These are some of the people, places and events that are referenced in the journal and in the story of the 1700 block of Madison Avenue.
1704 Madison Avenue, A Crackhouse and Slum
This apartment house was a thriving drug den. Vials of spent "stems" littered the floor. Used syringes laid about. Fancy SUVs pulled up night and day to restock the merchandise. Customers honked to get curbside service. Many street dealers from the corner used it to stash their inventories so they weren't caught with it on them, constantly walking back and forth as they sold the product on the corner.
Cardboard and trash bags served as windows in places front and rear through entire winters. There is no central heat. Extension cords ran between apartments to circumvent meters and faulty circuits. Rangetops were used for heat. Five children under ten lived there, including two toddlers and infants. A stench of sewage and filth permeates the entire building.
It is much harder to close down an occupied crack house where the residents are part of the business and can claim the sanctity of home. However, it has been closed down by prosecution from the city housing enforcement staff, especially Assistant State's Attorney Jesse Halvorsen.
It was not closed down because of it's rampant drug activity, but because of the sorry, horrid conditions it was left in by the owner.
What will happen to the building now is unknown.
The owner is Clarence Weston.
A city employee, he owns five properties like this in the city, owing his employers, city tax payers, $25,000+ in back fines and taxes. On this property alone, he owes over $12,000 in fines and taxes.
On April 11 he was found guilty of criminal contempt of court for his long standing, egregious housing code violations and repeated failure to live up to his promises to correct them. He was sentenced to six months in jail and two years probation. The jail time was suspended pending his adherence to a detailed "terms of probation" which you can read here.
For more information on this man, who openly allows the scourge of this block, click here.
His story was featured on Fox 45 TV in a report by John Leiberman. Fox 45 also did a followup at the courthouse which was aired that night. For journal entries about him, click here.
We're now waiting for June 30, 2003 when the 60 day notice to the remaining two tenants will expire. We're told those tenants will be served eviction papers by the Sheriff immediately. After they and their belongings are removed, the building is to be boarded up, pending transfer, hopefully for use as a block community center. In no event is this final boardup to be later than July 31st.
In my opinion, Mr. Weston's compliance with the terms of his probation was half hearted and minimal at best and he absolutely violated the order when he left the unoccupied apartments wide open during a week when three arrests and numerous other police visits were necessary to contain the free for all of crack sales, use and prostitution. Not surprising. This is consistent with his attitude of contempt for the city and malicious negligence toward those of us who live here, including the children who were his tenants. I'm assuming negligence. Complicity with the drug dealers is another theory. Why else would he allow tenants to live there for more than a year without paying rent, leaving vacated apartments wide open, filled near to the ceiling with junk and allow drug dealers and customers every opportunity to use his building right up the very last minute?
January 2004 update: Most readers here already know the crack house was finally vacated in July of last year. We had to board it up ourselves to prevent its continued use for doing drugs and prostitution, because the owner, as usual, was no where to be found.
April 2005 update: The house was finally foreclosed upon by the city in October of 2004. It is part of the SCOPE program of the city and is being sold to developers who must sell it to an owner occupant. We're waiting to see that happen.
1708 Madison Avenue
Prior to our ownership, this was a crack house, next to a vacant lot used as a kitchen garbage dump for at least five years. It is now a private home, undergoing a tedious, impossibly impractial, costly repair. Imagine the movie with Tom Hanks The Money Pit ... including the tub falling through the floor. <g>
We own the lot next door, to the left in this picture. The city agreed to sell it to us in December of 2000 at a Board of Estimates meeting. Mayor O'Malley asked then if the city was losing the $6000 in owed property taxes by selling it to us for $500. When the Comptroller told him that was from unpaid liens over ten years old, we won unanimous approval. They were happy to see it returned to responsible ownership. Across from this vacant lot, now our yard, was the crack house at 1704. Yes, right next to the police break room.
1717-1715 Madison Avenue
This building is part of the Pedestal Gardens housing complex whose largest section is at McMechen and Eutaw Place. It's a housing community for low income people who pay a sliding scale of rent, subsidized by HUD. Mostly, it's single moms and their children. The dealers who plague the building commute in from elsewhere, enforcing fear and cooperation.
The owner's agent and management of the property is Interstate Realty Management, a large corporation managing many such apartment communities throughout the country. Their website is at http://www.irmmgmt.com
Anne lives at the northwest corner of Patterson Park in Baltimore. She has the same problems, just other players. For a different take on this same problem that plagues all parts of the city, visit her at http://2321.blogspot.com.
Crack House Task Force. We think there should be a task force put together to identify and close down crack houses, like the one next door here. Vacant or occupied houses are critical tools for dealers who can keep their inventories near the market. Particularly nice when the home is occupied and has electricity, like next door and the legal protections afforded private homes. It should be comprised of a few police people, some State's Attorney ADA's, some Community Law Center lawyers and citizens with experience in the matter.
