Violent worship of the easy dollar Young men seeking quick profits come and go

drug trade goes on

September 13, 1993|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,Staff Writer

When the police pull up at Park Heights and Woodland avenues on a sizzling Saturday noon, the cocaine dealers are in their usual spot in the shade of the big maple on the corner.

Two beat cops step from their wagon, greet the dealers by name and inform them that they are loitering in a drug-free zone. It is a ritual familiar to both parties.

"I know you can get bailed out in six hours," says Officer K. S. Baskette, who has worked the area for six years. "But it's awful hot in that little cell."

After a couple of minutes trading banter, Steve Oglesby yields. "I think I'll just go sit on my porch," he says. He's more or less the boss on this corner, and the other dealers saunter after him. He stretches his heavy-duty frame across the top step of the house at 4805 Park Heights, the third from the corner. His chubby baby face frames four front teeth that are capped with gold.

It is only a tactical retreat. No one -- not the dealers, not the police, not the neighbors -- expects the cocaine trade to end here soon. Nor does anyone expect the accompanying violence to subside. Within a half-mile of this maple tree, the traditional epicenter of the neighborhood's drug market, there has been approximately a shooting per week -- and a murder every three weeks -- since 1988.

To understand the workings of the drug corner, its foundation in money and youth culture, is to get at the most important reason for Baltimore's soaring murder rate. Especially since the cocaine trade boomed in the late 1980s, drugs have provided thousands of young men with the money and motive to buy guns. Those guns have come to be used to settle every disagreement, however inconsequential.

As it happens, Steven B. Oglesby, 22, recently has beaten a murder rap, the 1992 shooting death of Michael Hope, 16, at a pay phone two blocks away on Delaware Avenue. The sole witness disappeared on the eve of the trial, just as a jury was seated.

Word on the street is that the witness, another young dealer named Shawn Dorsey, was whisked away to Florida by some of his drug-corner colleagues on an involuntary vacation. Without a witness, prosecutors were forced to drop the charges.

As Steve Oglesby, sitting on the steps, continues to banter with Officer Baskette, Stover Stockton mounts a bike and rides in lazy circles nearby. From time to time he lifts the front wheel off the ground in a boyish display of riding skill.

Stover N. Stockton, 22, is scheduled to go to trial this month in the death of Roger Aleong, 27, shot in 1991 in an alley a couple of blocks away. Witness problems have delayed the case repeatedly. Before the alleged partner in the murder was convicted in April, a reluctant key witness had to be tracked down by sheriff's deputies and held in lieu of $1 million bail.

To an outsider, the paradox of the drug corner is that the police can know so much and appear able to do so little about it. In fact, swollen prisons are testimony to how much the police are doing. The corner's climbing death toll confirms that it is not enough.

Neither Steve Oglesby nor Stover Stockton would talk with a reporter, except to deny that they have done anything wrong. From interviews with other dealers, police and neighbors, the drug corner emerges as a resilient economic force, a many-headed hydra that grows two heads for each one that is cut off.

Thriving market

Around Park Heights and Woodland, perhaps the oldest of a dozen drug corners that dot the neighborhood, the police know pretty much who sells what where. They see it happen, during hours of covert observation. They piece the story together from arrests. They hear it from informants, who are paid $25 for making a drug buy.

At this crude, street-level mall, the merchants are known by the colors of the tops of their $10 cocaine vials, a way the drug market builds brand loyalty. Graffiti sprayed in the neighborhood refer to "Red Top Boys" and "Blue Top Boys."

"It's like Datsun and Ford," says Officer John Morcomb, a plainclothes narcotics officer who has worked the area for several years. "They're saying, 'This is our product. If you like it, ask for it by name.' "

The Oglesby crew, police know, usually sells Red Tops and controls the east side of Park Heights and Woodland. The action shifts; in recent weeks the crew has moved a block east and a block south of the maple tree, to Virginia and Delaware avenues. Blue Tops are at Virginia and Pimlico Road, Black Tops at Pimlico and Wylie Avenue. For heroin, a customer must walk a block or two north, to Palmer and Oakley avenues or Palmer and Spaulding avenues. The marijuana purchaser goes farther still, to certain spots along Belvedere Avenue.

If the drug dealing is an open book, the related violence is only a little more mysterious. Informants keep police up to date on the shifting feuds and alliances among dealers and the hierarchy of the drug crews. They report which stickup men are targeting which corners. Often they can say who shot whom, and why.

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