Few Step Up To Fight To Save Neighborhood


Crime Scenes

August 14, 2009|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,peter.hermann@baltsun.com

Two dozen people showed up for Wednesday evening's Citizens on Patrol walk through Southwest Baltimore's Carrollton Ridge neighborhood - six weeks after a stray bullet hit a 5-year-old girl there.

It seemed like a good turnout, until one scanned the faces.

One person was from Violetville, another from Union Square. A community leader from South Baltimore came, as did two representatives from the mayor's office, two Guardian Angels, six police officers, the commander of the Southwestern police district, the police commissioner, two from his media office, two television cameramen and two television reporters.

Just three people who live in Carrollton Ridge came out: Connie Fowler, the community association leader, and two of her friends.

Last month, on July 8, more than 100 people flooded these same streets on a walk aimed at reclaiming a neighborhood overrun by crime. The mayor and her City Hall entourage came, and they signed up recruits to walk, to help with the association, to enroll in summer programs, to get involved.

That was six days after a stray bullet felled 5-year-old Raven Wyatt in the middle of empty Pulaski Street, and people were outraged. The mayor was excited that so many people cared, but she warned, "We can't just have it today."

It was clear the chief executive wasn't going to return to the next walk; Carrollton Ridge is a sliver in a big city with big problems, and the mayor had laid the groundwork. The next step was up to the people who live in the community, the people who need to step up even as their neighbor and friend Raven is in a rehabilitation center where police say doctors hope that part of her young brain battered by a bullet will slowly recover.

The community leaders tried to put a positive spin on Wednesday's walk. Rain threatened. It was hot and muggy. It's August, and people are on vacation.

"You can't say we didn't try," said Southwest Baltimore's expert walk organizer, Steve Herlth. "You can't get frustrated over it."

"We haven't lost the focus of the walks," insisted Police Maj. Anthony Brown.

But Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III, who champions the walks and attends as many as he can, was clearly frustrated.

"What does it take?" he asked. "What does it take?"

He paused before continuing. He didn't want to come across as the top cop lecturing the citizenry. It's not about policing, he said, but about how people live and what people tolerate where they live. Like his predecessors, Bealefeld laments that police get saddled with fixing all of society's ills, whether they can put a handcuff on it or not.

During the walk, Bealefeld directed a major to investigate contractors who put a dozen bags of debris on a city sidewalk, contractors he said were "literally dumping their trash on the citizens of this neighborhood."

The commissioner thundered, "Who is going to take care of this?"

Bealefeld is fond of saying agencies should "stay in their lanes." Referring to a couple he lectured after suspecting they were selling marijuana while sitting next to a child, he remarked: "That's our lane - we'll take care of that."

But he's tired of fixing things in other people's lanes. It's why he got his officers out of running rec centers and why he gets frustrated when it falls to him to get trash off the corners.

So when asked whether he was disappointed with the makeup of the crowd at the walk, Bealefeld wondered how people could so soon forget Raven Wyatt. The case continues to generate news - the arrest of a young suspect who had been released back into the community despite a long arrest record, controversy over whether his electronic monitoring bracelet worked and a video that surfaced this week showing a gunman chasing a man and shooting along the way.

"All that controversy attracts attention," Bealefeld said. "I don't want to attract attention. I want to attract action. It's not a spectator sport to be involved in your community."

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