Night pedestrians vanish under pall of crime threat

JACQUES KELLY

November 23, 1992|By JACQUES KELLY

On past November evenings people regularly filled the corner of Charles and Read streets, just two blocks north of the Washington Monument.

Not this year. Pedestrians are noticeably scarce on city streets, even on well-lighted corners with restaurants and shops that normally remain busy until 9 or 10 at night.

People cannot venture out at night with the confidence they enjoyed in the pre-carjacking years. The threat of personal violence -- mugging, purse snatch, armed robbery -- weighs heavily. And even if victims don't suffer an act of personal violence, they discover their car's been stolen or its window has been smashed.

This apprehension of crime has produced a twilight zone of deserted streets and heavily locked doors.

Most affected are Baltimore's older shopping and commercial neighborhoods, where residents were long accustomed to slipping out on foot at 9 p.m. for a pint of milk or bag of potato chips. This November, they think twice and stay home.

Some people blame the effects of the recession for scaring people off the streets.

Stretches of Eastern Avenue in Highlandtown appear depressed as second-hand stores are taking the places of long-established businesses that have either moved or closed. Cities such as Baltimore that so relied upon manufacturing jobs have suffered brutal economic hits in the past 15 years.

But for all the bad economic news, the raging drug wars have thrown the city into a wretched funk. And there are precious few promising signs.

Crime-weary residents avoid walking on West Baltimore Street after 5 p.m. Park Heights neighbors are used to the high-pitched ping of gunfire along the Woodland Avenue drug corridor.

In Charles Village, where Johns Hopkins students are usually coming and going at all hours when school is in session, there has been a noticeable fall-off in walking along St. Paul Street.

One night last week, a pedestrian walking five blocks at 8 p.m. encountered not a single other person on the sidewalks in the residential portion of that neighborhood.

Baltimore cab drivers will confirm the deserted streets. They complain their fares are off about 20 per cent from this time a year ago.

They blame the recession, but also cite the fear of crime making people terrified to go out on the corner and hail a cab -- even on well-traveled streets where cabs are routinely available.

And for every Baltimorean who shudders at the mention of Dontay Carter or John Thanos, there are others who have been personally attacked by hoods who will never get their names in a newspaper.

You don't have to be a pedestrian to be affected by the current crime wave. Is there a Baltimorean who hasn't experienced some sort of crime-related anguish?

Normal conversation with friends and family yields first-hand stories of criminal activity. It isn't unusual to hear of a woman in Guilford being knocked down at the curb of her home by a thug --ing for her purse. And it happens in the suburbs, too.

What of the Marley Station shopper who was menaced in the parking lot by a gang of teen-agers who then trailed her in a car?

The brutal murder of employees at a Liberty Road bank sent shock waves throughout the west flank of Baltimore County.

November brings some of the longest periods of darkness, when the skies dim at 5 p.m.

And now it takes courage to run out at 8 p.m. for a quart of orange juice at the convenience store around the corner.

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