City's children shouldn't need curfew, but they do

October 11, 1994|By MICHAEL OLESKER

One week into the city's new curfew law, everyone's hTC reminded why we need it. You can find the evidence in the 2000 block of N. Calvert St. You can see the blood on the sidewalk. You can see where a 14-year-old girl named Channel fell when a bullet hit her in the leg as she was walking home. It was 3 o'clock Sunday morning.

Channel says she was going home from a baby-sitting job. The police report says she heard a noise and found herself knocked to the pavement, where she saw blood coming out of her leg and spilling all over the sidewalk.

From the 2000 block of N. Calvert St. to her home, in the 2400 block of Barclay, it's a pretty bad walk. Three in the morning? Even at 3 in the afternoon, even if you're fully grown, even if you're inside a car, even if you're headed toward some safer place, the neighborhood can rattle your nerves.

At 3 in the morning, there was no one around to help Channel. The streets were dark and forbidding. She struggled to her feet and looked around for someone who'd fired the gun at her. She found no one at all until she got home, woke her mother, and the two of them sped to Johns Hopkins Hospital.

From the emergency room, Channel was taken to the adolescent unit at Hopkins' Children's Center. The girl in the bed next to Channel was named Merlene. She is 13. Three nights earlier, Merlene was on her cousin's front porch, on Cliffview Avenue off Harford Road, when somebody fired several shots toward the house.

Merlene was hit twice in the right leg and once in the left. A cousin, a 16-year-old named Alan, was also hit. He's now listed in fair condition at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center. Merlene went through surgery once, and she's scheduled for more today. The doctors say she'll be hospitalized for six weeks, maybe eight. Her mother says she will personally settle matters with the one who shot her daughter.

"We know who did it," the mother was saying yesterday. She was standing over her daughter's bed. Merlene was getting medical attention and trying to hold back tears. She said her legs were hurting badly. The mother talked of Merlene's ability to walk again and remembered the telephone call at her house that brought the bad news.

"They said my baby was shot," she said. Her voice was deep and strong. "I'm a strong person. I was upset, but I didn't want anybody to know it. I was praying the whole time, 'God, let my baby be all right.' I'm putting it in God's hands and pray that she'll be able to walk. "Merlene's a very good child. She's never been in trouble. She stays in the neighborhood, she don't run the streets. She wasn't doing anything to anybody, and then this fellow shoots this gun. And now I'm gonna get him."

From her bed, Merlene tried unsuccessfully to stifle a sob. She rattled off a list of boys' names. She said they were there with the bullets. Then she said her legs hurt, and she started to cry again.

Early Sunday morning, she was lying there when the nurses brought Channel in from Calvert Street with her own leg wound. There they were, a 13-year-old and a 14-year-old, victims of the city's gun maniacs. By yesterday morning, Channel was gone from the hospital. She was lucky. The wound won't require surgery, and she'll be walking fine.

But those in the city test their luck every night. The curfew law took effect last week, requiring those under 16 to stay inside after 11 on weeknights, or midnight on weekends. But you can still move through plenty of neighborhoods late at night and see kids on the street.

"Every night," a sergeant at Eastern District said yesterday, holding the incident report on Channel in his hands. The report says no witnesses have been found in Channel's shooting, and there are no leads.

But who lets a 14-year-old walk the city's bleak streets at 3 in the morning? Yesterday, there were no answers at Channel's home. At Hopkins Hospital, Merlene's mother explained that her daughter should have been safe. It was 10 o'clock at night, but she was staying at her cousin's, and who expects people with guns to fire them at a house?

The problem is: Such things happen now. The idea of curfews, the notion of taking children off the streets, depresses everyone. But the city's police now have to play the role once assumed by parents. And sometimes, even if the parents are paying attention, those with the guns still have their way.

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