From the brightly painted red doorway of her home on Vine Street, Jeanette Jones sits in her wheelchair, presiding over a landscape of peril and promise.
Her thoughts in this election year run not to Bill Clinton or Bob Dole but to neighborhood young people like Abriam Moore, a child of 4 who once filled her narrow street with the sounds of joy and hope.
"He'd come running in my house shouting, 'Hey, Miss 'Nette, how you doin?' He was a little teeny thing, smart as a whip. Very intelligent," she says. "He was street smart."
Not lucky enough, though, to escape one of those so-called stray bullets that fly with some frequency in the streets of Baltimore and other American cities. Hit in the head and chest by fragments of one in April, Abriam died several days later.
As she continues to grieve the loss of Abriam, crime was on Miss Jeanette's mind last week when a reporter for The Sun visited with her and a dozen other residents of the Poppleton Place apartment complex, an area of roughly two square blocks just west of Martin Luther King Boulevard, to talk about the presidential campaign.
Adults and children living here must endure what one man calls an "infestation" of violence and despair.
For Jones -- known as Miss Jeanette to her many neighbors -- the problems of crime and poverty are complicated beyond the will and means of politicians to solve. One party or the other will get the power and, from the viewpoint of this neighborhood, that is the politicians' only objective.
"They're going to do what they're going to do," she says.
Still, she says, "I will always vote Democratic, because I think if there's a better vote for me it's with them. Republicans never help poor people. Democrats try to do a little for us. I'm not saying they do much."
She will vote for Clinton with no expectation he can lift the pall of mayhem that descends, occasionally, across her apartment complex, pin-neat and well taken care of amid the violence.
"There are people who are really bleeding about all of this," says Joseph Green, 61, who was on his way to work at the Hess Shoe Store on West Baltimore Street. "It hurts. It's supposed to. It means you're human, but it happens every day here. A lot of times they don't even put it in the paper."
Abriam Moore was shot by a teen-ager who fired a bullet from a car on West Lexington Street, which parallels Vine, one block north. The child was not the target -- no one knows who was. The bullet hit a lamp post, fragmented and sprayed across a street full of children playing, on a warm spring day that should have signaled new life.
Sixteen-year-old Bruce Herman Allen was charged with murder -- another life lost, in effect.
"I have no idea why something like that happens," says Joe Green, who allows that life in poor city neighborhoods can be rootless and unstable, "a quicksand society," he calls it.
"People out here are looking for escape, anything other than money to get out of this dilemma," he suggests, offering a viewpoint, not an excuse.
And when death comes to young people, he adds, "A lot of parents can't even afford to put them in the caskets."
Several residents said they would not vote, didn't think their vote mattered and wanted no part of the political system.
"You know you got street hustlers, and you got political hustlers," said a man who declined to give his name. "I don't follow it. Whatever they going to do, they do. I'm not going to vote for someone who'll put a rope around my neck" -- calling for more prisons, tougher jail sentences, a reduction of welfare grants and the rest.
Politicians were scorned, but several people said the neighborhood itself had to take responsibility.
"Crime is something," said Roosevelt Blake, a 67-year-old retired Army man, "that people try to move off on everybody else. Crime starts at home. These mothers are down there blaming teachers when it's something they should have done a long time ago. They didn't raise 'em right."
Everyone wanted more police. Some said welfare reform would help, forcing people to work if they don't already and, inevitably, fostering independence. Until that happens, they said, crime would be hard to touch.
"It's almost like a no-win situation," said Earl Matthews, a 38-year-old maintenance worker at Poppletown Place. "Using force on the [law enforcement end] can produce new force on the criminal end."
He and others say the drug and gang activity on West Lexington had cleared up -- but they all thought it would be back particularly if someone does not address basic problems.
Government programs, of course, are all around. Poppleton Place, a federally subsidized complex, lies within the city's $100 million empowerment zone, an effort to develop jobs and to raise the quality of life.
Last summer, the government moved in to tear down the troubled public housing complex known as Lexington Terrace, offering a splendid bonus for Miss Jeanette.