Endless war of good vs. destructive

August 12, 1998|By GREGORY KANE

Anibal Brisueno had no time to waste. He grabbed his camera, dashed out the door of his Pimlico home and raced through the playground that separates Edgemere Avenue from Denmore Avenue. He wanted pictures of this event: The Denmore Apartments were coming down.

Standing on one side of Denmore early last month as a bulldozer tore into the apartments on the even-numbered side of the street, Brisueno snapped photos. A smile flickered across his lips as the bulldozer ripped open yet another section of the apartments. Clifford Dummett, his neighbor on Edgemere, stood with him. Two Northwestern District police officers stood behind them. Off to the side, neighborhood drug dealers stood and watched as one of their havens for business was slowly razed.

"I wonder if they're watching their stash of drugs being destroyed," Dummett quipped, not bothering to hide his glee. It was at the apartments that drug dealers stashed and sold their products, that addicts flocked to get their fixes and poot-butts of every sort gathered. Collectively, they were a blight on the neighborhood and a menace to every law-abiding soul in it.

The last straw for Brisueno had come one to two weeks before the bulldozers showed up. Two of the poot-butts at the apartments became embroiled in a dispute. One pulled out a gun and began firing at the other, who fled in the direction of Edgemere Avenue. Gunman and prey sped through the alley leading onto Edgemere, where the prey grabbed a boy and used him as a shield from the bullets. Fortunately, the gunman stopped shooting.

"That could have been my grandson," Brisueno said then, referring to his precocious Jonathan, who often plays on the block. Brisueno swung into action, calling and writing Daniel Henson at the city housing authority and his 5th District City Council representatives. His action paid off. The space where the Denmore Apartments stood is now two dirt lots. Chalk up a victory for Brisueno, Dummett and other community residents. Make a note of a setback for the poot-butts.

But Brisueno realizes the battle isn't over. The war between Baltimore's decent citizens and its dysfunctional ones is never-ending. Afternoons and evenings find the gray-haired, bespectacled Brisueno going door-to-door in the neighborhood, handing out fliers he made up on his home computer, urging residents to attend community meetings to address the problems of crime, drugs, trash and abandoned houses.

He's lived in the neighborhood more than 30 years. Long enough to watch his eight children grow into adulthood. Long enough to work with other neighborhood residents and city officials to get that playground between Edgemere and Denmore avenues, to get a pool outside a nearby recreational center, a baseball and football field next to it and a smaller playground with a rubberized mat just outside the rec center. The rubberized mat on the kiddie playground with jungle bars and sliding boards is to prevent injuries.

"We haven't had an injury yet," Brisueno said of the playground, which is now 10 years old. It came as a result of Brisueno's work with former 5th District City Councilman Thomas Waxter.

"He started the city's play-lot program," Brisueno said of Waxter. "Six were proposed. Waxter came to me one day and said, 'You've got one of them.' "

Weeks after the Denmore Apartments were razed, Brisueno walked through both playgrounds, explaining the difficulties he's had with those community residents committed to destruction and dysfunction. He pointed to the fence surrounding the big playground, the one between Edgemere and Denmore.

"It was repaired four times," Brisueno lamented. "It won't get repaired again. We ran out of money. I went to neighborhood merchants and got $500 to repair the fence. One year, I kicked out $500 of my own money."

Neighborhood miscreants tore the fence apart - in spite of two large openings at either end for ingress and egress - to make escapes from police and each other easier. Brisueno wanted several benches for senior citizens installed at one end of the playground. But elderly neighborhood residents pooh-poohed the idea. Benches, they said, would make the playground a haven for drug dealers.

But Anibal Brisueno - the tough, 66-year-old retired Marine master sergeant - continues the good fight against those who would make his neighborhood a hellish place to live. He believes in his city.

Now, it's time to see if his city believes in him.

Pub date: 8/12/98

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