Five start anti-crime celebration early

E. Baltimore residents camp out 65 evenings

August 03, 1999|By Zerline A. Hughes | Zerline A. Hughes,SUN STAFF

Signs are taped on the windows of many Ashland Avenue homes: No sitting on steps. No Loitering. Drug dealers often scurry in the streets, and gunfire punctuates many nights.

These things have area residents looking forward to today's 16th annual National Night Out Against Crime, but five East Baltimore residents have decided to celebrate early.

Very early.

For 65 consecutive nights, the corner of Ashland and Rose Street has been occupied by neighborhood residents to shoo away bad company.

Under a homemade shelter of 2- by-4-foot wood planks, plastic tarps and gray duct tape, they have camped out for hours at a time -- rain or shine.

When necessary, Vincent Richardson, Elroy Christopher, Guyton Clayton, Jimmy Branch and Kelly Brown have slept there.

In May, the Rose Street Community Center, a rowhouse in the 800 block of Rose St., was set on fire and destroyed.

Police said it was arson, but no arrests have been made or motive established.

The 3-year-old center, about 30 yards from the campsite, was an outlet for young people, offering tutoring, food and a way off the streets.

Residents, suspecting drug dealers were responsible, decided to make a stand.

"We believe in what we're doing," said Guyton, who works the 11 p.m. shift at the corner.

"When we're out there, we mostly have discussions about how to make this neighborhood a better place to live. We'd like to see a civil atmosphere."

The community center is using a building near the old facilitywhile repairs are made to the Rose Street center.

But local children are upset.

"Some people around here don't like it because the center is trying to get kids off the streets," said Antwane Martin, 16, who goes to the center.

"They are trying to help us out and keep us out of harm's way."

Tonight, many communities will try to reclaim their streets during the national annual night.

Started in 1983, it will be observed with block parties, barbecues and special guest appearances.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier and Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend will visit either Reservoir Hill, Highlandtown, or Ashland Avenue and Rose Street near Collington Square.

Tonight, in Patterson Park, state officials will announce $154,000 for a pilot program that will use mediators instead of police to help resolve neighborhood disputes.

It will be set up in Patterson Park, where a study identified 274 addresses where police were called more than twice in 30 days.

"We're going to be here until our neighborhood is a better place to live, no matter how long it takes," Guyton said.

"With her [Townsend] coming, it gives us hope. One year from now, we would like people to say, `I want to move down there on Ashland.' "

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