Unnerved by the violence

Sun reporter

This was Remington, a North Baltimore neighborhood, on a recent sunny Friday afternoon: A man sat on his rowhouse steps with his brother, strumming a guitar and sipping Bud Ice. Little girls in pigtails rode bikes on the sidewalk. A neighbor washed his car.

Then came the gunfire, at least five shots. And a young man with a black handgun sprinted from around the corner and down Miles Avenue, toward the men on the steps. He ducked into an alley and was gone before police arrived.No one was shot. But the gunfire left bullet holes in a car and residents shaken - an illustration of the neighborhood's tenuous hold on quiet and safety.

"We were extremely lucky," said Wayne Garrity, 60, a retired Baltimore police officer, who was visiting his brother on the block as the shots rang out. "To shoot in that neighborhood in broad daylight, that's what really threw me. People are scared to death down there. There's no doubt in my mind. I told my brother, `I'm not coming down there too much anymore.'"

In Charles Village and Remington - neighborhoods just blocks from the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Johns Hopkins University - crime has unnerved residents. With city homicides on track this year to exceed 300 for the first time in nearly a decade, there is an increasing sense that Baltimore's revitalization may be slipping.

The fear is palpable in many neighborhoods unaccustomed to violent crime, areas where housing rehabs and other new development signal optimism. Instead, residents have felt the crime wave's impact: A woman stabbed as she carried her groceries home. A man beaten bloody and robbed on a sidewalk before dark. A cabdriver fatally shot.

Residents, many feeling defenseless to stop it, are changing how they live: No more strolls to the neighborhood ice cream shop. Kids are kept indoors. People sprint at night from their cars to their homes. A waiter at an outdoor cafe tells female patrons to hold their purses on their laps through the meal.

"It's a full meltdown in Charles Village," said Joy Martin, 40, an artist. "It's gotten to the point where we're moving. Everybody that I know is afraid to go out of the house.

"Everyone that I talked to - something has happened to every one of them. Everyone's in fear. ... It is absolutely the worst I have ever seen Baltimore."

Dana Moore, president of the neighborhood's civic association, was once the victim of an armed robbery. It took more than two years, she said, before she regained a sense of security. After the recent shooting of a cabdriver, residents are reeling.

"There's a picture of my block in the Baltimore City map guide," Moore said. "It's gorgeous. [But] I have stood at my front dining room window and watched groups of young boys assault young adults. I watched with a feeling of utter helplessness."

The maddening cycle of violence has become so entrenched in the psyche of this city - one of the nation's most dangerous - that many residents have become resigned to it. Some hopeful residents are leading efforts to revitalize neighborhoods, buying homes and hoping for a turnaround.

Others feel so vulnerable, they are ready to flee.

In Charles Village, whose streets are lined with historic rowhouses, homicides rarely occur. But increasingly, police and residents say, robbers are setting their sights on the neighborhood because of a perceived abundance of easy victims with money in their pockets.

Remington recalls the old Hampden - a working-class base, with homes in families for generations. But as Hampden has gentrified in recent years, adding a yoga studio and attracting scores of hipsters, Remington has seen an increase in drug dealing and violence, residents say.

"There's kind of a feeling that things are heating up right now," Jean Floyd, president of the Remington Neighborhood Alliance, said as she surveyed the scene of the gunfire in the 400 block of 28th St., blocks from where a young man was fatally gunned down days before. "Personally, it saddens and disgusts me, but it doesn't scare me."

In the past month, two incidents outside Lynne Parks' sprawling home in the 2500 block of St. Paul St. in Charles Village have so unnerved her that she's thinking of moving.

She and her husband, a books specialist at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, moved to Baltimore four years ago and tried to make peace with some of the city's problems.

Sometimes there were graffiti. Once, her car window was broken. She considered these nothing more than nuisances of urban living.

Lately though, things have turned scary.

On a recent night, she and her husband were roused from their sleep at 3:30 a.m. From their bedroom window, they saw the tail end of an assault on a young woman, a Johns Hopkins student who was riding her bike and was attacked by a group of youths. One afternoon, a man was badly beaten on the sidewalk across from her house. His screams were so loud she could hear them even though she had been wearing headphones while watching an old movie.

"You just don't have the same sense of ease and comfort when you're at home," said Parks, 39. "It's like every little noise we hear now, we run to the window. On a daily basis, it's usually nothing. But every little noise we hear, it sets us off."

Such fear threatens the momentum of new development and rehab projects that dot Charles Village and Remington.

Much of the growth is taking place just east of Johns Hopkins' Homewood campus, along St. Paul Street. Last fall, the school opened Charles Commons, a two-tower dorm complex that includes a Barnes & Noble bookstore. Nearby, a new 68-unit condo building includes a Chipotle Mexican Grill, Cold Stone Creamery ice cream shop, Starbucks and other stores. A third major project, originally designed for condos priced as high as $700,000, is now scheduled to have smaller, market-rate and affordable apartments.

Crime on and around the campus is down this year over last, said Dennis O'Shea, a university spokesman.

"I think when people come to Baltimore and see it, whatever they may have heard in the media is generally overcome," O'Shea said, noting that undergraduate applications have risen by 30 percent over the past two years. "They see a thriving city, a friendly neighborhood and a good place to be."

Remington has also seen signs of revitalization.

Barry Weingarten, a Spanish-language professor at Hopkins, is betting that in five, maybe 10 years, the neighborhood could be another Hampden.

About a year ago, he bought a Remington rowhouse, a relative bargain compared with those in fancier neighborhoods. A wall of exposed brick lines the living room. Hardwood floors and stainless steel appliances give the home a modern feel.

"I think that murder down the street was out of the ordinary," said Weingarten, 57. "I feel safe. This is a stoop-sitting neighborhood, and the people are out watching your house. With what's going on the other side of Charles Street, it's a little bit risky, but I thought, in time, it would come up a little bit."

Still, episodes of violence trouble many residents.

In late May, a 57-year-old woman walking home from a Safeway in Charles Village was stabbed repeatedly in the back by a man who stole her purse. Several passers-by came to her aid.

The image of the injured woman, laying bleeding, hasn't left Joy Martin.

"People are used to it," Martin said. "There's just a complacency. `Oh well, my car was broken into.' `Oh well, I was mugged.' So people don't really freak out about that. When you're paying the taxes you're paying, and you can't even walk outside your house. ... It's unbelievable."

Linda Lindley, 53, who has lived in Remington all her life, says drug dealing and violent crime have escalated in recent years.

Lindley works nights at a nearby Rite Aid pharmacy. She gets rides to her job. Walking in her neighborhood, she said, is not an option. A man with a gun accosted her husband as he was walking home one night - from his job as an art museum security guard.

"We used to sit outside a lot on our steps at night," Lindley said. "But now, you don't come out at night. You're like a prisoner in your own neighborhood."


Sun reporter Gadi Dechter contributed to this article.

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