On the same block where a Johns Hopkins medical student was abducted the other morning, there are now children dodging traffic at a red light.
"You want your windows washed?" one of them says. He's 8 years old.
You want to tell him to go inside the house and hide under a bed and never come out. The people at Hopkins call this an open-air drug market. The cops call it brutal. The medical student was grabbed here, in this 800 block of N. Wolfe St., and she was dragged to an empty room on Durham Street.
"Any of you live on Durham?" you ask.
There are seven kids at your car now, five of them washing any available window and two more, teen-age boys, just shooting the breeze.
"Don't live there," says Andre, 15.
"It's right over there," says LaVar, 14, pointing a finger.
The two exchange a secret glance. They were down there the other night, they say. Bunch of guys were playing basketball, an argument got started, a gun was pulled and somebody got shot.
"We saw 'em shooting," says Andre, "and we ran back up the street."
On Durham Street last Friday, the man who kidnapped the medical student pushed her into a vacant house and found a board lying on the floor. The police say he picked up the board and beat the woman in the hands and legs, and then he raped her.
It happened at 7:30 in the morning. At noon on Wolfe Street now, an old woman stands in the doorway of her rowhouse and takes in a pleasant breeze. But she doesn't venture from the doorway. Loud music from a radio divides the air. A man and woman walk past, and anger commences.
"Tick me off," the man says.
The woman, maybe 30, wears combat pants and eats Fritos from a bag. The man, wearing a Nike sweat suit, glares at her. The woman shrugs. The man punches her in the shoulder.
"Tick you off?" the woman says.
She throws the remains of her Fritos at his face. Ducking instinctively, he throws another right hand, connects with her arm. A woman walks nearby with her young son, pushing a laundry cart, and clutches the boy to her side.
"It's not so bad during the day," says Andre, standing in the daylight on Wolfe Street.
He means the guns and the drug dealing and the random violence. The woman in the combat pants springs a few steps from the man in the Nike sweat suit. The woman with the little boy picks up the child with one hand and pushes her laundry cart with the other. The traffic light changes, and the five kids washing your windows accept a little money and dodge traffic to find new customers.
"Not so bad during the day?"
"Mostly," says LaVar. "But a couple of boys pulled guns on us one day."
"My father was in the window," says Andre. "He yelled, so they ran off."
It should always end so safely. In the rape of the Hopkins medical student, the police have arrested a suspect, Calvin Mayo III. He's been in trouble before, but not so anyone would notice.
Seven years ago, he was charged with stabbing to death one Lloyd Anthony Bright. Mayo said it was self-defense. They'd argued over Valium. The charges were dropped.
Six months ago, this same Mayo was charged with forcing a woman into an abandoned house at gun point and then raping her. The woman was Mayo's former girlfriend and the mother of his child. A grand jury refused to return an indictment.
There is more ugliness in Mayo's background -- a weapons charge, a theft charge, an arrest just five days before the Hopkins rape on a charge of loitering in a drug-free zone -- but nobody paid much attention.
This time, everyone watches. A medical student, someone who would heal the sick, has herself been attacked by sickness. A city shudders. You can build ballparks, you can bring in tourists and boast of the Inner Harbor, but it means nothing when you cannot walk the streets.
We do not diminish the awfulness of this rape when we point out the irony: In this neighborhood, violence occurs routinely and rarely raises ablip on the radar of public awareness. Those who live here, and do honest work, roll the dice with their lives when they leave their homes. And when they are violated, we are generally numb to the outrage.
Do we need another recitation of the obvious? The cops are overmatched, the courts are backed up, the prisons are filled, the city and state are broke, and the nice people in the White House still act as if cities do not exist.
Given their neglect, it sometimes seems a wonder that they do.
At Chase and Wolfe is a billboard. It says: "Help make our neighborhood trash free -- a message from the students of Elmer A. Henderson School No. 101."
It's a lovely thought. But there's a more realistic one on a billboard around the corner, in the 1900 block of Ashland Ave. It says:
"Slick Rick's Bail Bonds. We specialize in house calls day or night. Baltimore's fastest -- 'You're out of there.' "
Such pleasing news for us all.