Wave of violence generates anxiety and wariness SHATTERED SECURITY


September 21, 1992|By Michael Ollove and Sandy Banisky | Michael Ollove and Sandy Banisky,Staff Writers

Day by day, the perimeter is redrawn. Day by day, it becomes smaller.

Be vigilant everywhere, we tell ourselves. Be wary always.

"This is horrible," says 3rd District City Councilman Wilbur E. "Bill" Cunningham. "I have never seen a more desperate situation in this city. People feel hopeless."

And not only in the city. "We're all becoming prisoners in our own homes," says Laura Friner, a homemaker from Randallstown who was, with apprehension, attending a downtown street festival yesterday for Center Stage. "You just have to make a fortress around yourself. That's no way to live, but what choice do we have?"

In the past year, Mrs. Friner and her husband, Norman, installed a burglar alarm in their home. They put a phone in their car in case of emergency. They all but stopped going out in the evenings.

The violence that worries the Friners has become a preoccupation for an entire region. It does not honor urban-suburban boundaries. It is not repelled by daylight. It values children no more than anyone else.

The images are relentless. A Howard County mother is attacked and killed in broad daylight driving her young daughter to day care. Shots are fired in schools. Children are caught in cross fires.

Now police officers, on two consecutive days, are disarmed and cut down with their own weapons. Baltimore police Officer James Young, shot in the head Friday, was said to be in critical but stable condition at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center yesterday. In the same hospital, a fellow officer, Ira Weiner, shot in the head Saturday morning, remained near death.

"I think that we are in the midst of a new civilization," says the Rev. Marion C. Bascom, pastor of Douglas Memorial Community Church in West Baltimore. "We have changed unbeknownst to ourselves into a completely different society.

"I'm scared as all heaven."

No one dares trust the stranger. "I went in a store the other night, and there's a white guy in there and he jumps," says Willie Burch, 46, who lives in lower Charles Village. "But, hey, I understand. I'm jumpy, too."

The rise in crime is not mere perception. Baltimore Police Department statistics show that major crimes -- including murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny and auto theft -- are up 30 percent over the past five years. In the first six months of this year, major crimes have risen more than 10 percent over the first six months of 1991.

While violent crime is worst of all in the city, it is increasingly migrating to the surrounding areas as well.

The crimes now seem more brazen and random: the drive-by shootings in once quiet neighborhoods; the car theft that ends with the driver dead and stuffed in the trunk; the suburban carjacking that ends in murder; the increases in break-ins and car thefts far from the city line.

The Rev. Thomas Schwind, pastor of St. Ann's Roman Catholic Church at 22nd and Greenmount streets, says that his parishioners discuss violence whenever they get together. "It is a top priority issue for the clergy," he says. "Today, you can't worry just about saving a person's soul. You want to save their bodies, too."

Constraints we once told ourselves existed have disappeared. "When people shot each other, it mattered to them who they shot," says Anne Kefauver, who was watching her toddler son play on the front lawn near Memorial Stadium yesterday. "Today, it doesn't seem to matter. You get a gun and shoot. It doesn't seem to matter who you hit."

Father Schwind agrees. "The criminal element today doesn't care about police officers," he says. "Before you would say no one would deal drugs near a church but today they deal drugs on the church's steps.

Some resent the violence and the choices it forces on them. Bernadette Manuel, a physical therapist from Woodlawn, was driving to the Center Stage festival yesterday with her 5-year-old daughter when she suddenly felt apprehensive. "I started to think maybe I should put the windows up in case anyone tried to get us," she says. "It's a shame to live that way and miss the beauty, but those are the times we're living in."

Linda Rose and her husband, Bill Smillie, live with their two young children in Bolton Hill. They love their neighborhood, its charm and convenience. Yet, said Ms. Rose, "We're always thinking of leaving."

Everyone has a crime story. Mr. Smillie was held up at gunpoint in Bolton Hill. Mr. Burch, of lower Charles Village, says his 19-year-old son was shot in the leg when he stepped off a bus and into cross fire.

"We're murdering ourselves on the streets," Councilman Cunningham says. "And it's like the city committing suicide."

Then he fears he sounds too grim. "I have not given up on the city," he adds. "And I don't think most of our constituents have either."

It is left to Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to try to reassure his city.

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