For one day, Baltimoreans make a street-corner stand

November 27, 1993|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,Staff Writer Staff writers Joanna Daemmrich, Michael James, Scott Shane and Norris P. West contributed to this article.

Joining hands in prayer, raising their voices in song or simply seeking to make a statement by their presence, hundreds of Baltimoreans stood shoulder to shoulder yesterday against drug dealers at nearly two dozen of the city's most notorious open-air corners.

Groups of up to 100 community residents, city officials and police officers, many waving placards with anti-drug slogans, stood in shifts from noon to midnight at 22 drug "hot spots" throughout the city to take back their streets from the dealers -- if only for 12 hours.

"This is a good start. It rallies the community together to fight the crime that results from drug users and drug dealers," said the Rev. Lloyd E. Marcus, pastor of St. James United Methodist Church in Franklin Square in West Baltimore. He stood with a band of anti-drug activists at the intersection of Fayette and Monroe streets.

"This corner is busy with drug activity every day and every night. If we don't come out of our houses and churches and stand up to this, they will run us inside," he said.

Last night, Stephanie Thomas was among a half-dozen Barclay community activists standing with three police officers in the evening chill at the corner of Greenmount Avenue and 20th Street. Her hands were cold but her enthusiasm for her cause was contagious.

"I've been here since 12 noon and not one drug has been sold and not one dollar has changed hands at this corner," declared Ms. Thomas, who lives a block from the normally drug-infested intersection. "Maybe we can get somebody to stand on each corner every day."

No one involved in yesterday's effort, called "Going Out of Business Day" and actively sponsored by the city, pretended that it alone would have a lasting impact on Baltimore's widespread drug trade.

Indeed, across from one of the designated corners in Southwest Baltimore, dealers brazenly boasted that they would hold a sale this weekend to make up for any business they lost yesterday. A few blocks away from another spot, in East Baltimore, drugs were being sold openly.

Some residents of communities in which the 22 corners are located scoffed at the notion that the street-corner actions would stem the tide of drug dealing and drug-related violence -- and pointedly refused to participate.

"I don't think it'll do any good," said Martin Stewart, 18, who lives near Hanover and Barney streets in South Baltimore, one site of the anti-drug demonstrations. "If they want to do something about drugs, they ought to have stiffer sentences for the real big dealers."

"I know it ain't going to stop the dealers," said Lamont Jones, 19, as he walked near another designated "hot spot" on Edmondson Avenue in West Baltimore. "People got drug habits -- that's the problem."

Sending a message

But city officials and local leaders said that "Going Out of Business Day" sends a message to drug dealers that residents are tiring of their activity and also helps build community solidarity.

"It's important to bring residents out to talk to each other," said Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who made the round of all sites, shaking hands with those manning the street corners and waving at honking passers-by. Mr. Schmoke said more than 2,000 people had signed up to take part in the effort, including many city workers.

City Council President Mary Pat Clarke, who plans to challenge Mr. Schmoke for mayor in 1995, bundled up in a thick winter coat and hat to stand for 12 hours straight on the corner of Rosedale Street and North Avenue, where demonstrators sang "We Shall Overcome."

The alleys behind the corner, Ms. Clarke said, have turned into a war zone of drug traffickers.

"I told the Southwestern District police in a letter if they didn't do something about this, I was going to sit down here until they did. So I'm here," she said.

Police Maj. Ronald L. Daniel, also making the rounds of the sites, said: "I've seen a lot of drug dealers driving by the corners, people I recognize, looking a little agitated. They can't do business today. It shows them that somebody cares."

One place people showed they cared was at Oliver and Regester streets in East Baltimore. Ten-year-old Tauris Johnson was shot and killed there in the cross-fire of a Nov. 4 gun battle.

Police say they have gotten little cooperation from the neighborhood residents in identifying the boy's killer. They also believe that the gunman who fired the bullet that killed Tauris might have been a drug dealer who regularly set up shop in the neighborhood.

About 40 people, including several city Recreation and Parks employees, were gathered at the corner yesterday afternoon. One of them, Calvert Butler, 61, believes such efforts could roll back the tide of narcotics.

'This will have an impact'

"The people are really getting together," he said. "The dealers might have had the idea that people were just going to bundle up, go into the house and stay. This will have an impact if we get enough people out here."

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