Citizen crime fighter remembered

Street sign marks woman's stand against drug dealers

April 03, 1999|By Joe Mathews | Joe Mathews,SUN STAFF

Roger Webb stood in front of his white, two-story rowhouse yesterday afternoon, admired a corner devoid of drug dealers and smiled around the toothpick in his mouth. Above his head, the brand-new street sign -- white letters on red -- shined brightly enough to be visible four blocks away.

"June's Corner," it said.

The sign was new, but the sentiment wasn't. The intersection of Boyd and Pulaski streets, in the heart of the Boyd-Booth section of Southwest Baltimore, is the corner where June Webb, Roger's wife, spent the last 16 years of her life. And the world of Mrs. Webb represented the center of a rare success story in the city's long struggle with the drug trade.

Yesterday, about 60 of her friends and neighbors gathered at the corner and invoked Webb as a patron saint of stubborn citizen crime-fighting on the southwest side of town.

Led by 6th District Councilman Norman A. Handy Sr., they dedicated the street sign as a monument to a sharp decline in crime in the 1990s that has reached many American cities but only a few Baltimore neighborhoods such as Boyd-Booth.

"She used to tell them, `Get out of here. You got corners far from here to do your business on,' " said her sister, Thelma Jones. "There was never doubt that the corner belonged to her."

Neither June Webb nor the community association was ready when, in the late 1980s, the drug trade overwhelmed Boyd-Booth. Dealers set fire to the homes of residents who dared call the police. A few attended community meetings to gather intelligence. Roger Webb worried about his wife's safety.

But June Webb, a tailor's daughter from West Lexington Street who raised four daughters and eight grandchildren, betrayed no fear.

Unarmed, she confronted street dealers. Her mission was personal. At times, she feared the streets had taken her third daughter, Terry, who yesterday tearfully recounted her mother's toughness in helping her overcome drugs.

By the early 1990s, Webb's battle had been joined. The Citizens Planning and Housing Association sent organizers. Police added foot patrols. The state provided the neighborhood with a small fund for boarding up vacant houses, improving lighting and erecting alley fences that made it harder for dealers to evade police.

The energy for these projects came from Boyd-Booth Concerned Citizens Inc., which Webb helped found in 1982. The group organized vigils, block parties and picnics. Webb helped run a summer program that put young people to work cleaning streets.

George Kelling, architect of New York City's crime decline, offered her work as a national model in his 1996 book "Fixing Broken Windows." Kelling wrote: "The restoration of order in Boyd-Booth was the result of above all a citizenry mobilized to plan and implement a comprehensive strategy for reclaiming its community."

By 1996, violent crime had fallen 56 percent in Boyd-Booth, even as rates for homicides and other crimes citywide remained high. By the time those figures were made public, Webb was seriously ill. In her husband's arms, she died of kidney failure on Jan. 28, 1997, at age 52.

Today, some residents complain that dealers are growing brazen again.

"A lot of the dealers know that June is gone," said Adell Reddon, 61, who succeeded Webb as community president. "And they know that none of us is quite as strong as she was."

Pub Date: 4/03/99

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