Community groups gather to plot war on crime


In Baltimore last week, a brutally murdered 7-year-old was buried, grocery shoppers were terrorized in a series of shotgun holdups and two men were killed as semiautomatic gunfire raked a North Avenue street corner.

Yesterday, about 120 people gathered on the Johns Hopkins University campus to talk about fighting back.

The Greater Homewood Rally Against Crime was organized by the Greater Homewood Community Corporation, an umbrella group representing such central Baltimore communities as Remington, Hoes Heights, Waverly, Charles Village and Bolton Hill.

"This may be a gloomy moment in the life cycle of the city," said Baltimore Circuit Judge John Prevas, who volunteers one night a month to ride through his Butchers Hill neighborhood as part of the Citizens On Patrol program.

"What are you going to do if you give up?" asked City Council President Mary Pat Clarke. "Stay in your house for the rest of your life?"

"There's no miracle solution," warned Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, "no magic wand for the crime rate. You have to keep fighting."

Trudy Bartel, Greater Homewood's president, said the meeting was organized because residents sense an increase in neighborhood crime -- mostly daytime burglaries and car thefts but some violent crimes against people as well.

Friday, West Baltimore residents and business owners near the corner of North Avenue and Pulaski Street, where two men died as bullets sprayed the intersection Wednesday, met with police to begin organizing a neighborhood anti-crime effort.

The same day, Mr. Schmoke announced that city employees who visit neighborhoods would be trained as block watchers to detect crime.

Yesterday's meeting gave residents a chance to ask questions -- and to gripe.

One woman complained that police had taken 40 minutes to arrive after a Remington burglary. One neighbor called for tougher penalties for drug possession. A woman from Better Waverly wanted an area declared a drug-free zone.

Mayor Schmoke urged citizens to turn their guns in to police "no questions asked." That drew an angry response later -- after Mr. Schmoke had left -- from a Charles Village resident: "I can't believe the mayor is suggesting we're safer unarmed than we are armed," she told the group, as some spectators applauded.

But she was followed by a woman who said she had a safer way of protecting her home: two dogs.

The meeting didn't solve the crime problem, but Salonia Cook of Hoes Heights said it was valuable none the less. "At least citizens didget off their duffs and come out to listen and be heard," she said.

And Ms. Bartel said the most important activity may take place back in the neighborhoods. "One of the best things you heard is that a bunch of neighbors [in the 2800 blocks of St. Paul and Calvert streets] got together for breakfast before this meeting. They're going to look out for each other."

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