Targeting drug traffic hot spots

November 25, 1993|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,Staff Writer

Just about every day, the corner of Greenmount Avenue and 20th Street in North Baltimore is populated by small knots of sullen young men, some passing around bottles in paper bags, others beckoning drivers and passers-by.

Tomorrow, that intersection and 21 other "hot spot drug corners" throughout the city will be taken over by citizens and public officials singing, talking and exchanging information, if sponsors of a one-day demonstration against drug dealing have their way.

The demonstration, dubbed "Going Out of Business Day," will take place from noon to midnight at 22 sites known for street-corner drug peddling. It is designed to not only close down dealers for 12 hours, but also to spur communities to get involved in fighting crime.

"It's really a symbolic gesture, but an important gesture to say we're tired of these open-air drug markets," said Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, whose office is coordinating the effort and who plans to visit each of the corners.

The demonstration comes just three weeks and a day after the Nov. 4 slaying of 10-year-old Tauris Johnson, who got caught in the cross-fire of a drive-by shooting while playing football in a neighborhood of heavy drug traffic. The case is still unsolved.

"I can't sit by and not do anything anymore," said City Councilman Melvin L. Stukes, a 6th District Democrat whose rage -- and revelation -- over the city's drug problem led to tomorrow's "Going Out of Business Day."

The rage came about a month ago, when the normally mild-mannered, churchgoing, first-term councilman was driving behind a police car near Fayette Street and Fulton Avenue and noticed "drug activity on all sides."

"If those policemen had hit their lights, sirens, done something . . ." Mr. Stukes says, his voice trailing off. "I said to myself, 'How would I feel if I lived at this intersection?' I was angry."

Not long after that, and just days after the slaying of the Johnson boy, Mr. Stukes, a deeply religious man who says he often asks for divine guidance, received an answer to his prayers about what to do.

"The Lord said, 'Get up and call on all the people to do something,' " he says, adding that the idea to take back the drug corners came to him as a vision on the spot.

He immediately called the mayor, who agreed to back the idea, offering police protection and coordinating the effort through the Neighbors United volunteer program. (Call 396-7777 for information).

The effort is being welcomed by drug-plagued communities throughout the city.

"We have a very serious drug problem. We need to do something, even if it's just symbolic," said Curtis Chapman, program director of the Coldstream Homestead Montebello Community Corporation in East Baltimore, which is mobilizing its members to gather at the corner of Kennedy Street and The Alameda.

"The main thing is to give people hope. They have resigned themselves to the fact that the druggies are in charge," he said.

At least one community group, however, won't be participating.

"It's a Band-Aid on a broken leg," says Dorothy L. Johnson, president of the Greenmount West Community Association, which lies just south and west of the intersection of Greenmount and 20th. She says many residents are fearful of being targeted by dealers later, adding, "We need something more realistic that's going to last."

But Mr. Stukes' council colleagues believe "Going Out of Business Day" can be the start of something significant.

"The overall message is that at the grass-roots level, communities are going to have to get involved and play a role in getting rid of the drug trade. It's not something we can just put on the police department," says Councilwoman Sheila Dixon, a 4th District Democrat.

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