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Get out by phone call or get out by bullet

Icompare the names in reports of killings in Baltimore with the names of men who called The Sun during the last 10 months to ask for help in finding jobs that might get them out of dealing drugs or other potentially deadly crimes. So far, I know only of one man who came in from the street for help, returned to his old lifestyle and ended up dead because of it.

In another case, a woman told me she had suggested her 33-year-old husband, a former federal prisoner, contact us for help last August. He seemed interested, she said, but evidently never made the call and continued to deal drugs. I was not familiar with his name until someone gunned him down one afternoon in January in West Baltimore. He was the seventh homicide victim of 2006.

There have been at least 77 more killings in the city since then.

Baltimore keeps bleeding.

Friday morning, 20-year-old Jarell Lamont Adams became the 84th homicide victim of 2006. At 3:21 a.m. a police officer found him lying on the sidewalk in the 2400 block of E. Oliver St., dying from several gunshot wounds. He was pronounced dead 36 minutes later at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

I don't have a record of Jarell Adams making a phone call here for help, but then, few 20-year-olds have. The majority of men who call 410-332-6166 to get information about jobs or services for ex-offenders have been between 28 and 46 years old. Some say they are still using or dealing drugs. Most are within a few weeks or months of having been released from prison. All claim they want real work and a change of life.

But obviously, there are a lot more - particularly teenagers and 20-somethings - still caught up in the life and not even thinking about getting out.

Many of them will wind up in prison or an early grave.

After Mayor Martin O'Malley's election in 1999, the homicide numbers fell below 300, dropping in 2002 to 253. Since then the trend has been upward again - to 276 in 2004, 268 in 2005 - and this year's pace is ahead of last year's.

I've asked several men - the 30-something-year-old survivors of Baltimore's drug scene - to explain why the killings continue and what circumstances contribute to them.

A lot of shootings start with stickups, they say. Young men with guns rob street dealers and finish their crimes with a killing. This is frequently cited by men in their late 20s and 30s as the reason they want to get out of the game - fear of death in a stickup.

But why do stickup boys kill? Why not just rob and go?

"Because they can be identified," one longtime dealer told me. "Guys know each other, so if [stickup boys] don't kill the guy they're robbing, the guy they're robbing will kill them."

Baltimore: small town, big city. Kill or be killed.

A former drug dealer recently released from a Maryland prison said he was approached last month about returning to the trade. The offer, he said, came from a drug dealer who was looking to fill a vacancy created by a homicide the night before.

According to the man I interviewed, a low-level dealer in Southwest Baltimore had been shot to death because he had ripped off customers by mixing heroin with some other substance and selling it as primo. He apparently had kept the good stuff for himself. (Many low-level street dealers are themselves addicted to heroin or cocaine, and they often get into trouble because they use drugs they are supposed to sell.)

Customers complained about the funky heroin to the street dealer's boss, and hours later the street dealer was killed. (The Sun reported this death, combined with details of three other city homicides, on March 24. The victim was 21 years old.)

I was told of another killing that resulted from a drug dealer believing he had been robbed by an underling.

The victim's uncle, who spent several years in the 1980s and 1990s selling heroin in Baltimore, told this story. His 24-year-old nephew had been given $10,000 by his drug-dealer boss, with orders to stash it. The young man gave the cash to his girlfriend to hide in her apartment. The girlfriend's brother found the stash and decided to "borrow" some of the loot - apparently an amount too large for the young man to cover, according to his uncle. This made the drug-dealer boss unhappy, and the young man was shot to death in West Baltimore, one of 271 homicides in 2003.

Territorial disputes lead to killings, and some guys remain foolishly excited by the street life, guns and the prospect of fast cash. Some keep going back to dangerous corners where they are clearly not wanted. Consider one of Baltimore's 2006 homicide victims: He was twice a 2005 shooting victim.

According to police and the victim's relatives, the man, who lived in Howard County, had survived two shootings in West Baltimore in December but returned to the same area in January. He ended up being shot to death near a carwash in broad daylight.

Stickups, rip-offs, territorial squabbles and Baltimore's small-town/big-city culture all contribute to the bleeding. So do stupidity, stubbornness, a fatal attraction to the street and a macho-driven refusal to get out of the game and ask for help.

dan.rodricks@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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