After Raids, Walbrook Hopes For More

November 21, 1994|By Phyllis Brill | Phyllis Brill,Sun Staff Writer

Walbrook residents were hopeful yesterday that the arrests of 50 people in weekend raids aimed largely at drug hot spots in their high-crime community will not be the last.

"It gets better, but then it gets bad again. We have to keep working on it. It's a constant battle," said the elderly chairwoman of Citizens for Community Improvement, a group of community activists who challenged Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier to clean up their neighborhood last summer.

"Now my concern is, will we have to go back and do more?" she asked.

The neighborhood leader -- like many others who have lived in the area for decades -- did not want to be named publicly. Determined to continue working with police and community organizations bent on clearing out small-time drug dealers, she said she fears retribution from those who have been uprooted from the lucrative street corner trade.

Citizens for Community Improvement is a nearly 3-year-old umbrella group of church and neighborhood associations that meets monthly at John Wesley United Methodist Church in the 3200 block of W. North Ave. Members led the commissioner on a walking tour last summer, pointing out known drug houses and identifying the worst corners.

In a news conference Saturday, the commissioner said the raids grew from a challenge from several of the group's elderly female members who live in the area radiating from North Avenue and Longwood Street -- one of the most violent intersections in Baltimore.

"We've been working with the police on this problem for two years," said the chairwoman, noting that police representatives attend all their monthly meetings. "When the new commissioner came in, we said we wanted to meet him. And we did. And he said he would work with us. And he did."

About 250 police officers took part in the "Operation Southside" raids, which targeted Walbrook in the Southwestern Police District and the corridor between Fulton Avenue and Monroe Street in the Southern. Police said the two areas ranked second and third, respectively, last year in street murders and other violence.

Police began the raids about 2 p.m. Saturday with prearranged indictments and arrest warrants for 120 people. They seized an unspecified amount of suspected heroin, crack and cocaine, as well as nearly $100,000 in cash and two vehicles.

Officer Sabrina V. Tapp-Harper, a police spokeswoman, said the total of arrests won't be compiled until today.

Many of the Walbrook group's activists are elderly women -- churchgoing, law-abiding, longtime residents who remember when they could run to the store without locking their doors. "Today," said one woman, "you have to call the police before you leave the house to scare the druggies off the corner."

Others don't even call the police. They just sit tight once the sun goes down.

"My mother won't call anyone, but I will," said Veronica Hopewell, who no longer lives in Walbrook but returns to see her elderly mother.

She and her brother, Asbury Hopewell, grew up near the corner of Poplar Grove Street and Westwood Avenue in the 1950s and '60s and went to the old School 148 on Westwood Avenue, which now houses a community policing center. They say they see drug deals every time they drive up to their mother's house.

"Our mother's been here 42 years, and they're not going run her out," said Mr. Hopewell. "But you have to adapt. You don't sit on your porch anymore, and you keep your shutters closed in the back and you do what you have to do."

Yesterday afternoon, people were back out on their porches, at least temporarily.

"[The raid] has made a marked difference," Mr. Hopewell said. "Last week you would have seen an open-air market at this time of day, and later in the evening people would be speeding down the street and shooting off guns.

"It's better," he said, "but police have to stay on top of it. It's a continuing battle."

He fears the dealers operating along North Avenue may have just been nudged further south along Poplar Grove.

Similarly, a resident of Windsor Avenue, four blocks north of North Avenue, said police did not go far enough north in the raids.

"I'm happy about what they did, but they didn't come far enough up here," said the elderly woman, who was among the dozen people who walked the neighborhood with Commissioner Frazier last summer.

"They still have house numbers [of suspected drug operations] further north of here. I'm not alarmed. They'll get to them," she said.

She said that while police were picking up dealers along North Avenue Saturday afternoon, preteen drug runners were picking up orders in the alleys around her home. "You see 10- and 11-year-old children hooking school and selling drugs. You can call 911, but by the time police get here, they're gone."

An active member of the citizen group, she, too, did not want to be identified. "We have to live here, and these children are vicious," she said.

South of the Longwood-North intersection, there was little activity yesterday around a house in the 3000 block of Westwood that a neighbor said was raided.

Plainclothes officers were swarming in the area Saturday, said Sheila Carr, who lives across the street and watched from her window. She said the raid was "long overdue."

She said the wide scope of the raid gave her optimism.

"It does no good to target one house at a time. That just meant that anybody you didn't catch would move up the street to another house," she said. "Last night things were really peaceful around here."

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