On Harford, life goes on

"War zone": Few here were surprised by the shooting death of a Baltimore police officer. Residents say violence comes with the territory - and adapt to survive.

March 16, 2001|By Kimberly A. C. Wilson and Rob Hiaasen | Kimberly A. C. Wilson and Rob Hiaasen,SUN STAFF

Life along this section of Harford Road changed very little this week, despite the sea of blue uniforms and the white squad cars that stayed for days. Business went on. A pastor held his regular prayer service. A jogger kept to his daily run. The drug dealing resumed.

But near the spot where Baltimore Police Agent Michael J. Cowdery Jr. was shot dead Monday night, Shirley Jones stood sweeping away surgical gloves left in the street - by medics or investigators - near where the gunman's body fell.

"Very tacky," says Jones, removing the debris from in front of her mother's Cliftview Avenue rowhouse.

Cowdery was working plainclothes duty in the 2300 block of Harford Road - a suspected drug corridor - when he was shot. In the days that followed, kids with a basketball reveled in a sunset game of horse. But a teen-ager whose route to school takes him through the busy corridor picked up his pace along Harford, no class ring on his hand because it would only be stolen.

"Why bother?" he asks.

A jogger, fit as a boxer, would rather not pause along Harford Road. "It's as ghetto as ghetto gets," he explains.

A merchant from the South Bronx who wears a buzzer on his belt to let shoppers into his clothing store "wouldn't raise my children here, if I had any."

This is a crossroads of five neighborhoods: Barclay Village and East Baltimore Midway to the west, Darley Park and South Clifton Park to the east, Coldstream-Homestead-Montebello to the north. Harford Road is the dividing line.

Ruined two-story porch-front houses are on the Internet auction block. Local graffiti says "Harvard Road Killas." Spring flowers and teddy bears hang from the Joy Garden Carry-out's security gate, marking the place Cowdery fell.

The police shooting wasn't shocking here. Residents and shop owners knew that sound wasn't firecrackers going off.

"The devil's work," a local minister says.

"People die every day. Don't nobody want to die," says eighth-grader Kita Moore. "This is just the way life is."

This is a war zone, people say, and those along Harford Road use the term with conviction. They have adapted their behavior to survive. And if it makes them feel safer to tell themselves that bad things only happen on Harford Road, then they don't dwell on the fact that it's only one block away from their back porch, their wind chimes and the nonregulation basketball hoop.

Few talk about Monday night. But Rudolph Ford, 64, recalls how he was robbed of 75 cents on Cliftview Road a while ago because he made the mistake of grocery shopping at night around the corner. And Lorraine Carey, who catches the bus here and lives nearby on Darley Street, said she watched thugs this winter set fire to a man passed out on the sidewalk where Officer Cowdery died.

Raised near Harford Heights Elementary School, Steve Stephens Jr. is a daily sight along the road - a jogger, too wary to stop and talk. Run with him and he will tell you about his neighborhood. "It's horrible," he says. "But I grew up here, so I can run through it."

Kita Moore, who loves algebra, the Dixie Chicks and "Sesame Street," says she isn't scared. But when a reporter comes knocking, she keeps one foot wedged in the door of the home she shares with her siblings, mother and grandmother, one block from Monday's crime scene.

Kita's nickname is "Pooh," after her favorite character and cartoon. There's no fake killing or blood with Winnie the Pooh, she says, no craziness, no shooting. Pooh is so calm and doesn't get scared.

"Like me," Kita says.

Safety is relative: In her 14 years, no one has been killed in front of her house. But her father, Sonny, was fatally shot on Harford Road, where the check-cashing place now stands, months before she was born.

Part of his legacy is a daughter who comes straight home from school, walks the dog, does her homework and showers by 8 p.m., watches two hours of television and goes to bed. Routine, to Kita, is a matter of life and death.

Around the corner, Shirley Jones, 44, survives by remembering what used to be.

People used to clean up their street, but not anymore. What are you going to do, move? You wouldn't get the money back you put into your home, Jones says. Then what? Your home becomes another boarded-up eyesore.

"We have enough of those."

Next door to the Joy Garden Carry-out, where Officer Cowdery was shot, the Ebenezer Temple Apostolic Faith Church ends its noon prayer service with the 23rd Psalm. Rain the night of Monday's shooting washed away most of the blood outside. On Jan. 6, firefighters hosed off the sidewalk after Robert Anthony Bland, 37, was killed a half-block south. In November, more bloodshed - a shooting at the corner of Normal Avenue, right across the street.

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