Cherry Hill quieter after drug raids yield 29 arrests Though skeptical, residents pleased by police attention

March 08, 1998|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,SUN STAFF

Fewer signs of drug dealing, at least in public. Fewer fights breaking out on the street. Weary-looking addicts, wandering around without a fix.

Just 24 hours after police arrested 29 people -- all allegedly members of the Veronica Avenue Boys, one of Baltimore's most notorious and violent drug-trafficking organizations -- Cherry Hill looked like a different place yesterday.

Not a showcase. Not without its obvious problems of poverty and drug addiction. But maybe a little more peaceful, a little less overwhelmed. It was a reprieve that residents doubt will be permanent, but are pleased to experience.

"I see a little change," said Rufus Couser, 55, longtime owner of a Cherry Hill service station. "I hope it lasts. It'd be better for the community."

In a series of raids heralded as a new effort to get tough on Baltimore's youth crime, police on Friday arrested Veronica Avenue members they claim were responsible for selling $10,000 worth of crack cocaine each day.

Named after a three-block street that until recently was lined with public housing projects, the Veronica Avenue Boys were said to have terrorized their neighbors, killing at least four people and wounding 27 others. Most of those arrested Friday were teen-agers.

"They were a pretty mean bunch," said Maj. Elmer Dennis, who grew up in Cherry Hill and now commands the Southern District. "I think this sends a real strong message that if you're dealing drugs and violence, we're coming after you."

But while Cherry Hill residents applauded Friday's action, many seemed skeptical its effect would last very long. They harbored a cynicism born of experience: Many have seen hundreds flock here daily from the suburbs and other city neighborhoods to buy vials of crack.

"Things are really terrible. My son was in that crowd," said Ernest Hall, 43, a former city worker whose 17-year-old son is now back in school and away from drugs. "If police stay on top of it, it'll help a lot."

Tyrone Powell, 35, an unemployed cook, said the arrests had made Cherry Hill a quieter place with fewer public fights.

"A lot of these guys are in jail," he said. "It makes a difference as long as they stay there."

Alexander "Heavy" Foy, owner of Heavy's Barber Shop, a Cherry Hill Shopping Center fixture for 51 years, said the streets looked noticeably different -- less traffic and drug dealing -- but he doubted the change would last.

"They've gotten so slick it'll take an act of Congress to get these guys," said Foy, 73. "These guys don't have respect for nobody."

In the shopping center parking lot, the talk was about how the arrests would only provide opportunities for some other group to move into the neighborhood -- such is the economics of supply and demand.

"The only thing that changes is the personnel," said Greg King, 45, who lives nearby. "The conditions stay the same."

Several blocks away, Dominick Robinson felt safe enough to walk his two young sons to the grocery for potato chips. He said he suspected Cherry Hill's problems wouldn't be solved until the demand for drugs was reduced.

"As long as you've got drug addicts inside the community, you're going to have drug dealers," said Robinson, 28, a security guard at Domino Sugar.

Driving his police cruiser through Cherry Hill yesterday afternoon, Sgt. Darryl C. Moore could point to the raids' effects -- no signs of drug-buying suburbanites, empty corners that are usually dealer hangouts, the addicts suffering because they couldn't get a ride to another neighborhood to buy drugs.

But he, too, shared the neighborhood's concerns that arresting one group won't cure Cherry Hill's ills. A more permanent solution, he said, will require constant vigilance from a community that must overcome its fear of its young criminals.

"I see a lot of good people in Cherry Hill," said Moore, 42, an 18-year veteran of the force, "but I also have to admit there's a lot of fear."

Pub Date: 3/08/98

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.