While much of the city prepared last night to celebrate the New Year, the mood at the intersection of Gold and Division streets in West Baltimore was far from one of revelry.
More than 60 people, including a number of neighborhood residents, gathered to commemorate the 303 murders committed in the city during the past year and to pay tribute to two women who fell at the corner, innocent bystanders shot to death just after midnight on Christmas Day.
Speakers representing church and community groups exhorted the residents to become involved and to continue to aid efforts to combat drug traffic in the area. A rally organizer noted that the usual drug dealing in the 24-hour drug market at nearby Gold and Etting streets had, for the moment, stopped.
"Your presence already has changed the complexity of the business in this area," Michael Johnson of the Stop the Killing organization told the crowd. "The drug traffic patterns have changed."
Homicide detectives credited information provided by residents in helping to identify three New York drug traffickers as suspects in the shooting that killed Helen Davis, 28, and Joanne Curbeam, 30, as they walked to a Pennsylvania Avenue tavern for eggnog.
One of the suspects -- who was himself wounded in what police say was an attempted ambush of a Baltimore employee of the New Yorkers -- was later arrested at a county hospital. Police now believe the other two may have fled to New York.
Likewise, the city's 303rd murder victim was a 17-year-old New York youth who died yesterday from a gunshot wound to the head received Monday in West Baltimore. The juvenile had allegedly been sent to Baltimore from New York to deal drugs.
The Rev. Willie Ray, one of the rally organizers and an advocate against urban violence for many years, walked to the homes of the families of the two women before the rally to ask the families to attend, but they declined: "They are very shaken," Mr. Ray told the gathering. "They don't want anything to do with Gold Street."
Erich March, general manager of the March Funeral Homes, told the crowd that it must look to itself for a solution to the violence in its midst.
"You can't blame the boys from New York. You can't blame the drug dealers on the corner. You have to blame us, because we allow it to happen," he said, adding: "You don't have to be a participant in the drug trades. You can just be walking down the street. And you walk these streets every day. And a bullet don't know no name," he said.
Some residents attending the rally, however, thought all the talk was just a lot of posturing. "I live here, I've watched my friends die here," shouted Joseph Carter, a resident and community activist. Mr. Carter complained that the only time the neighborhood gets any attention is when there is a killing; otherwise, it is ignored, even by activists in the black community.