It's purpose would be to target and close down these buildings efficiently. It should not take a year of bureaucratic wrangling to do, as it does now.
I asked the new commissioner if he would allocate staff for such a force. He seemed to like the idea. Would be a wonderful program for this mayor to launch.
Douglas Funeral Home. Carlton Douglas is the only other owner occupant on our block on Wilson or Madison. I met him in October at the Madison Park Association meeting. We realized we have the same enemy, the market that is smack dab between us. We play ping pong with it, pushing the dealers back and forth depending on who's called the police last.
Eutaw Marshburn Elementary School
The elementary school runs the length of Wilson Street from Eutaw Place to McCulloh Street, the worst parts of the open air drug market. Dealers begin to hover there at 2:30 each school day when it lets out. Later, they use this walkway with easy escape routes and steps concealed between the buildings to serve customers from both sides, on Wilson Street and McMechen.
This building was formerly a burned out apartment building. With a lot of federal money, the Payne Memorial AME Church renovated it to be a community center, with enormous promise and fanfare. The sign in front of the project spoke of a restaurant, community center, even a police substation. It sounded so good I considered it a sign things were going to get better here fast. None of that has materialized. To this day, three floors are vacant and the others are used for church administerial offices.
The second worst open air drug market in the central district, according to a former drug squad sergeant, used to operate with impunity just to the right of this building, at the corner of Wilson and Madison Avenue and next to the elementary school. The drug market is still there.
Payne Memorial AME
At the north west corner of Madison Avenue and Laurens Street, the Payne Memorial AME church has its home, a modern building erected approximately 13 years ago. Members are such dignitaries as Verna Jones, State Delegate, and Patricia Jessamy, City State's Attorney. Members of the church use the block as a parking lot each Sunday and for weddings and funerals occasionally through the week. Members can often be seen walking obliviously through the dealers.
Pedestal Gardens Police
Special police officers were provided by the management of Pedestal Gardens to protect its residents. In 2003, they were assigned special duty to 1717-1715 Madison Avenue after the fires of July 4, 2002. During their shifts, use of the common areas in the buildings by dealers and dealing around the property was greatly reduced. That includes the corner.
In 2003, they made over 100 arrests since getting their commissions from the Baltimore City Police Commissioner's Office as sworn officers. Naturally, most of the arrests have been for "distribution of CDS" (Controlled Dangerous Substance), many for prostitution and several for possession and one for assault on an officer. Many of these arrests were for activity in or out of 1704. Often their "in your face" presence drove the dealers off. We know of many convictions from these arrests, some resulting in jail time. One resulting in a banishment from the neighborhood for three years as a condition of probation, along with drug screening and treatment.
Such aggressive policing resulted in serious threats and risk, as exemplified by this on the door of the laundryroom at 1717-1715, where the dealers have been known to meet ...
Translation: "Get $5000 for killing Kirk." The signature is a well known drug gang and teardrops are an individuals signature. Kirk was the Pedestal Gardens Police sergeant.
Update November 2004: Unfortunately, they've lost some dedicated guys and like the PG property management company, those remaining have become complacent and lazy too often. The security of Pedestal Gardens seems more interested now in hanging out watching TV in their "apartment" only doing minimal patrol work and then always together. Much too predictable to be effective. I'm sure they're stats are virtually zero now. The security company's management seems to encourage minimal effort. God knows he'd hate to spend overtime for a guard to attend court.
Update April, 2005: The previous company has been replaced. Now we seldom see any security at all at Pedestal Gardens and no arrests are made. None of the officers assigned here has a commission and none seem inclined to do more than watch what happens, good or bad.
Update June 2005: Security at Pedestal Gardens is now being provided soley by off duty police officers coordinated by an officer who has been very effective on duty in dirt motorcycle patrols in this sector. The jury is still out whether the officers he employs are an improvement over the security guards.
"Stems" is one slang term for the little vials of crack sold here in such volume. The market is so good here, more than one gang can find more than enough business that they don't fight each other very often. Each color represents a different drug gang usually. We find them tossed in the yard full when officers have frightened a dealer who was carrying and the empty ones littering the sidewalk and alley.
The syringe above was in the alley.
All have been destroyed. The staff of The Wire, when they were filming here joked with us about their colorful collection.
Adam Meister and his Techbalt group seek to purchase a row of vacant homes together, forming an instant neighborhood. Having like minded neighbors would have been very helpful here. Read about the concept and their progress at the Techbalt site, http://www.techbalt.com
Update November 2004: Though it didn't happen as conceived (what does?) the group has formed a coop and won a proposal to renovate several houses in the Linden Street are of Reservoir Hill, a neighborhood already on the city's radar screen as targeted for renovation. We hope the coop succeeds and the members find themselves happy homeowners soon.
Update, April, 2005: They may have won their proposal, but the city has still not acted on it. Still months and months more of city sponsored neglect and decay.