Harsh reality dispels dream of a drug-free city

November 28, 1993|By Darren M. Allen and Tom Keyser | Darren M. Allen and Tom Keyser,Staff Writers

For 12 sweet drug-free hours Friday, the people of North Avenue and Rosedale Street lived a peaceful life that on any other day they could only dream of living: No drug selling on the corner.

The dream was over yesterday, replaced by a recurring nightmare that began almost as soon as City Council President Mary Pat Clarke finished her noon-to-midnight "Going Out of Business Day" vigil on the drug-infested West Baltimore corner.

"For one glorious 12-hour stretch, it was a pleasure just to look down the street and not see them," said a 59-year-old man standing outside the nondescript Fifteen Strong Democratic Club in the 1900 block of N. Rosedale St.

He was pointing down Rosedale, looking across North Avenue to the 1800 block, where one of Baltimore's open-air drug markets thrives almost round the clock.

The man -- like many people going about their lives near the intersection -- declined to give his name to a reporter. "If it was even for one hour, it would have been worth it. It shows the people that the drug dealers don't own the streets. We can take the streets back."

On Friday, city officials -- including Ms. Clarke and Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke -- took to 22 of the city's worst drug corners. The day was meant as a gesture to show the drug dealers that law-abiding residents can take back their streets.

But many of those streets -- especially the 1800 block of N. Rosedale -- clearly belonged again to the drug dealers and their steady flow of customers yesterday.

"There's no difference," said Melinda Jones, a neighborhood resident. "Just look around you. It's everywhere. I never go down to that corner, because you never know when the shooting is about to begin."

Ms. Clarke acknowledged that Friday's vigil wasn't meant to be a one-shot cure-all for the corner's drug problem.

"Friday proved we could do it," she said yesterday. "This was an organizing tool that we can use to get everyone together."

Everywhere you went at North and Rosedale -- to the dry cleaners on the northeast corner, the church on the northwest or the hardware store on the southwest -- people insisted that yesterday was much like any other day. Merchants sold their wares. Shoppers strolled from store to store.

And the drug market stayed in business.

"It's like a supermarket out there," said Ramona Epps, a member of the Highway Church of Christ on the northwest corner. "Just the other day, they were almost having a 'buy-one/get-one free sale.' "

The police drive through the market throughout the day. "But once you leave, they're back. They all come back," said one southwestern district officer, a 23-year veteran who declined to give his name.

Several residents and merchants -- peering out of half-opened doors and windows -- described the drug activity taking place almost nonstop early yesterday afternoon.

Drug runners -- the dealers' customer service representatives -- lined up in the 1800 block of N. Rosedale, where eager customers placed and paid for their orders. The runners then scurried up an alley to any of about a half-dozen vacant houses.

In the houses -- in effect, drug warehouses -- the runners exchanged money for crack, cocaine, marijuana, heroin and just about any other drug.

As the day wore on, two runners became four, then eight, then close to two dozen by 3 p.m. A flow of cars turned into the street, stopping briefly, then speeding off. Young men and women --teen-agers, really -- asked for change from passers-by, then ran across North Avenue toward the awaiting runners.

"It's a . . . nightmare out there," said Mark S. Weinberg, who with his father, Paul Weinberg, own the Walbrook Hardware and Supply Co. on the southeast corner. The busiest part of the open-air drug "supermarket" is outside the hardware store.

But inside, it's hard to tell that you are in the middle of a troubled neighborhood in the heart of a very troubled city.

Mark Weinberg greets a steady stream of customers, most of whom he knows by name.

"Life goes on, in spite of everything around us," he said.

Meanwhile, in the Waverly area of the city, about 50 people carried the enthusiasm of Friday's citywide protest into a rain-drenched march against drugs yesterday along Mathews, Montpelier, Frisby and 30th streets.

Organized by a coalition of city activists called Community Over Drugs, the rally featured residents chanting "Down with dope, up with hope," and "In our neighborhood, no more drugs."

The Citizens Planning and Housing Association, which has worked for years to improve life in city neighborhoods, organized Community Over Drugs one year ago. Comprised of residents from various community groups, it holds an anti-drug rally in a different neighborhood every month.

"We know people are afraid to stand up against the drug dealers," said Robert Nowlin, president of the Pen Lucy Association and a member of Community Over Drugs. "We can bring 50 people into a neighborhood and maybe help the residents get up the courage to begin to take their communities back."

Late-afternoon showers and the threat of even heavier rains kept yesterday's turnout lower than expected. But the 50 or so marchers drew people onto their porches, and prompted children to draw back curtains and peek out.

A lifelong resident of Waverly, a 69-year-old woman who was afraid to give her name, said open drug dealing became a problem about 15 years ago.

"My daughters scream for us to get out of here," the woman said. "But where you going to go today?"

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