Neighborhood pays the price for dice and drugs

April 14, 1993|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,Staff Writer

When George Baucum moved to the 500 block of E. 21st St. nearly 42 years ago, the area was full of rose bushes, picket fences and friendly neighbors. He felt so secure there that he and his wife left the doors of their three-story house unlocked at night.

Now he hates to leave the house.

"You just never know what's going to happen to you when you step outside now," said Mr. Baucum, 79, who moved to the East Baltimore neighborhood in 1951. "Shooting? You hear shootings all the time and you don't pay no attention to it when you're in the house. It's when you step outside that you worry."

On Saturday night, Mr. Baucum heard the voices from a craps game across the street from his house, and paid little attention to the nightly dice game. He later heard a burst of gunfire on his block of East 21st Street and ignored that, too.

"I've been calling the police so much lately for them craps games that I'm tired of calling them. I ain't mad no more because now I know the police ain't coming," he said. "I said to my wife that they playing craps again and getting as wet as a rat out there, but they still going to keep playing."

Minutes after the gunfire ended, neighbors phoned Mr. Baucum and said 12 people -- including three teen-agers -- had been shot and wounded during a disagreement over the dice game.

"I heard the shooting, and I didn't realize someone had gotten shot," he recalled. The shooting reinforced his fears about the neighborhood.

"I can't say that I feel comfortable here, because I don't always," he said. "It's different here now. The kids threw away all of the flower pots, rode down the fences and if you try to advise them, the worst they hate you. But right now, it's just the best that I can do."

Mr. Baucum's neighborhood is known as East Baltimore Midway, an area bounded by North Avenue, Greenmount Avenue, 25th Street and Harford Road. The neighborhood is located in the city Police Department's Eastern District, the first city police precinct to adopt community policing.

Community policing calls for close cooperation between foot patrol officers and residents of crime-plagued neighborhoods.

Officer Kate Wood, who is on foot patrol in the area, said police need help from area residents to curb violence and drug-related crime.

"There are a lot of things going on -- children don't have the freedom to go where they want and the elderly don't always feel safe," Officer Wood said. "Police do all we can, but the residents have to help us, too. They have to let us know when things are happening."

Sean Levin Brooks, 23, of the 2000 block of Greenmount Ave. has been arrested in connection with the shooting that occurred about 8 p.m. Saturday.

Three other suspects are being sought.

HTC Many residents said dice games have been a problem in the area for many months.

Police and residents said the games involve high stakes -- often more than $1,000 per game -- and usually begin at dusk. The gamblers stop their games when foot patrol officers are nearby and quickly resume after police leave the area.

William Stone, 34, who lives on Boone Street near the shooting scene, said he has seen police patrol cars cruise by sidewalk craps games without stopping.

"The police mentality around here is you got to have bodies on the street for them to stop," Mr. Stone said. "They came Saturday night because 12 people -- bodies -- were stretched out on the street. Dice games ain't nothing at all for them. It's all fun and games for the people playing. So they feel why should they break it up."

One police official said the gamblers play on the sidewalks in front of houses or in back yards and alleys, and use lookouts to alert others when police approach.

"They have a lot of money that they play for," said the police official, who asked not to be identified. "What they do is give [the homeowner] $50 a head to play in front of his house or back yard. That way they don't have to worry about anyone calling the police on them."

Mr. Baucum has often seen a man wander the neighborhood daily trying to get a craps game started -- and it doesn't take him long to gather players.

"If the police say that they don't know about the crap games, then they're lying," Mr. Baucum said. "The crap games have been going on for so long and I've called the police so much that I've stopped calling."

One resident who lives in the 700 block of E. 21st St. said he was asked by a man last week if "I had any problems" with a dice in front of his house.

"It wasn't as though he asked me, it was more like he told and made me feel that even if I didn't like the idea then I best not say anything," the resident said. "He offered to give me some money, but I was already feeling uneasy so I told him I wouldn't tell and he didn't have to give me nothing. Between the drugs and the dice games, you don't know which one is going to end up with someone getting shot. This time the dice got them shot up. I don't know how many times they shot someone because of drugs. Both of them involve a lot of money."

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