An article in last week's editions of The Sunday Sun referre to a shop on Eutaw Street that sold empty glass vials to a teen-age cocaine dealer. The reference was not to Hippodrome Hatters at 15 N. Eutaw St., a long-established haberdashery.
The Sun regrets any confusion caused by the reference.
When he was carving out his slice of the market, a femonths before his 13th birthday, Anthony sometimes would toss a handful of crack cocaine into the air as a come-on.
"Testers!" he'd yell, letting the potential customers around West Fayette and Mount know that he was giving out free samples. "The pipeheads [crack addicts] would come scrambling for it," Anthony says. "People started knowing me."
FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION
They knew him, and they bought from him. For a while, he kept his profits in a toy slot machine. Then the slot machine filled up, and he began to stuff the money into a big teddy bear.
By the time he was 14, Anthony was delegating street sales to his girlfriend's little brother and a few of his friends, mostly 12-year-olds, while he lurked nearby with his gun. The boys gathered at Anthony's place every Saturday night to turn in the proceeds, keeping $200 apiece as their pay. Anthony's net was about $1,000 a week, he guesses.
"I'd just put it in the teddy bear without counting it," says Anthony, now 15. A subdued youth with dark eyebrows and a wispy mustache, he is now in a program for juvenile delinquents.
Anthony was a child prodigy on the drug corners, a standout in Baltimore's army of teen-age dealers. In the work handed to him by urban American life, he demonstrated diligence, creativity, fledgling managerial talent and ruthlessness.
But it was the adults who made Anthony possible. He was their creation. They were his silent partners. They formed the web of supply and demand at which he was the center.
There were the Jamaicans who recruited him, one day in the fall of 1989, as he stood with his buddy on Stricker Street. They ran the heroin and cocaine down from New York to this boy who was too young to drive. And they took their markup.
There was the woman who let him stay in her Stricker Street rowhouse -- as long as he paid the rent.
There was the crack addict who would take a load of cocaine and cook it up with baking powder in her kitchen into "ready rock" -- keeping six $10 vials as her fee.
There was the hat shop owner on Eutaw Street who supplied the empty vials -- $10 for 120.
There was the woman in the carryout who hid his gun and drugs. When the police were spotted, he'd toss the contraband into the Plexiglas pass-through and give it a spin. On the other side of the counter, the woman would make it disappear. The price -- $30 a night -- included food all night long.
There was Anthony's stepfather, who stopped by to check up on him from time to time -- and to pick up some cash. A former baker and cashier, he was unemployed.
"I'd give him money to take my little sisters and brother shopping," Anthony says. "I'd give him $400 every couple of weeks. He'd use it for paying bills, buying furniture."
Finally, there were the customers, a diverse lot, who paid their money and took their high and left Anthony and his boys to dodge the cops and the bullets.
He has been shot at four times, Anthony says. He has used the silver .357-caliber handgun the Jamaicans gave him "about six times," usually against older guys who tried to stick him up.
"I'd shoot 'em, but not in the head. I'd hit 'em sometimes. I shot a boy in the shoulder," he says.
If a 12-year-old essentially abandoned by his parents can be said to make a choice, Anthony chose his crimes. And he unabashedly enjoyed the profits of his trade, taking his girlfriend on $500 and $600 shopping sprees to Mondawmin and Old Town malls.
But his $300 leather "8-ball" jacket and his $75 tennis shoes don't really answer the question: Why did you start dealing drugs? In Anthony's world, the question seems to have been rather: Why not?
"First chance I got, I went for it," he says. "Since I've been opening my eyes, I've been seeing people dealing drugs."
Imagine no more
Imagine a major industry moving into Baltimore's poorest neighborhoods to provide jobs for unskilled youths, filling the vacuum of sky-high unemployment left by closing factories and commerce fleeing to the suburbs.
Imagine no more. On dozens of Baltimore corners, there's plenty of work. The influx of cocaine in the early 1980s and especially the arrival of crack at the end of the decade has driven a steady expansion of street drug markets and created thousands of jobs for youngsters.
Police officers, juvenile court masters and juvenile counselors say the drug trade has transformed juvenile crime, luring huge numbers of children into lawbreaking, spawning an epidemic of gun violence and jamming courts and counseling programs.