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When the Good People Speak Up


It takes guts to stand up to drug dealers. In East Baltimore,where Israel Baptist Church has been waging guerrilla warfare for the spirit of the people, the hazards are high. How high? In the Eastern Police District, which encompasses the church's neighborhood, officers have recorded 159 shootings this year, 23 of them murders. And the violence is worsening. For all of last year, there were 282 shootings.

For some cities, that would be a lot of violence. For the 60,000 or so people living in an area of just 3.1 square miles, it's crushing.

That's why, as brave as Israel Baptist's churchgoers are, it also takes another kind of courage to fight the drug war. Good people have to find the nerve to pick up the phone and call "the knockers." The hard truth is that the nasty business of drugs will keep expanding as long as it has the silent acquiescence of people too terrified to tell what's going on.

Thursday night, the Eastern District's Zone Rangers showed what happens when the good people do speak up: Zoom, zoom, crash, crash, bang! "Police! Police! Don't move!" Another set of drug suspects taken off the street.

Like all such raids, this one began with citizen complaints. The neighborhood around Federal and Regester streets had fallen quiet when Anthony Jones was taken down. Jones, 18 when the drug raiders pounced on his violent operation, was moving $2 million worth of hard drugs a year. His teen-aged crew had beaten or shot it out with all competitors, investigators said, terrorizing the neighborhood. When the Zone Rangers plainclothes unit videotaped his operation, then led a massive police raid, Jones' entire gang went to jail.

But one victory never ends a war. Police knew other dealers were working nearby, and after Jones pleaded guilty to drug charges the complaints began to flow again. This time it centered on a house at 1429 Federal Street. Officer Edward Bochniak gave this account:

Watching the house, the Rangers concluded residents were moving $8,000 to $10,000 worth of cocaine a day and went for warrants. Their raid went quickly, conducted under radio silence because of the scanners popular with drug dealers.

Undercover officers actually saw a young "runner' delivering drugs from the house to Federal and Crystal streets. As he retraced his steps they tracked him, zooming up at the last minute as back-up officers arrived. The youth, who refused to identify himself but said he was 14, ran inside and slammed the door. That did him no good; two slams of a heavy, pipe battering ram and the officers ran inside, just in time to see a man running up the inside stairs, dropping a gun as he ran.

The stunned youth was sitting in a living-room chair. Beside him, police found a quantity of drugs and a Realistic brand radio scanner, tuned to a police frequency. Nearby sat another quantity of drugs, packed in 25-vial plastic packets. Beneath another chair was a 9mm 19-shot Glock semi-automatic pistol. The gun was loaded and an extra magazine was in the youth's pocket. Beneath his shirt, police found a bullet-proof vest.

Arrested were three adults, John Harris, 26 of the 1500 block of Broadway; James Jordan, 48, of the Federal Street address; Miranda O'Neill, 35, who gave the same address; and the teen-ager, whose age and identity were very much in doubt. Recovered were 362 vials suspected to contain cocaine and about $1,700 in cash.

Back at the station, the Rangers made a discovery that warmed their hearts. The weapon found on the stairs was a Brazilian-made Taurus 19, a 9-mm semi-automatic whose serial number, TJD 33024, matched a Baltimore Gunsmith Co. receipt. It had been one of the Jones gang's guns and was believed to have been used in some notorious shootings.

On this raid, the Rangers had help from two FBI men assigned to work with them. Special Agents Bob Sheehy and Bill Jackson had never worked street-drug details before the Justice Department's new program to assist local police. Schooled in counterintelligence work and foreign interdiction campaigns, the two men have been seeing a new side of the drug war.

The people of East Baltimore are seeing something new, too, as Eastern District Commander Alvin A. Winkler says. Cooperating together, they can do something to fight the inroads of the drug hustlers. Israel Baptist Church members are meeting them in the streets, visibly demonstrating that good people standing together can make a difference. Those who call the 685-DRUG hotline are helping too, in the dangerous confrontation between the law and the lawless.

Garland L. Thompson writes editorials for The Sun.

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