Parole resident leads cleanup Angered mother rallies neighbors against drugs, fear

February 16, 1997|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

It wasn't too long ago that residents closed their blinds and shut their doors to the sight of drug dealers and prostitutes roaming the streets of Parole.

Angela Graham Haste changed all that with one telephone call, a bucketful of grit and enough energy to rally a frightened, drug-infested community into driving out crime.

"It was so bad that the playground area was considered one of the largest open-air drug markets in the city," said Sgt. Robert E. Beans, the city community outreach coordinator. "They set up tents in the park, and you could go in and buy any drug you wanted. Now, the difference is like night and day.

"She had a vision of what the community would be like -- she wanted a better place to live," Beans said. "So she shared that vision with other people in the community and they believed her."

Born at the U.S. Naval Academy, Haste moved to California with her family at an early age, but returned to Annapolis in 1966 to live with her grandparents in Parole after her mother died. When she grew up, she moved around for several years, until in 1992, she felt the pull of family ties and moved back to her old Parole neighborhood with her son and husband.

It wasn't long before she discovered that things had changed.

Prostitutes wandered the roads. Vagrants slept on the sidewalks and in nearby Chambers Park. Drug dealers ruled the streets and hid their stashes in mailboxes and shrubs. People urinated wherever they pleased.

"It was ridiculous," said Haste, 42, a graduate of the University of Maryland College Park and now a church clerk. "People were scared, too scared to call the police."

Problems hit home

Then the neighborhood problems got personal. First, she and her husband, Ralph, found the beer in her son's room. Then they found the bag of marijuana and finally the cocaine in a shoe box and $180 in cash.

"My son, Tramar, got caught up in it, too," Haste said. "Big money, big drugs. It took him a long time to find out it wasn't all it was cracked up to be. Those were some really rough times. Needless to say, I cried a lot."

Last summer, Haste said she had "had enough." Something inside snapped when a neighbor stood outside and waved a shotgun in the air, screaming at drug dealers to go away. Haste, who describes herself as shy and someone who keeps to herself, picked up the phone, called Beans, and the Parole neighborhood watch group was born.

Like a 'pit bull'

Like a "pit bull," community activists said, Haste went door to door and persuaded people not to lose hope. She faced down drug dealers who told her to mind her own business, then set up community meetings, passed out crime-prevention fliers and found block captains to help monitor the streets.

"She isn't the type to step out from a crowd to take charge," said her aunt, Betty M. Coleman, one of several family members who live in the neighborhood. "But I guess this is something she felt strongly about, and she did it at a lot of personal risk to herself."

With 7,000 citizens involved in neighborhood watch programs in the city's 20 communities, Parole has one of the strongest, Beans says.

"People had tried on several occasions to start a neighborhood watch group in that area, but each time it failed," said Democratic Alderman Samuel Gilmer, whose 3rd Ward includes Parole.

"She's a good leader," Gilmer said. "She brought the people together and kept them together. Then together they pushed the drug pushers out. That's quite an accomplishment."

Haste thinks so, too.

Always on the lookout

Sitting by the window in her little brick home on Dorsey Avenue, Haste smiles as neighbors stroll by her door, listens to the laughter of children outside and watches as unfamiliar cars pass through -- ever ready to call the police.

"It's so nice," she said. "It used to be so bad and now, you could never tell. My son is trying to straighten his life out, too. Things aren't all perfect, but it's a whole lot better."

Pub Date: 2/16/97

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