On a playground in the 4800 block of Reisterstown Road in Northwest Baltimore, 12-year-old twin brothers sat on a large rock yesterday and talked about the dangers lurking in the mean streets of their neighborhood.
"Two weeks ago, I saw a man get shot on this rock," said Duane Croslin, one of the twins. "I saw the gun smoking, too. It was a lot of smoke. After he got shot, he tried to run, but he couldn't because he fell. I didn't go near him."
Duane's brother, Daryl, pointed to a glass-strewn lot near the intersection of Reisterstown Road and Woodland Avenue where several young men lingered. He said he had witnessed a shooting on the lot and one of his friends had been beaten by 10 teen-agers.
"He was just walking and about 10 of these boys jumped on him and started beating him up," Daryl recalled. "He said he didn't know why they did it."
Duane and Daryl were among 100 children who had just completed a "survival walk" through their neighborhood. During the trek, parents and community activists pointed out crime-ridden areas and told the children to avoid them.
Michael Johnson, a neighborhood activist, said it is not unusual for children to be shot or threatened while playing in areas shared with drug dealers and other criminals.
"We don't have nature walks here like they do some other places -- this is a survival walk," Mr. Johnson said. "This is where they live and this is where they play. I want them all to be here next year."
So far this year, 17 children under age 15 have been shot on the streets of Baltimore. In some cases, the children were innocent victims hit by stray bullets. Just last week, a 3-year-old East Baltimore boy was killed when he was caught in cross-fire between two gunmen. "Right now we don't own our streets. The city doesn't own them, either. We've got to work around the drug dealers," Mr. Johnson said.
Some of the areas the youngsters walked through were littered by the red and black capsules used to package drugs. The adults pointed out vacant houses that drug addicts use as shooting galleries.
At the intersection of Reisterstown Road and Beehler Avenue, Mr. Johnson pointed to a rowhouse with a yellow awning.
"That's the Vanguard Justice Society," he said. "That's a club for police officers. If you see trouble, bang on that door."
Throughout the tour, young men stood on corners -- hands deep in their pockets -- and watched the entourage. At one point, one of the youngsters pointed to one of the young men.
"I know what he is. He's a drug man," the youngster said loudly. Several of the boy's companions agreed and said they had seen the man selling drugs.
Somewhat embarrassed, the young man turned and left the area.
"It's the job of the police to tell the drug dealers to get off the corners," Mr. Johnson said. "I just want these kids to be careful around here."
Even though Duane and Daryl Croslin have witnessed acts of violence in their neighborhood, they refuse to be intimidated.
"It's scary because you don't know when it's going to hurt you," Duane said. "You don't get used to it, but you still want to go outside to play."