In Baltimore, After Year Of Revenge, Violence Triumphs Over Justice

CRIME BEAT

July 28, 2009|By PETER HERMANN

No one was shot on Fairmount Avenue.

It wasn't for a lack of trying.

The gunmen who ravaged East and Southeast Baltimore Sunday night and early Monday, hitting at least 18 people and killing two at five locations, didn't spare this street. Bullets here didn't draw blood, but they found the sides of houses, car doors and hoods and rooftops.

And a beleaguered Police Department ran out of plastic evidence cards used to mark the shell casings.

At the scene of an earlier shooting, where a dozen people were injured at a backyard cookout, the technicians had used 31 cards. There were four other streets that required their use, and by the time the cops got to Fairmount on Monday afternoon, they had run out of basic tools.

So someone took a pile of informational pamphlets providing crime victims with telephone numbers, folded them into small pieces and propped them next to more than a dozen bullet casings that littered this residential street just south of Johns Hopkins Hospital.

After the cops finally left, dozens of the small white pieces fluttered in the breeze and littered a grassy median strip.

Just feet away, the street was marked with small yellow chalk circles drawn where the casings had been - two clumps 25 feet apart.

Cars parked on the side were dented and punctured; the side window of one minivan was held together with duct tape, and a bullet had punctured the fender. The driver for a rental car company patiently waited for a husband and wife to arrive and be driven to the office. "I want to talk but I can't because my car just got shot up," the man said.

Similar scenes played out all over the Eastside on Monday, where a distinct and haunting quiet descended on a historically violent swath of city real estate.

The last bits of evidence from a night of chaos were melting in the afternoon heat.

On Ashland Avenue, where at least one gunman had opened fire at the cookout, five cops walked the street, deserted but for some kids playing on a front porch. On Comet Street, a tiny court where cops followed a blood trail from around the corner on Aisquith and found two people shot in a car, residents retreated behind closed doors but said they had been jolted awake by a volley of gunshots shortly before 2 a.m. "They were shooting all over the place," said one man who came to the door but wouldn't open it.

At Baltimore and Bond, where at least one bloodied man had been shot and managed to get to a hospital by car, two Hopkins security guards in the garage next door, one getting off his shift, the other just starting, could be heard chatting.

"That was off the hook, what happened," one said.

"Last night, 18," the other answered as he drove off.

On Conkling Street, where two teenagers were shot and killed, two small blood splotches stained the sidewalk and the road where at least one of the bodies fell, next to a weathered "Welcome to Baltimore Highland" sign and across the street from where they had been attending another cookout.

The shootings on Conkling were not related to the shooting on Ashland, which might have sparked the shootings at Baltimore and Bond, which might have led to the shootings on Comet, which might have been retaliation for a shooting six months ago which was retaliation for a shooting four months before that, which was retaliation for a kidnapping two months before that.

And so on.

Fifteen months ago, when two teens were kidnapped by a rival family and then returned to a Baltimore County police station as mysteriously as they had disappeared, but with no charges filed by authorities, the word on the street was that retaliation would be swift and unforgiving and the word from the cops was that they'd go after this violent group without hesitation.

We learned Monday, after more than a year of violence apparently sparked by the kidnappings, that the street once again triumphed over justice, and left Baltimore's police commissioner, Frederick H. Bealefeld III, publicly questioning the pace of that probe.

The commissioner also didn't like the fact that his own cops didn't have intelligence about the cookout, and promised a full review and accounting and a change of tactics "so we can put [the groups] once and for all out of business and curtail this back and forth historic violence."

Bealefeld and Mayor Sheila Dixon bypassed platitudes while addressing the media on Monday, presenting a subdued, almost stoic appearance before cameras.

"There is no reason for me to stand here and rant and rave like a maniac," the mayor said. Added Bealefeld, "I don't want to get lost in the rhetoric about how frustrated we are about crime."

And we know all too well how the culture of violence is embedded in our community.

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