Playgrounds: no place to play Parents, fearing drugs, keep kids at home.

May 24, 1991|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,Evening Sun Staff

Antonio Adams took his three children to the nearby playground at Madison Square two weeks ago. They soon left after discovering a large pool of blood near the slide.

"I could tell the kid or whoever had been hurt really bad," said Adams, who lives in the 1200 block of N. Caroline St., about a block from Madison Square in East Baltimore. "It was shocking."

"I had just assumed that he had hurt himself, but they've had several violent things there recently so I don't know."

Adams, 35, said he can recall shooting incidents near or beneath a covered basketball court at Madison Square as well as occasions in which police have chased away drug dealers from the playground.

Adams still doesn't know how the blood got onto the playground that day. But the only places his children are allowed to play now are in front of his rowhouse or in the back yard -- and only when Adams is watching.

"This is their playground," he said, pointing to a concrete sidewalk.

Recent incidents in East Baltimore in which children have been arrested for drug and firearm offenses have caused concern throughout the city about how children are occupied between dismissal from school and arrival at home.

A 10-year-old boy was arrested as he played on a swing with four vials of cocaine and cash stuffed in his sock. Another 10-year-old was arrested for using an unloaded .22-caliber handgun to rob a 9-year-old of a propeller-topped beanie.

Both children were released to their parents.

Many parents say the playgrounds are being overrun by drug dealers and the violence that accompanies them -- and some parents are willing to take action to regain the playgrounds.

"There is little question that if all parents who are tired of this got together we could at least stop the drugs on the playgrounds," said Carolyn Widgins, who lives in an apartment nearby on Pennsylvania Avenue in West Baltimore.

"This is not an East Baltimore problem, but a city problem."

As Widgins spoke, she closely watched her two children play on a small playground off Pennsylvania Avenue. School had recently dismissed, and near the playground several men who appeared to be in their late teens or early 20s gathered at a bench.

One man was overheard talking about "specials" and "girl," drug lingo for types and packaging of drugs.

Widgins, who never allows her children to play outside alone, had seen all of the men before.

"The dope dealers are back around. They almost own this area," she says. "Around here the peace lasts all of 15 minutes. You barely get to the playground and you've got to leave."

Widgins, 26, gathers her children -- one 5 years old, the other 7 -- and shields their view of the men with her body as she walks away. She avoids their questions of why they're leaving.

"There's only so much you can do," she says. "How much can you hide some hideous side of life from them. They're going to ask questions, good questions, questions that I don't know how to answer."

As she's leaving, one of the men yells, "You ain't got to go, ain't nobody bothering you. Go ahead and let your kids enjoy themselves." Widgins does not respond.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke ordered increased police patrols at playgrounds two weeks ago after two children were arrested for drug offenses. The patrols, which went into effect last Monday, has police paying closer attention to children in the company of older young men at playgrounds.

Police spokesman Dennis Hill said it is too early to tell if the patrols, which will not increase the number of officers at playgrounds, is effective.

Hill also said that police officials plan to meet with community groups in areas where juvenile involvement in crime and drugs is a problem to try and find a remedy.

"It's not something that's a quick fix," Hill said.

However, many parents say they won't surrender the playgrounds to illegal activities and are willing to spend more time on playgrounds with their children in hopes of warding off offenders.

"I have no problem at all with coming to the park or playground with my children because I'm a parent and that's what I'm supposed to do and what I want to do," said Bernice Dican, of the Oldtown neighborhood in East Baltimore.

"But I'll be damned if I'm going to let my kids be around druggies or be around when they open up [fire weapons]."

Dican said she and her pre-school age son have gone to a tot lot near Dunbar Middle School several times a week over the last year when the weather was warm.

She dismissed an incident last year where she was threatened but now feels the area is dangerous.

"The kids -- if you call 13-year-old boys who look and act like grown men -- were arguing. Then it got to fighting. Then one of them pulled out a handgun -- and this was right in front of me and my son," she said.

She was ordered to leave by the youth with the handgun, she said. No shots were fired.

"Things have gotten worse. The kids argue all of the time," she said. "You feel they have weapons, but you aren't sure. With my son, I don't take any chances."

"I'm willing to fight to keep this playground safe. If it takes banding together with other parents, I'm all for it. We can't be run off of a playground because we're scared of children."

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