The porch lights went on and people took to the streets last night in organized defiance of criminals and the fear that grips America's neighborhoods.
As part of the annual National Night Out, thousands of Marylanders took a stand with parades and block parties, recalling a time when children could play on the sidewalk after dark and sleep undisturbed by the sound of gunfire.
"Every night should be like [this], when neighbors can sit outside in love and friendship, and kids can play in the street," Baltimore City Police Commissioner Edward V. Woods said while on a visit to the 2300 block of Harlem Ave.
As children played on the street of the West Baltimore neighborhood, with their parents and neighbors drinking punch on the sidewalk, the commissioner said, "This is one night where they don't have to be afraid. It's too bad we don't have a magic formula for this."
Two police horses and a half-dozen patrol cars gave the neighborhood an air of safety rarely seen there.
But in another area of Baltimore last night, in the 800 block of N. Montford Ave., a more vigilant gathering took place.
People shouted "Stop the killing" in front of a home where 18-year-old Alethea Mitchell and her 3-month-old baby, Teshavionna Mitchell, were shot and wounded by stray bullets July 26.
The Rev. Willie Ray of Mt. Lebanon Baptist Church, who led the rally, yelled "It's nothing but a bunch of young punks that are doing the killing," and "I'm here to fire you up," as he led the chants of about 80 people who marched down the street.
Mr. Ray urged residents to get involved with the many marches and vigils that churches have staged in recent months in response to the shootings of children. At least 22 of Baltimore's shooting victims this year have been 15 or younger.
"This neighborhood needs more than prayer," said Alethea Mitchell. "People must get involved. Things are only going to get worse."
About 30 adults and children turned out at Ellicott City's Wheatfields development, where youngsters and toddlers played games outside in the early evening.
"There have been some break-ins, but this year it's been good," said Karen Kreh, who organized the block party. Her husband, Dean Kreh, is president of the Wheatfields Homeowners Association, an organization of 74 town homes and more than 300 single-family homes.
"Right now with the tough times, crime's been up," she said. "I think we've been relatively safe here."
Anne Arundel County
In Edgewater, a community just south of Annapolis, children twirled pompons, clowns tossed lollipops to the waiting crowd and teen-agers "jammed" down the street to the beat of Michael Jackson.
For the third year in a row, the community organized a parade and block party that drew hundreds of families from across the county. More than 70 floats, bands, Scout troops, dancers, motorcyclists and antique car owners paraded down Mayo Road, while bagpipes played and cheerleaders did cartwheels.
Ruby Tucker, who dressed up as a clown for the parade, said Night Out is important, even in quiet towns such as Edgewater.
"I think everybody is worried about crime, no matter where they live," she said.
The night has become an annual neighborhood party for residents of Scholar Woods in Edgewood.
About 150 people turned out to socialize, eat hot dogs and hamburgers and check out anti-crime posters painted by local children.
"[This] is a chance to make our neighbors aware that they can do something about crime in their own neighborhood," said Elaine McKenzie, a resident for 14 years.