Corean Humphrey spread out a quilt last winter and for two months slept on the floor. She was afraid she'd get shot if she slept in her bed.
"People talk about having a war in Saudi Arabia," says Humphrey, who lives two blocks south of Bon Secours Hospital. "We were having a war right here on Pulaski and Hollins Street.
"They shot through my kitchen door. They shot through my neighbor's window . . . I didn't sleep in my bed on account of people shooting. By my windows being low they could have shot through the windows and hit me in bed."
Neighborhood residents were the prisoners of this war. Many were afraid to leave their homes after midday, when the drug dealers patrolled the streets.
Humphrey, 56, moved into this southwest Baltimore neighborhood near Monroe, Baltimore and Pratt streets 23 years ago, when it was safe to sit out on the steps at night.
But for one year -- from April 1990 to last month -- drug dealers controlled the neighborhood, threatening residents, shooting each other and selling drugs openly to anyone with cash.
Residents were afraid to call the police or even to meet as a group to challenge the dealers. Finally, surrounding community groups banded together to pressure politicians and the police to launch a coordinated assault to liberate the neighborhood.
The streets are safer now, but still, eight of the 10 residents interviewed for this story, including the presidents of two neighborhood associations, asked that their names not be used. They still live in fear of the dealers, who may have retreated, but not withdrawn.
"Look," says a 74-year-old woman who has lived in the neighborhood 51 years, "I'm here by myself. I'm not taking chances like that."
People in the Boyd-Booth community south of Bon Secours first noticed unfamiliar faces on the streets in April last year. Almost overnight, it seemed, the outsiders established a drug stronghold.
The main marketplace -- but far from the only one -- stretched two blocks on Boyd Street between Payson Street and Calverton Road. The intersection Boyd and Pulaski Street marked the midpoint in this war zone. These blocks of Boyd are narrow and menacing, more alley than street.
"THICK AS FLIES"
"You could walk down Pulaski to the market and look up the 2100 block of Boyd Street," says Humphrey, who was raised not to fear anything, even the use of her name in this story. "They were thick as flies. There'd be nothing but people, and they were buying drugs."
Judith R. Bennick, a social worker for the Urban Services Agency at Hollins and Payson streets, says 300 to 500 people at a time congregated on Boyd Street -- even in broad daylight. They spilled out onto other streets in the neighborhood as well.
Bennick recalls waiting in traffic at Frederick and Fulton avenues. Suddenly she realized she was in a drive-in drug line, as she calls it.
A man leaned into the car in front of hers, had a brief conversation with the occupants, and then charged back to Bennick's car. With money in one hand and vials of drugs in the other, he glared in at Bennick and shouted: "Get the f--- out of the way!"
She backed up, drove around the car and went about her business. Presumably, the dealer went about his, too.
The police say some of the dealers were New Yorkers searching for new markets in Baltimore. Some were area dealers who police had chased from other neighborhoods. And some were local dealers who lived on the streets they terrorized. Mainly they sold crack cocaine.
Residents of Boyd-Booth heard gunshots at night, and found blood on their sidewalks in the morning. Many retreated into their homes, afraid to report the violence to the police, afraid drug dealers would retaliate by burning them out, or worse.
The president of a local neighborhood group says that after she told police how to contact the owner of a vacant building taken over by drug dealers, a teen-age boy stuck his finger in her face and screamed: "I'm going to blow your f------ brains out!"
LIVING IN FEAR
Bennick, the Urban Services worker, and Betty Townsend, who runs the Southwest Senior Center, don't schedule events in the evening anymore. People won't come. They're too afraid.
"They come out in the morning, do their shopping, come here for what they need, and in the afternoon they go in and shut their door and don't come out anymore," Bennick says.
The 74-year-old woman who has lived in the neighborhood 51 years says: "When it gets dark I pull my shades down, but that's not going to stop a bullet, you know."
The woman, like other older people in the area, can't move. She owns her home (now a rarity in the neighborhood), and even if she could sell it (and who would buy it?), she can't afford a house in a nicer neighborhood.
"Most of the people who could leave, left," Bennick says. "The rest are stuck here.
"They realize their kids or grandkids are involved in this. They all know somebody who's died from this, in a shooting or a drug overdose.