Neighbors rout dealers from streets Boyd-Booth community uses pluck, federal funds

April 08, 1996|By Marilyn McCraven | Marilyn McCraven,SUN STAFF

Four years ago, Adell Reddon reported a son to police for drug-related activities in her tiny Southwest Baltimore neighborhood of Boyd-Booth.

"I simply got to a point where I had taken all I could take. We were tired of the shooting -- tired of the mess they leave behind just tired," said the 58-year-old grandmother, who lives near Bon Secours Hospital.

Her persistence, and that of her neighbors, paid off. From August 1993 to August 1995, violent crime plunged 52 percent in Boyd-Booth -- a community of about 500 people who live amid 116 vacant houses. And violent crime stayed down through the end of last year, according to the Baltimore City Police Department. This came at a time when crime was increasing citywide.

The crime decrease is attributed to Boyd-Booth residents who stopped cowering in their homes and decided to make their streets safe again by driving drug dealers away, say police and area residents.

"Boyd-Booth is our jewel," said Baltimore Police Lt. Dawn Jessa, director of neighborhood services for the city's Southwestern Police District. "I always talk about their success in ridding the community of so many drug dealers when I talk to other neighborhood associations."

Six years ago, the Boyd-Booth neighborhood association's main weapons were street-corner vigils and anti-drug marches.

But in the past year, a two-year grant from the federal Comprehensive Communities Program has provided funding for new tools, including a lawyer, Amy Yontef-McGrath, who uses nuisance abatement laws to get landlords to evict drug-dealing tenants and repair or dispose of vacant houses; a paid community organizer who gives advice and helps the community develop a long-term plan for community growth and enhancement; and money for boarding up vacant houses.

Other Baltimore neighborhoods receiving funds from the program are Fayette Street Outreach, New Southwest, Sandtown-Winchester, Middle East, Carrollton Ridge and Harlem Park.

"The key is to deny the drug trade a place to operate," said Michael Sarbanes, director of the Baltimore program.

"You get businesses, landlords, churches everyone who has a stake in the neighborhood involved, and you work with the criminal justice system" to help ensure the prosecution of criminals, he said.

Six years ago, many Boyd-Booth residents, especially senior citizens, didn't leave their homes after noon, fearing they might get caught in the cross-fire of feuding drug gangs.

"You couldn't sit on your porch in the summertime because you never knew when the bullets would start flying," Mrs. Reddon said. "Now, you can sit on your porch, the children can play outside. We don't have to worry."

Safer streets have prompted residents to go Christmas caroling to neighbors' homes, sponsor an Easter egg hunt, start a walking club and distribute a newsletter -- activities that longtime residents can't recall the neighborhood ever sponsoring.

Mrs. Reddon and many of the association's other members had children, grandchildren or other relatives involved in the drug trade, she said.

Of one of the anti-drug marches, Mrs. Reddon recalls: "There I was, screaming at the top of my voice, 'Down with dope, up with hope,' and my son would be standing on a corner with the drug dealers. No one will ever know how much that hurt me."

Her son, Gary Mapp, who she said began using drugs after he was laid off from a meat processing plant, died in 1994 at age 38 from complications of a ruptured gall bladder, she said.

The anti-drug crusade was born in fall 1990 when the Boyd-Booth community association called a meeting to plot how to take the streets back from the drug dealers.

"We couldn't even discuss the problem at our community association meetings, because we found out the drug dealers attended the meetings," Mrs. Reddon said last week. "So we had to start having [secret] meetings in our homes."

Realizing they were virtually powerless alone, they began working with about 11 surrounding community associations and other groups to fight for attention from city officials on every issue from crack houses to neighborhood blight.

Their voices were heard. Eventually, a major community meeting was held with Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, police officials and others. Out of that meeting came a plan to bring in more police officers and federal Drug Enforcement Administration agents, and other ideas for reducing crime.

Mrs. Reddon and others say there still is work to be done.

Some suspected drug dealers have begun to congregate around a business on the edge of Boyd-Booth. The lawyer has written a letter to the owner, and police have stepped up surveillance.

Last week, Barbara McFail, who last summer succeeded Mrs. Reddon as president of the community association, said many residents feel much safer now than they did six years ago but the fight is not over "as long as drug dealing is going on."

Since February, the Boyd-Booth and Carrollton Ridge neighborhood associations have shared a foot patrolman, Officer Ron Weinreich, who is available to residents at the call of a pager.

Officer Weinreich initially was leery of the assignment, fearing that lots of petty problems would be piled on him. However, he has found hard-working residents eager to help him and improve their neighborhoods.

Pub Date: 4/08/96

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