enough and decided to knock it out. I've had others, but they're not heavy duty enough for the weather or dealers looking for them.
Serious things are underway to help fix the problems at 1704. The owner there is likely to have some very unpleasant surprises soon. We need both his building and 1717-1715 cleaned up so that the good residents of both can live in peace, just as I want to. It's not happening soon enough to suit me, but that's not for lack of trying.
Tuesday, October 1: Last night was pretty quiet out there. Ken reported his area of Eutaw was a ghost town. I've seen prostitutes out now on North Avenue. Like the dealers, pushed away. Our dealers are working McCulloh and Wilson further west. Separating the prostitute customers from the dealers who feed off each other here has discouraged both.
The funeral parlor on the corner of McCulloh and Wilson recently installed cameras. He just began complaining of blatant dealing in front of his business recently when the SP constant presence and increased police drive throughs pushed the dealing around to his corner. His cameras are pushing them still further. All we can hope is to create a domino effect with people in those blocks we push them to pushing them further yet.
Thanks to this comparative calm, I have been getting to bed much earlier. A blessing. When the dealers aren't working, this street is quieter than the country, usually. Last night, about 1:30AM, I was awakened by a loud banging on the front door. Threw on some clothes, grabbed my usual equipment, including a phone with 91 already dialed, and trundled on down the stairs with the dogs barking loudly.
All I saw was three of the special police officers across the street in front of Pedestal Gardens' building. Vaughn yelled down from the third floor everything was alright. From his third floor vantage point, he'd seen these officers confront the man at our front door. He had some story or another of meeting someone at the house near the streetlamp. Anyway, he was gone. And I was thankful.
We've had people knock at odd times before. I've come to suspect it has often been to see if we're home either to burgle or to deal in front.
One of our neighbors asked who are the Special Police (I call them SPs here). They are with Security Patrol Services, Inc. (410.780.0010), a private firm employed by Interstate Realty Management, Inc., a regional property manager who handles the Pedestal Gardens apartments, which is private property. This is "Section 8" subsidized housing. HUD guarantees and subsidizes the rents in these buildings.
These officers are trained, armed and a lot more than security guards. They work hard and care about what they do. Several have many years experience in the area and know the regular bad guys and work with the police on a daily basis.
Since the dealing on Madison got so bad this summer, the property management company has stepped up the SPs presence around their building at 1717-1715 Madison. This has helped reduce the trouble at that building dramatically. Things have been much improved, especially lately, thanks in part to them and other factors like increased uniformed police presence, plainclothes operations, and the concern of neighbors like you who have spoken up to city hall, the police and anyone who will listen.
I'm pleased to see these men use the substation. In the guard's case, as with the BPD officers, being able to use the restroom and take a break here has kept them nearer their posts and beats. Less time wasted driving to find a restroom or a place to take a break means more time doing what they're here to do.
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