Remembering the victims

Community: A cleaned-up East Baltimore park serves as an informal memorial to slain neighborhood teens.

September 14, 1999|By Amy Oakes | Amy Oakes,SUN STAFF

When school lets out in East Baltimore's Brentwood Village, kids break fast to the stripped-down basketball court and playground on East Chase Street.

They gather on a lot dotted with trash in the shadow of several city jails. Some play a fierce game of half-court five-on-five, while others sit under the swing set that doesn't have swings and commiserate with friends. Off to the side, little kids mimic the action on the court.

It might not be the perfect recreational site, but it looks much better than it did about a month ago, when Patrick Lee and nine neighborhood kids cleaned up the park and painted the court and side walls in shimmering white and yellow. They had enough paint to write on the wall the names of some young people from Brentwood Village who have been killed in the past few years.

They dedicated the park to David Brown, a promising local basketball player who was killed in a drive-by shooting in the 1500 block of Russell St. in January 1995. Under his name are painted two jerseys, a white one with a yellow "11" for Brown's playing days at North Carolina's Pfeiffer College, and a white one with a red "22" for Baltimore City Community College, where he was named to the 1993-1994 All-Maryland Junior College team.

"I really wanted to dedicate this wall to David and the others," said Lee, a community organizer based at St. Frances Academy. "This is our village and the people we lost."

The names next to David's are: Latrina, Sammy, Man, Cuz, Marlon, Taster and Lee's brother Parren. Most were the victims of street violence, and their stories are virtually the same.

Taster was shot near a vacant rowhouse in the 1100 block of Barclay St. in 1998; Marlon was shot standing at Greenmount Avenue and Biddle Street in 1997; and Parren was shot in the 1100 block of Barclay St. in 1996 during an argument, Lee said.

Brown's grandmother, Catherine Brown, said she was surprised to see the park dedicated to her grandson.

"I had thought that a lot of people had forgotten about him," said Brown, 61, of the 1100 block of Barclay St., one block from the park. "It makes me feel good."

Lee said it's important that people, especially the kids who frequent the park, remember their slain friends. In a park once defined by graffiti, he said, vandals have left the wall alone.

"If they didn't respect it, it would be marked up by now," Lee said.

The park, in the 400 block of E. Chase St., and its sister playground a few blocks east on Chase Street might see more improvements.

In April, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and several housing department officials visited the two playgrounds to assess the need for improvements. Representatives from St. Frances Academy, which is across Chase Street from the playgrounds, told Schmoke how important it was for the community to have viable playgrounds, and promised to maintain the play sets and basketball court.

The city promised $75,000, said John Milton Wesley, a spokesman for the Department of Housing and Community Development. Wesley said the department is waiting for a plan for the playgrounds from St. Frances and the neighboring Johnston Square Community Organization before it releases the money.

Lee said he didn't want to wait for the city. Last month, he and his helpers spent three days picking up bottles, food cartons and other trash at the park.

He bought a few gallons of paint and went to work. When that ran out, a woman who lives nearby donated two more gallons.

Kurt Kocher, a spokesman for the Department of Public Works, said he hasn't seen the park, but that the city doesn't mind people cleaning up playgrounds as long as there is adult supervision. "We're always willing to work with community groups," he said.

Lee said the spruced-up basketball court has had an impact on the neighborhood. He held a tournament for 16 area teams Aug. 14, and dozens of residents showed up to watch.

"We've never had so many kids from different parts of the neighborhood come together without any problems," Lee said. "The smaller kids are already asking when their tournament will be."

Darrell Cook, 30, who lives across the street from the park, said the basketball court offers young people a recreational option -- something rare in his community.

"Basically, everyone in the community comes down here," Cook said. "It gives a whole lot of brothers something to do."

During one recent afternoon, 10-year-old Shawntay Owens sat on her basketball and waited until the bigger kids were finished playing, while her sister talked to friends.

Shawntay's sister, Rosalyn, 17, said she's proud of the park and what it stands for. She knew most of the people whose names are on the wall, or has heard of them.

"It makes us feel like someone really cares about us," Owens said. "It makes us feel like a whole community."

Pub Date: 9/14/99

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