Outsiders blamed in neighborhood trying to rebound

The Scene

August 01, 2007|By Nicole Fuller | Nicole Fuller,Sun reporter

Beds of well-tended, hot-pink petunias brighten the Southeast Baltimore sidewalk across the street from a rowhouse where no one lives, with chipping red paint and a sheet of wood covering its doorway.

North Port Street in McElderry Park, where two city police officers were shot Monday evening, is like so many places in Baltimore - a mix of old brick rowhouses with cheap rents and gleaming rehabbed homes selling for six figures, where the working-class residents who have lived there for decades share a block with their newer, more affluent neighbors.

Residents point to the contrasts in the 200 block of N. Port St., blocks from Johns Hopkins Hospital and Patterson Park - a place, they say, where members of the infamous street gang the Bloods run deep, where young professionals are snapping up homes for $169,000 - even one with a hot tub for $245,000, where drug dealing and street gambling are an everyday thing, and where people of diverse backgrounds live together.

"It's not a bad neighborhood, with Johns Hopkins being up the street," said Tavon Cheeks, 41, who sat on the steps of a neighbor's rowhouse yesterday.

"They were talking on the news last night like it was the worst neighborhood in the city," added 11-year resident Gloria Evans, 59.

"Mmm hmm," Cheeks said, shaking his head.

"It may have shootings, but they're not on this block," Evans said.

Both female officers are expected to recover; one was released from the hospital yesterday. On Port and Orleans streets, it was relatively quiet.

Dice games - which police said were being played when the officers pulled up and were shot - were nonexistent yesterday. Neighbors said the games, usually an everyday occurrence, involve young men who don't live in the area.

Yesterday, just a handful of residents lingered outside in the sweltering heat, mostly recounting what they saw and experienced Monday.

"In a way, I'm happy it happened," said Carl Johnson, 43, who owns Ruby Limousine, a one-man business he runs from his home on the block. "Don't get me wrong - it's terrible what happened to these two ladies. But it cleared our block out, and we know nobody's gonna come back."

Johnson, however, was not pleased with the Police Department's treatment of some residents in the hours after the shootings. He and several of his neighbors said they were handcuffed, thrown in a police wagon and interrogated by several city police detectives for hours without being charged with a crime.

They said the officers swore, shouted and threatened them. Johnson, who said he has complained to the department's Internal Affairs Division, said they were released about 2:30 a.m.

"They really made us feel like we were suspects," said Latonya Geathers, 24, a cashier at Burger King, who recounted being handcuffed on the street in full view of television and newspaper cameras. "They humiliated us in front of the whole neighborhood, like we were the culprits. It was terrible. We're working people. We felt bad about the situation, too."

Antony Clayton, 43, was shown in a photograph published in yesterday's Sun leaving his house with his hands in the air as officers pointed their guns.

"They were ready to retaliate," Clayton said, relieved he was finally released, but unable to work yesterday as a laborer because he couldn't get any sleep after the incident. "You know how cops get when somebody shoots a cop."

Acting police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III confirmed that the department's Quick Response Team stormed two houses on the block.

"We got great information from people in the community [who] said that suspects related to the shooting fled and those were possibly two locations where they fled," Bealefeld said. He added, "So we secured those residences and executed some search warrants there. We did recover some drug evidence from one of the residences. It helped. Our actions there in doing those search warrants on those houses also helped our progress with the investigation."

Virginia Isaac, 79, who has lived on the block for almost 14 years, said in her experience the 200 block of N. Port St. is a nice place to live.

"It got a lot better than it used to be," Isaac said. "Better neighbors moved in. You talk to them and they're friendly. You don't see all these druggies running in and out of the alleys like it used to be."

Israel Dominguez, 28, has lived near the scene of the shooting for about two years. Dominguez, who said he does odd jobs to make a living, moved from New York and is hopeful that police will concentrate more efforts in the area after the shooting.

"It's not always safe. I see so many guys around here. I try to keep her in the house," Dominguez said, gesturing to his daughter Michelle, 3. "Right now, I think all the police are going to be around here after all this happened. The police are going to do something."

nicole.fuller@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Annie Linskey contributed to this article.

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