East-side violence concerns officials

Three killed, two shot since anti-crime meeting

January 09, 2001|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

Two weeks ago, police, clergy and prosecutors lectured men convicted of shooting people and selling drugs in East Baltimore and warned them that further violence would not be tolerated.

Since then, three people in the area have been killed and two others shot - a deadly spate that has upset officials of Operation Safe Neighborhoods, a state-run campaign that pumps money and resources into beleaguered communities to fight crime.

Yesterday, ministers, community leaders, law enforcement officials and the mother of a slain Baltimore teen-ager gathered at East Lanvale and North Spring streets, where Terrence King, 19, was killed Dec. 30.

FOR THE RECORD - An article on Operation Safe Neighborhoods in Baltimore that appeared in some editions yesterday incorrectly characterized the program as a state-run campaign. It is a local partnership involving state and federal law enforcement agencies that uses funds from private foundations and the state.
The Sun regrets the errors

"When I was a kid, life meant something," said Skip Harrison, director of the Oliver Community Association. "Remember, as we stand here there's another person being targeted. Hopefully, we can get to him before somebody else does."

Dee Sparks, a former drug addict who runs a treatment center on the east side, said Baltimore "is addicted to the lifestyle of death."

"I'm sick and tired of watching your young black men die at the point of a gun," Sparks said.

Operation Safe Neighborhoods was begun in summer 1999 by the governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention. Officials concentrate on specific communities to conduct programs, offer drug treatment and increase police patrols. Parole and probation officers also step up their scrutiny of released convicts under their charge.

Adopted from a program used in Boston several years ago, officials conduct a "gang call-in," in which recently released felons are ordered to attend meetings where they are warned by police that they are being watched, and are directed to drug-counseling and job-placement programs.

In Northwest Baltimore, where the program began, statistics show a reduction in shootings from 61 in 1999 to 24 in 2000, and a fall in homicides from 12 in 1999 to nine last year.

It recently expanded to East Baltimore, one of the city's most violent areas, where Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris sent 120 extra officers in August to help curtail violence. Between August and December, eight people were killed there, down from 21 during the same period in 1999.

But Operation Safe Neighborhoods does not have the full support of Mayor Martin O'Malley, who inherited the program from his predecessor and has since hired consultants to form his own crime-fighting plan.

O'Malley did not attend yesterday's news conference. His spokesman, Tony White, attributed his absence to "poor notification" of the event. But he also said the mayor does not agree with some aspects of the program.

"He agrees with the objectives, it's just the methodology that gives him some problems," White said yesterday. "It is not as fast a paced program as he would like it to be."

Despite the political differences, officials from the city and state are working together. A city prosecutor assigned to Safe Neighborhoods attends the weekly police meetings to help identify trends, and the police major in charge of the Eastern District is integral to the plan.

Mayoral aides said O'Malley does not think the "gang call-ins" are effective. Safe Neighborhoods officials said they could use more support from the mayor, who won a moral victory when homicides fell to less than 300 last year for the first time in more than a decade.

But violence is far from over. King was gunned down in front of his home in the 1400 block of E. Lanvale St. about 1:20 a.m. The killing - the first of three in East Baltimore since Dec. 30 - remains unsolved.

Yesterday's news conference nearly turned into a vigil. Jo Ann Lemon brought fliers with a picture of her grandson, Levar Black, missing since June.

Katherine Yates brought a photo of her nephew, Nolan Morris, killed in West Baltimore in April.

King's mother, Thomasina King, 42, watched the news conference while hidden in a vestibule of her corner home. She was just steps from the microphones and cameras but hidden from view.

"Anybody can be dead," she said later. "I appreciate that they are all here, not only for me, but for somebody else's son."

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