Whispers Of Resurgent Gangs In Pen Lucy

CRIME BEAT

Crime Scenes

July 10, 2009|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,peter.hermann@baltsun.com

Peter Hermann's "Crime Scenes" is a reported feature that provides context about many of the incidents that take place on the streets of Baltimore and beyond.

The last shots in the decades-long feud between the Old York and Cator Avenue Boys and the McCabe Avenue Boys might have been fired years ago. Arrests, violent deaths and attrition have rendered these once-notorious neighborhood groups nothing more than street-corner legend.

Graffiti and tennis shoes that once hung from power lines marking turf no longer mar the urban landscape that defines North Baltimore's Pen Lucy neighborhood, though its main street, Old York Road, remains a desolate, narrow passageway lined with empty, gated storefronts, one where a South Korean merchant was killed in a robbery in 1997.

"It's been a tremendous change," said Robert Nowlin, a longtime outspoken community activist who remembers bullets being fired into his house years ago in a failed attempt to keep him quiet.

But in recent weeks, the names of the thought-to-be-defunct groups have resurfaced - in connection with a death off York Road in McCabe Avenue Boys' territory and in a federal drug indictment - raising questions about a comeback.

Last month, a 19-year-old man was fatally stabbed in the chest during a brawl on Tunbridge Road in what police described as retaliation for an earlier attack. The four-paragraph police charging document refers to a gang "from McCabe Avenue" and the victim's "gang friends."

Earlier this year, federal authorities busted a prison-based gang called the Black Guerrilla Family, and the indictment references the Pen Lucy groups. Authorities said BGF corrupted prison officers and tried to take over the city's lucrative drug markets.

Eric Brown, whom police identify as the BGF leader, had been a member of the McCabe Avenue Boys. He joined or formed the bigger, more violent and more organized gang while he was imprisoned on drug charges from a 1992 shooting that left two people dead and six others wounded on Old York Road.

Brown had been charged with murder, but two other men were found guilty in the killings - which claimed the lives of a gang member and a city worker caught in the crossfire - and were each sentenced to 30 years in prison. Murder charges against Brown were dismissed, but an ensuing investigation resulted in drug charges that landed him a 25-year prison sentence.

Baltimore police maintain there is no gang resurgence, that retired members are making news on their own and not as part of an organized criminal enterprise on the streets of Pen Lucy. The stabbing on Tunbridge, they said, was an isolated dispute and not, despite the charging document's wording, a new chapter in an old war story.

"There are young ones out there who are trying very hard to use the old names," Nowlin said. "There is a gang problem, but it's nowhere near what it used to be. Their attempts to become as strong as they used to be are being thwarted."

The violence might have ebbed, but the Old York Road thoroughfare remains forlorn and desolate. Only two shops are open on the street that winds through Pen Lucy - a corner liquor shop and a dry cleaner with a front desk behind bullet-resistant glass. Across the street, in a rowhouse-size lot, there is a memorial garden built last year with the help of the cable network HGTV.

Some fought the garden, arguing the community shouldn't memorialize people lost to gunfire attributed to drug and turf battles that turned this neighborhood into another of the city's killing fields.

The names of Pen Lucy's dead are on a plaque in the garden's center, in raised letters; street names and street slang are omitted, but with the innocent and the players listed side by side. Just the names, such as Clifton Turner and Antwan Palmer. Unstated is that the former was a Morgan State student killed in crossfire as he walked to school in 1997, and the latter was the target of the 1992 gun battle on Old York Road.

It's possible the gangs are gone.

But the memories are still fresh.

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