Another shooting, and more frustration

North Ave. incident a familiar one as city violence mounts

April 29, 2000|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

The yellow crime-scene tape was draped across a North Avenue sidewalk, preserving a small piece of real estate where a man had been shot five times outside an East Baltimore convenience store.

But concern about yet another city shooting was hard to find. A woman looked at a cordoned-off bus stop and asked "Where am I going to get the bus?" A man wanted to know how long his wife, a witness, would be questioned by police.

The shooting late yesterday morning at East North Avenue and Aisquith Street, which left a man critically wounded, was similar to others that occur almost daily across the city and have become a fixture in some blighted neighborhoods.

It is a routine that troubles the city's mayor and new police commissioner, who are beginning to implement a policing plan that calls for aggressive patrols in the most troubled areas to stem a spate of violence that has left 100 people dead in less than four months.

A bullet that missed its target yesterday traveled across busy North Avenue and into the parking lot of March Funeral Home, where it crashed through a side window of an empty green Chevy Blazer owned by Bernard D. Johnson, a funeral director.

"He was shooting at somebody over there and wasn't thinking about hitting anybody else," said Johnson. Glancing at the intersection, he said, "That's the corner."

"It was disgusting," said City Council President Sheila Dixon, who toured North and Aisquith this week and noted the trash and drug addicts.

Baltimore has the nation's second-highest per-capita homicide rate, behind Detroit. There have been 32 killings this month.

In a year when the mayor, Martin O'Malley, promised to reclaim the streets, 28 more people have been killed than at this time last year.

"The new police commissioner has his hands full," said James Rowe, 31, who drives a van for a taxi service and passed by the shooting scene, where a blood-stained jacket was crumpled on the ground.

"There is nothing left to be done but to put pressure on the criminals," he said.

The latest killing occurred yesterday about 9: 15 p.m. when a double shooting in the 2500 block of E. Hoffman St. in East Baltimore left a man dead. On Thursday night, an unidentified man was shot in the head in the 2100 block of Garrison Blvd.

At midafternoon Wednesday, Nolan Morris, a 16-year-old junior at Southwestern High school, was shot and killed a block from his home on Random Road.

Yesterday, police charged Dean Robert Coward, 20, who also lives on Random Road, with first-degree murder in that case.

Detective Donald F. Kramer of the city police homicide unit had just closed the file on that killing when his phone rang, this time for the North Avenue shooting, 15 minutes before noon.

Kramer found himself standing in front of the Royal Star carryout struggling to find a witness.

"We were nowhere around," a woman shouted at an officer. "We were home in bed."

The violence has frustrated the acting police commissioner, Edward T. Norris, who comes from New York, where he implemented an assertive policing plan that helped reduce homicides to 30-year lows.

Norris finds himself in a debate over how to make his new city safer while assuring residents that his police force will not be abusive. His City Council confirmation hearing is scheduled for Tuesday.

The frustrated police leader noted that each time he has to venture out to sell his plan, he must bring dozens of police commanders along.

"I'd rather have them on patrol," he said. "It's time that we really got going."

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