Victim's neighbors say area besieged by drugs, violence

Year's first homicide has residents taking another look around

January 06, 2002|By Greg Garland | Greg Garland,SUN STAFF

Eight-year-old Terrance Carter has learned to drop to the floor and crawl away from the windows of his East Baltimore rowhouse when he hears gunshots.

It's a simple matter of survival in the drug-infested neighborhood of East Madison Street near Curley Street and Linwood Avenue, said his mother, Nadine Carter.

"My little boy is scared," she said yesterday.

Carter and her son live in the 2900 block of E. Madison St., right across the street from where Clarissa Ward, 17, was shot in the head by a gunman early Friday during an apparent robbery attempt.

The mother of two, who had been taking down Christmas lights from the home she shared with her mother, was the city's first homicide victim of the year.

As of last night, police had made no arrests and say they don't know why Ward was shot, other than that she was trying to get away from the gunman when he pulled the trigger.

A man she had been talking to, described by relatives as a casual acquaintance, was wounded in the attack.

Those who live nearby say the neighborhood has been declining for some time but has gotten much worse in recent years as heroin and cocaine dealers set up shop on street corners and in trash-strewn alleys.

"This used to be a very good area, nothing like it is now," said Tammy Baker, Ward's mother.

These days, the area looks like many other poor neighborhoods in the city. Broken glass and trash litter the alleys; pit bulls snarl and snap in small, fenced back yards; vacant rowhouses are boarded with plywood.

"They've got everything going on around here - drugs, you name it," said John A. Dixon, who has lived in the 700 block of Curley St. for the past 12 years. "The neighborhood's just gone to the dogs."

Baker said there was a time when anyone selling drugs in the neighborhood would have been run off by angry homeowners.

"The people who did care moved out," she said, and the good people who remain have been left to fight an increasingly difficult battle.

`They scatter'

Baker said she doesn't put up with dealers hanging around on the corner near her rowhouse. She runs them off when she gets home from her two jobs. She works days as a clerical worker for a state social services agency and some nights as a grocery store clerk.

"When I come home and they see me pulling up in my truck, they run like jack rabbits," she said. "They scatter."

But, she says, it is a losing battle. "Every time my back is turned, they are going back to that corner."

`Kids can't go out'

Baker's grief over the loss of her daughter touched neighbors, who set up a makeshift memorial of stuffed animals, a rose and other items on the porch.

Katie M. Lanier, who lives nearby on Curley Street, walked across East Madison yesterday morning bearing a sympathy card for Baker. Lanier's teen-age son and daughter had been friends of Ward's.

Lanier grew up in the area but moved to Baltimore County in 1993. She moved back two years ago to be closer to her job at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

"I wish I had never bought a house here," she said. "The drug dealers are running people away. Kids can't go out and play. Every time you turn around, people are getting shot and robbed."

She is among many who say city police aren't doing enough to shut down the thriving open-air drug market in the area and end the violence it brings.

Policing the area

"The police are around, but they don't do anything," Lanier said. "I call the police all the time. They know me."

Ward's relatives echoed the complaint.

"They [drug dealers] are on the corners all the time dealing drugs, and the police will ride right by," said Kimberly Baker, the victim's aunt.

She said the neighborhood had its problems when she was growing up, but it has become far worse in the past few years. "I wouldn't trust letting a dog on the street here," she said.

A Police Department spokesman said that police do not ignore crimes that they see happening and that residents are not always aware of covert investigations conducted by police.

"If officers see a crime, they move in and effect an arrest," said Sgt. Kevin Daniels. "We're well aware of the problems that plague the city, and we're going to do everything we can to make it a better place."

Police say violent crime is down 25 percent from two years ago in the Eastern District, which is considered one of the city's most dangerous.

But that is little comfort to those such as Nadine Carter, who listened in fear with her son as shots rang out early Friday. Those sharp sounds were followed by the piercing screams of Ward's mother calling for help, Carter said.

"When I looked out the door, she was holding her daughter," Carter said. "She kept screaming, `Please breathe, baby! Please breathe!'"

Ward's family members said a wake will be held at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday at March Funeral Home, 1101 E. North Ave., followed by a funeral at noon. Calling hours will be held tomorrow evening.

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