Death brings eerie silence to Oliver St.

November 07, 1993|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Staff Writer

Rubble-strewn alleys along Regester Street between East Oliver and Federal streets in East Baltimore were devoid of life yesterday -- the drug dealers had all but disappeared.

But so had the neighborhood residents, who kept a low profile in the wake of the shooting Thursday that claimed the life of 10-year-old Tauris Johnson.

An eerie calm fell on several blocks in the vicinity of the 1700 block of E. Oliver St., leaving them virtually deserted while

residents remained behind locked doors.

Life was far from normal.

There was Tauris' 14-year-old sister, Precious, standing outside and clutching the cap her brother wore when he was shot -- fingering the bullet holes on each side.

Across from where Tauris was shot, a child peered outside through a bullet hole in the front door of Gurnie Edwards' house. The hole seemed testimony to what Mr. Edwards says was drug dealing that occurred daily, from noon to midnight, until Tauris was fatally shot.

Then there was the church rally -- gospel music and frantic sermons, another in what seems like a never-ending refrain across the city to stop the violence. That inspired the neighborhood and finally drew mothers and fathers and children out of their homes and into the street for about two hours.

"Drug dealers, lay down your weapons," shouted the Rev. Harlie Wilson, pastor of Israel Baptist Church, who said he has stopped counting the number of similar vigils he has organized. "You ought to be ashamed of yourselves -- taking young innocent lives."

A few hundred yards west on Oliver, young relatives and friends of Tauris emptied from their rowhouse and watched with sullen faces as ministers berated drug dealers and called for troops to leave Somalia and Haiti and patrol the streets of Baltimore.

VTC

'Life is too cheap'

"There is no remorse or respect for human life," the preacher said. "From the womb to the tomb, life is too cheap. This is a war zone."

Tauris was tossing around a football when he was shot in the head about 6 p.m. in a gun battle between two men in a black Ford Escort and another man on the northeast corner of Oliver and Regester streets, police said. He died at Johns Hopkins Hospital two hours later, becoming the city's 298th murder victim of 1993.

On Wednesday, Tia Lipscomb, 10, was shot in the back, and a 17-year-old boy was hit in the left leg in a drive-by shooting at Walbrook Junction in West Baltimore. Both have been released from the hospital.

Friday evening, a 14-year-old boy was shot in the arm while watching a street fight in the 1400 block of Mosher St. He was in good condition yesterday at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

And about 12:30 a.m. yesterday, boys 14 and 16 were shot as they sat outside a house in the 1800 block of Pulaski St. Police said the assailant drove up in a white car, got out and started shooting, then hopped back in the car and drove away.

Both teens were in fair condition yesterday at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

The spate of shootings, especially those involving children, has left people feeling angry and afraid, but also resigned to the violence that surrounds them.

"It is bad everywhere," said Ali Walii, 48, a Washington resident who has two teen-age children and was visiting his fiance on Oliver Street yesterday. "They are shooting every place -- as long as there are drugs. I could be walking down the street and somebody could shoot me. Everybody lives in fear."

That is why Mr. Walii kept his 13-year-old son inside yesterday.

Barricades living room

It is why Mr. Edwards barricades his living room, which looks out on Oliver Street, making it off limits to his children.

Now, the 55-year-old said he may put steel plates in the windows to stop bullets from invading his home. Mr. Edwards said he had to make friends with the dealers so his car wouldn't get broken into.

Police, he said, don't seem to do anything about the dealers. If his child had been shot, he said he wouldn't hesitate to use his own justice.

"I wish I could go and take a 9 mm and put it in a dealer's mouth and pull the trigger," Mr. Edwards said. "I wouldn't think anything of it."

Tough talk echoed through the neighborhood. On Regester Street, near Crystal Avenue, in front of the hot spot for community drug deals, a small group of men sat at a bar called Hall's Lampost Inn, and talked about the old days when the owner didn't have to carry a pistol for protection.

The unwritten rule is that the mean streets don't seep inside the orderly establishment, which opened in 1957.

"If we find a rough guy, we throw him down on the floor and toss him in a closet," said Calvin Butler, 66, a part-time bartender who has lived in East Baltimore for 11 years. "This is the last of the

old-timers -- the good people. When we're gone, that's it."

But the church members who gathered at the corner where Tauris was killed said there are enough lawful people to reclaim neighborhoods lost to the drug war.

'We need the help'

Resident Garfield McTier, 70, and Mildred Johnson, 55, hope they are right.

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