Effort to revive Sandtown relies on curbing crime

March 13, 1994|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,Sun Staff Writer

Michael Randolph walks daily among the drug dealers and addicts of Baltimore's Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood, knocking on doors and rallying residents to stand firm against drugs and crime in their community.

The slender native of the West Baltimore community travels its grim streets with a goal of recruiting a volunteer block captain for each of the neighborhood's 280 blocks.

"People want to do something, but a lot of times they just aren't organized or didn't think they could do anything," Mr. Randolph, 37, says as he slowly walks through the community. "I'd like to help them because it would be helping myself."

He is pleased with the number of people -- about 140 -- who have agreed to be block captains. Their duties: reporting criminal activity to police and trash problems to city officials.

"That person [the block captain] would be someone that everybody tends to look up to. You always find someone in every block that people look up to," Mr. Randolph says.

He works for Community Building in Partnership, a city-funded agency that hopes to revitalize Sandtown-Winchester, in part through its approximately 10,000 low- to middle-income, predominantly black residents.

"Sandtown-Winchester used to be a community you could be proud of. Now we have a high number of murders, we have sanitation problems, we have health problems," he says.

The neighborhood, just west of Pennsylvania Avenue and south of North Avenue, is the target of $8 million in loans from NationsBank to help buy and renovate 670 vacant houses. Three years ago, Sandtown-Winchester also received money through the Nehemiah project to build 300 townhouses to sell to low-income people.

It's also where city officials hope more than $200 million in government and private money will be targeted over the next five years to attack blight. That money, city officials say, will be used to show how a deteriorating area can return to glory.

Western District Police Maj. Victor D. Gregory calls Sandtown-Winchester a neighborhood "on the rebound" and says that block captains increase communication among neighbors.

"The neighborhood has its share of problems, but what this neighborhood has is so many good people who want to work to eliminate the problems," he says. "They're taking the lead among a lot of neighborhoods."

Alice Parker, 66, who lives in the 900 block of Carrollton Ave., says that last year drug dealers would congregate on her front marble steps. Today, as a block captain, she scatters them by calling 911.

Dealers would "curse me out, but I'd keep on calling. Now it's a lot better," she says. "We'd tell them, 'You out of order, you've got no business on this property.' "

Charles Miller, another block captain on Carrollton Avenue, says residents just kept "bugging" police about drug activity.

"The police were slow at first and sometimes they're still slow, but we keep on calling, and they all know us."

As Mr. Randolph tours the neighborhood, he meets countless people he knows -- including some whose activities may not be aboveboard.

For example, at Riggs Avenue and Whatcoat Street he sees several old friends clustered on the steps of a rowhouse, lTC apparently for drug deals. He greets two of the men.

"I just hate to see people that I know do stuff like that," he says. "As a whole, though, most of the people around here are good. We're getting rid of most of the drug traffic, or at least getting them to move somewhere else."

Mr. Randolph, who has five children, says he has many reasons for recruiting block captains.

"My reason for doing this is for the kids," he says. "My reason for doing it is for my mother who lives here. My reason is for all of the good people who want to live a good, decent life and should be able to."

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