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.
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.