Newcomers to neighborhood should polish up their behavior

BALTIMORE CRIME BEAT

October 16, 2008|By PETER HERMANN | PETER HERMANN,peter.hermann@baltsun.com

I intended to end yesterday's column on the frustrations of homeowners in Belair-Edison trying to rid their streets of drug dealers with a telling comment from the past president of the homeowners' association.

He complained about an influx of residents from impoverished East Baltimore, pushed out by redevelopment around Johns Hopkins, and about their inability to adapt to a more stable environment.

"They didn't even come with lawn mowers," Anthony Dawson said.

I felt the comment needed more context.

Dawson grew up at East Eager Street and North Montford Avenue, one of the most dangerous corners in the city. There are vacant lots but no lawns to mow.

He wasn't being condescending by suggesting that residents from East Baltimore should have made a pit stop for gardening supplies.

What he was trying to say is that when new homeowners move into a community, they watch their neighbors to determine what behavior is acceptable and what is not.

Do people hang their clothes outside to dry? How often to they weed their gardens? Does the house with the RV in the driveway stand out?

At a recent meeting in Northeast Baltimore, Mayor Sheila Dixon acknowledged that the destruction of public housing was affecting crime rates in some communities, and she said the city should have done "an assessment about where people were placed" to ensure they were not concentrated in one area.

That's not to say that everyone who moves in on public assistance behaves badly. But Dawson said he can see the changes over the past few years, and they aren't good. More trash. More young men hanging on the corners. More drug dealing. More violence.

In the heart of the area is the New Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist Church at St. Cloud and Elmora avenues.

It took one question for the 64-year-old pastor, the Rev. Robert L. Haynes, to launch into a sermon about changing the heart of a thief, about troubled youths, about re-instilling Christian values.

"I'm a product of Baltimore City," Haynes told me. "You name it, I've probably done it, that's anti-social. I did all of the above, and I knew better. I knew better than to carry a gun. I knew better than to hang with people who dealt drugs."

Problems start small. Teens cuss. Then they throw trash and leave their bicycles on the church parking lot. The pastor said a man down the street kept 12 pit bulls unleashed in his backyard.

"Look, I'm a product of a sharecropper down in South Carolina," Haynes said. "I have no qualms about anyone moving into this community, but once they move in, there ought to be some concessions made to the people who are already here and who have established some sort of norms."

That includes refraining from dealing drugs and shooting people. And keeping the grass mowed.

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