Reason to worry

Belair-Edison goes quiet after double homicide - yet another neighborhood hurt by rising crime

Confronting Crime : The Battle For Baltimore's Future

September 22, 2007|By Sumathi Reddy | Sumathi Reddy,SUN REPORTER

CLARIFICATION

An article Saturday on crime in the Belair-Edison community and another about a housing program in yesterday's editions led readers to conclude that Johns Hopkins Hospital was in charge of a new biotechnology park being built adjacent to its campus in East Baltimore. The revitalization project is run by East Baltimore Development Inc., of which Johns Hopkins is a partner.

The street is mostly empty now, many of the businesses lining Belair Road closed or empty.

Joe Maina warily eyes a stray customer who walks into his store, the Belair-Edison Arcade, a hodgepodge of ethnic products, Kenyan coffee and Caribbean spices, bumper stickers and T-shirts that declare African pride.

Just across the street, two East Baltimore men were shot to death in broad daylight as an afternoon church service was getting out.

"Some of my customers can't come to this area - they worry about stray bullets," says Maina, 35. "They know the area is not secure. I'm just waiting to see how it's going to be."

In the midst of a surge in homicides and nonfatal shootings across the city this year, Northeast Baltimore has seen some of the steepest increases, and the community of Belair-Edison is among the casualties.

On Sunday in the 3400 block of Belair Road, Channing Myrick, 26, and Deion Morris, 23, both of East Baltimore, were gunned down. Police have made no arrests.

Three blocks away in late July, a man was found dead at Belair Road and Clifton Park Terrace, across the street from a day care center. The remnants of his makeshift memorial - deflated balloons and a mound of white melted wax - mark the spot.

And a block away in April, a 43-year-old woman died after a city police officer fired his Taser at her when she attacked him.

The impact has affected residents on nearby leafy streets lined with well-kept rowhouses, but also businesses on the usually busy thoroughfares of Belair Road and Erdman Avenue

While some say the neighborhood and its business district have always dealt with the usual urban ills, others say things have taken a turn for the worse in recent years.

More than 100 businesses line about a half-dozen blocks, including a large number of beauty salons and barbershops mixed with tax services and banks, convenience stories and carryout restaurants.

Chad Hayes, director of commercial revitalization for Belair-Edison Neighborhoods Inc., a nonprofit across the street from the double homicide, said he doesn't believe the latest shootings will affect business. "Obviously, it's a negative thing that has happened to the neighborhood," he said. "But I believe for the most part people realize this is a safe business district."

But some business owners remain worried.

Those like Maina, who took over the family business in May after his cousin was robbed three times, say customers fear wiring money through his store's money gram business. He decided against adding a check-cashing service.

A Vietnamese laundromat owner across the street complains about the constant drug activity outside and ponders moving but cannot afford it.

A block away, a new business owner says that buying a convenience store in the area was a big mistake. "Not yet," he says wryly when asked if he has been the victim of a robbery.

At a local bar, the Mayfield Inn, the bartender points to a stray bullet that tore through the front door. "It's already hurt business, these drug corners," says Sandy Bornscheuer, 64. "I'm afraid to walk two blocks in broad daylight. If it's slow, I shut the doors and lock them until I see someone I know."

Baltimore police were unable to provide crime statistics for the Belair-Edison neighborhood. But Northeast Baltimore overall has had 29 homicides this year, compared with 13 at this time last year. Nonfatal shootings have jumped from 52 last year to 65 this year.

Felony drug arrests in the area have increased 30 percent, while misdemeanor drug arrests are up 43 percent. But most other crimes, including aggravated assaults and robberies, are down, said Sterling Clifford, a spokesman for the Police Department.

Anthony Dawson, president of the Belair-Edison Community Association, blames some of the problems on investors quickly selling properties - a practice called flipping - and renting out the houses to people who aren't as invested as homeowners.

"Our community right now is in transition," said Dawson. "We're trying to create an identity for our community, which is definitely not a community for crime and disorder."

But Johnette Richardson, executive director of Belair-Edison Neighborhoods Inc., a nonprofit that assists people looking to buy homes in the area, said that home prices have increased in recent years and that the ownership rate - about 75 percent - remains strong.

"We're one of these middle neighborhoods in Baltimore. We have turned a corner," said Richardson, who lives north of Belair-Edison.

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