Man dies trying to rid community of drug dealers

MICHAEL OLESKER

September 15, 1992|By MICHAEL OLESKER

There was trouble on the corner that night, some sort of street brawl where Sargeant and Ostend meet in Southwest Baltimore, down where the drug dealers and the junkies have been doing business over too many months now while the neighbors cringe behind locked doors.

"I'm going down there," said a frustrated Brian Jackson Jr., 23, in one of the final comments of his brief life.

"Be careful, somebody has a gun," said his sister Amanda, 16. "I heard somebody down there yell, 'Get the gun.' "

"I better put a pair of shoes on," said the father, Brian Jackson Sr., sensing trouble and scrambling to catch up to his son.

When the father got there, his son and another fellow were tumbling on the ground. Some stood nearby and kicked at them, a few of the blows landing on the son's head. When the father pulled the two apart, his son's opponent ran to a nearby house.

An instant later, he came back with a gun.

In the milling and shouting of the crowd, one sound split the air now: the crack of a pistol. The mother, Donna Jackson, arriving on the corner, heard the noise and turned to the man with the gun.

"I know who you are," she said.

The man with the gun put it in her face, held it there for a beat, then turned and ran off. Brian Jackson Sr., maybe 10 feet away, turned around at the sound of his son's voice: "Dad, I've been shot."

The father went to the fallen son and held his head. The face had been kicked badly, and a bullet was in his body. The father started hollering for help. For a frozen instant, nobody moved.

"Please," the father cried. "Somebody please get help."

The son lay on the sidewalk now, with his parents and his sister Amanda around him and his life drifting away from him.

"We love you," said the father.

"I know," the son said softly. "I love you, too."

The rest became a blur: the paramedics arriving and one of them saying, "He's still with us;" the cops arriving some time after; the paramedics working frantically to save Brian Jackson; the search beginning for the man with the gun; and Brian Jackson's life ending at the corner of Sargeant and Ostend.

All of this happened more than two weeks ago, on the evening of Aug. 31. On Sargeant Street now, there is a police car parked outside a house, offering 24-hour-a-day protection where Brian Jackson's killer hid his gun.

Across the street, neighbors stand behind screen doors and talk of the shooting in the street that night, and all of the nights that preceded it: with narcotics deals struck in the street, and money and drugs changing hands openly, and calls to police who arrive too late.

A 7-year-old bouncing a sponge ball in his baseball mitt says, "I know who does it. They say, 'I got green caps. I got purple caps.' "

"If he knows," says the boy's mother, "why don't the police?"

There are, of course, distinctions here. The police may know who deals, but catching them is sometimes another story. Neighbors shrug at the distinction. They talk of syringes lying in the gutter, and people literally lining up on the corner for a fix, and nine months of difficulties.

"That's when the dealers really moved in, about nine months ago," Brian Jackson Sr. says now. He's sitting in his back yard, with his wife and daughters, Amanda and Candice, and a couple of neighbors, all of them still in a kind of daze from the shooting of the son.

Two weeks after the killing, they feel they're living in a strange kind of isolation. Outside, police say they've caught the man suspected of killing the younger Jackson -- but nobody has ever notified the Jacksons.

Police say the suspect was picked up shortly after the shooting -- yet, two weeks later, neither the Jacksons nor any of their neighbors who saw the shooting have been interviewed by anyone from the police or state's attorney's office.

And, after all this time, the only ones getting any police protection are those living in the house where the suspect kept his gun hidden. Police say there was an anonymous threat.

"The feeling we get," says Brian Jackson Sr., "is that nobody really cares what happened to our son."

His son, a 1988 graduate of Cardinal Gibbons High School, was an apprentice carpenter who could build a car engine or paint a picture, and was taking classes for a degree in drafting. "He never lost his smile," his mother said. "He was quiet and mannerly. He would give up a date to stay home and watch his sisters. One time the car broke down on Wilkens Avenue, and I called home. Brian walked all the way out to Wilkens Avenue to come fix it for me."

Also, though, he had his parents' mounting anger over the open drug dealing in the neighborhood.

"He'd say, 'I'm gonna get rid of them, they're ruining the neighborhood,' " his father said. "I mean, you cannot sit on your steps without seeing a drug deal. It's wide open. One guy hands over money; another takes a little walk, grabs a bag out of the gutter, goes back and hands it to the guy with the money.

"Junkies stand in line, black and white, in the middle of the street. They're out there till 4 in the morning. And you call the police, and they come around and shine a light, and as soon as the police go, the drug dealing comes back."

It's a familiar pattern in too many neighborhoods where the narcotics traffic is so heavy that the police don't know where to turn first.

"The police say you have to take your neighborhood back," Brian Jackson Sr. said. "Well, we never gave it up. But I think the police gave it away. When you get involved, you have no authority, just a phone. And everybody keeps calling, and the drugs are still out there."

Final irony: A week before her son was shot, Donna Jackson had called Southern District police and said, "Are you gonna wait for somebody to be shot?"

And now there has been a shooting, and the Jacksons are still waiting to see what will happen.

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