Crime vs. Community Ever-increasing violence threatens neighborhood bonds

January 03, 1993|By Michael Ollove | Michael Ollove,Staff Writer

Gold Street. Kendra Owens, 21 years old and five month pregnant, is enjoying a summer breeze on her front steps when a bullet meant for someone else pierces her right thigh and burrows into her stomach. Remarkably, she and her baby survive.

Calhoun Street. Theresa Williams, the head custodian at a city elementary school, is held up at gunpoint after she emerges from the elevator in her apartment building. Two months later, it happens again.

Carey Street. Daisy Bradford, a great-grandmother six times over, is robbed, beaten and kicked on the street only blocks from her home. It is 8 in the morning.

Violence seems to know all the nooks and crannies of Police Post 732. In a time of ever more ruthlessness on our streets, nowhere in Baltimore is worse.

At The Sun's request, the Baltimore Police Department produced an analysis of the city's violent crime (homicide, rape, robbery and assault) by police post between January and September of last year, the most recent statistics available. Generally, a post is the geographic area that a single police officer is considered capable of patrolling effectively.

Ranking No. 1 with 226 violent incidents was Post 732, a sliver of turf in West Baltimore bounded by North Avenue and Baker Street on the north and south, and Bloom and Monroe streets on the east and west. In eight months, there were 123 robberies, 92 assaults, six rapes and five homicides. Almost every day, one person was attacked somewhere within the roughly 40 blocks that constitute 732.

Post 732, of course, is not singular. Other inner-city police posts are close behind in the numbers of incidents, and a few, because they are smaller in size, may have even more crime per capita. (Generally, the smaller the post, the more crime. That is why some officers believe Post 834, a few blocks south of 732, is, in the words of one, "the most hellacious." It had 144 violent crimes but is half the size of 732.)

In a place that prides itself as a "city of neighborhoods," the ever-escalating violence threatens to obliterate bonds between residents and their communities. Delsie Smith, 80, typifies that process. She has lived in her Druid Hill Avenue house on the eastern edge of Post 732 for five decades, long enough to be able to recall when neighbors were like extended family. Today, the sound of gunfire outside her front door is as familiar as car horns on the street.

"This," she says, "is just about the worst neighborhood that can be."

Many others describe the area as a prison they would happily flee if only they were able. William Waldon, a retired Army sergeant who moved to the neighborhood 10 years ago, says he hopes to leave next summer. He rents an apartment on Brunt Street, a narrow road behind Pennsylvania Avenue where drug traffickers and their customers congregate daily.

"I call it the street of no return," he says bitterly. "You go in there, ain't no guarantee you'll come out." Like many others, he has taken to sleeping on the floor so he won't be winged by a bullet that finds its way through his bedroom window.

What can be done? Mr. Waldon is asked. "Nothing," he says. "You just pray that you don't get hit."

Such talk saddens and angers Jacqueline Cornish, the 47-year-old executive director of the Druid Heights Neighborhood Association, one of three associations that jut into Post 732. (The others are Sandtown-Winchester and Penn North.) Mrs. Cornish has lived in Baltimore her whole life. She can remember when Druid Heights was home to Baltimore's black professional class. Their handsome 100-year-old rowhouses still stand, although now they occupy the same blocks as crack houses and heaps of garbage.

"At one time, you could sit on your steps and sleep all night long, and no one would bother you," Mrs. Cornish recalls.

Fear has taken over, she admits, but abandoning Druid Heights is not the answer. "If you get out or if you move, where are you going? Because no matter where you go, it's going to be there," she says. "It's not just Druid Heights. Wherever you go, you will have to fight. It's time to stand for something or fall for everything."

'Time out'

Officer Jeff Kazmaier parks his patrol car on Gold Street. "Watch what happens," he says.

Although it is close to 10 o'clock on a biting, cold November night, the sidewalks are full of people -- mainly young men but some women, too -- who seem to be doing nothing but milling about. Under the policeman's watchful eye, every one of them slowly fades from sight. Within 10 minutes, the street is deserted and silent.

Officer Kazmaier throws his patrol car into gear, takes a quick right, a left and then another left until he is on Etting Street, a narrow alleyway that intersects with Gold. There, materializing in the illumination of his headlines, is the bulk of the crowd that had been on Gold moments ago.

"Time out," voices call. "Time out."

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