Flag House bullets are not equal Responses differ to gunfire, some say SHATTERED SECURITY

September 21, 1992|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,Staff Writer

The sound of gunfire is not unusual to Carla Edwards. From her apartment in the Flag House public housing development she hears it day or night, loud or soft, in rapid succession or singular random shots.

She heard gunshots shortly before dawn yesterday and heard someone -- probably a man -- cry out as though pierced by a bullet. She called the police and peered from her window in her dark room.

She says she never saw an officer. Police were unable to verify yesterday whether they had responded to a call. And -- apparently -- no one reported being shot.

Ms. Edwards, who lives with her boyfriend in the high-rise at 127 S. Exeter St., said she also heard a gunshot Friday morning when Officer James Young was shot in the head during a struggle with a gunman.

She watched from her window as more than 50 officers surrounded and sealed off the building within minutes of the shooting, and soon began a door-to-door search of the apartments seeking the gunman.

The differences in the two shootings were not lost on Ms. Edwards.

"Don't get me wrong, but once someone is shot, aren't they like everyone else?" she asked. "I feel for the officer, his family and the department -- I really do. But people get shot here every week, and nothing is done to find who did it.

"Is it because we live in the projects or because we're of low income or because we're black that nothing happens for our sake? It looks that way to me."

By early afternoon yesterday, near the fluttering strands of yellow tape that police used to cordon off areas of Flag House near where Officer Young was shot, residents of the complex just a few blocks east of the Inner Harbor revived their daily activities.

Music blared from windows, middle-aged men gathered on corners, children played in halls behind a protective fence, and young men in sweat suits and with their hands tucked in their pockets collected on parking lots.

Some of the talk was about the wounded officer. But much was centered on the unfair treatment of residents who are of low income and black.

Stella Bradley, 33, who has two daughters and has lived in the development for 11 years, said the high- rises are old, aging and unsightly. But she said many of the people who live there are good, hard-working citizens who are stereotyped and stigmatized when an incident happens.

"Everyone always thinks that we're second- or third-best to everyone else," Ms. Bradley said. "There's nowhere to go for most of us. If something happens in the city, they figure it has to be us, that we're not up to anything good."

She said city officials seldom if ever come to the projects to see the deplorable living conditions, except when something bad happens -- and then they only stay long enough to be quoted and have their pictures taken by the media.

"It's loud here. . . . If it's quiet here the police may think something's happening. Your living conditions make you feel irritable," she said.

Vincent Keith, who for two years has lived with his wife and two children in the development, said that after Officer Young was shot, SWAT teams frightened many residents in their door-to-door search.

"We were under siege by the police. Our rights were abused," said Mr. Keith, 42. "When they were looking for the gunman, the police knocked in doors if we took too long to answer or weren't home."

"If we don't count for nothing, let us know in the beginning, when we move in here. The projects are no more dangerous than anywhere else, like going across Lombard Street to Little Italy."

Perhaps the main allegation that angers many Flag House tenants are claims that crimes committed in nearby Little Italy are done by residents of the complex.

One resident believes those claims are racially motivated and based on the premise that any blacks seen in the small, predominantly white community are Flag House residents.

Ms. Bradley said that one Halloween she took her children trick-or-treating in Little Italy -- and vows never to return.

"They didn't want us over there, and they didn't try to hide it," she said. "They slammed doors in our face, yelled at us and said they didn't want any [blacks] knocking on their doors."

Edira Little, who lives in the high-rise at 107 Albemarle St., dismissed the claim that Flag House residents are to blame for crimes in Little Italy. Members of the two communities are of comparable income, she said, and therefore not worth victimizing.

"It's ridiculous to think that there's anything over there that we would want," Ms. Little said. "There's no reason for anyone here to go there. We know that they don't like us, so we don't go there. It's the easy way out to blame everything on us here."

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