Felicia Dorsey knew little about the east side rowhouse neighborhood when she moved onto East Biddle Street two months ago. She hadn't heard about what happens to children there.
She knows it now.
She knows her 3-year-old son is dead for no reason, a tiny bystander offered up to someone else's .38-caliber argument. She knows, too, that his death follows the April shooting of a 4-year-old girl a couple of blocks away.
She knows about the 12-year-old boy who lives at the other end of the block and still has bumps on the back of his neck from where the shotgun pellets hit him last summer. She knows about 11-year-old Maurice Ready, who was hit in the head with a 9mm round the summer before that but is still living six doors away, trying to grow up as if it didn't happen.
"As soon as all of this is over with, I'm moving away from here," Felicia Dorsey says now.
"I didn't want to come here in the first place and there's no way I'm keeping my children here. I won't live this way."
Childhood in the 900 block of E. Biddle St. has become little lessthan a raw gamble. The dealers on Wilcox Street -- the alley that runs north in the middle of the block -- have made it so.
A map says this block is part of the city of Baltimore, and therefore, it might be assumed that the men and women at City Hall govern this place, that the men and women of the Baltimore Police Department might defend it.
Not so, say the people who live there.
"Nothing ever happens," says 22-year-old James Wilson, a cousin ofWednesday's victim. "Nothing happened when the boy down the street got shot and nothing's going to happen now. They'll be out there selling tonight. They're going to make a dollar any way they can."
"Our babies," says Rose Long, a grandmother raising two children in the block. "Our babies are paying for it."
Even now -- even after four children under the age of 11 have been shot within sight of the godforsaken crossing of Biddle and Wilcox streets -- Baltimore can lay no real claim to this neighborhood. Every night, the packages come out. Jumbos. Dimes. Rock."That vacant house right there is a stash house," says Rose Long, angry. "And the first one in from the corner on this side, and the one two up from that."
And down the hill in the Eastern District station house, veteran jTC officers nod in agreement.
"If it was your kid out there, if it happened to you, you'd be screaming for action," says Officer Edward Bochniak of the district drug unit.
"But you don't see anything like that out there. . . . I know that those people feel dispossessed. They have a right to feel that way."
Officer Bochniak speaks with a certain authority. He's the only officer in the district assigned to investigate shootings.
Last year, the Eastern recorded 282 shootings and 38 murders; already this year, they've seen 200 shootings, 30 of them fatal.
"That's more than one a day," says Officer Bochniak. "When I came in on Monday, I had 10 new shooting reports, two of them murders."
The murders went downtown to the homicide unit. The eight shootings stayed with Officer Bochniak. And in the patrol sector where Andre Dorsey was slain Wednesday evening, Sgt. Donald Morgan has exactly four radio cars and a wagon unit to patrol more than 50 square blocks.
Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke yesterday called the slaying of Andre Dorsey "a terrible tragedy. . . . A young boy is dead and the suspect . . . is 15. That's another lost life."
But the mayor acknowledged that city officials have few weapons: "When you look at the numbers throughout the country, you see that this is not just a Baltimore problem. This epidemic of violence around the country touches Baltimore."
Mr. Schmoke said he expects an additional 123 police officers to hit the streets soon, but department insiders say the new recruits won't staunch the flow from a department that has lost about 1,000 officers in the last 20 years, while violent crimes have increased dramatically.
For years, police and city officials have finessed the numbers.
They've redrawn the patrol posts so that fewer cars have to cover more ground. They've gotten rid of the citywide tactical units that used to handle high-crime areas. Downtown detectives, district drug officers and patrolmen are now called on to work Oriole games.
Yesterday, officials did what they could for the residents of East Biddle Street.
Police Commissioner Edward V. Woods called for a moment of silence for the slain boy yesterday at a ceremony for newly promoted officers.
A police major expressed condolences at the family's home.
A mayoral aide arrived with more regrets and a chicken platter.
And yesterday, too, police continued to hunt for 15-year-old Rudolph Horton Jr., a neighborhood boy charged with the child's death.
Neighborhood residents and police both say they believe the youth, who has been arrested repeatedly as a juvenile, was involved with Wilcox street drug trafficking. Police say he killed the child while trying to shoot a man he believed had robbed him earlier.
But to the people on East Biddle Street, crime and punishment contradict each other.
The Horton youth had been arrested before; he remained on the street. Just as the dealers on Willcox Street are occasionally jacked up and charged, only to return the next day.
"Some of the police are good," says Brenda Gilmore, who is raising five children in the mayhem of Wilcox Street. "But some of them just ride by, and if the dealers don't challenge them, don't sell right in front of them, they just keep going."
Mayor Schmoke said yesterday that police presence isn't the solution to the problem, that neighborhood residents have to band together and report drug trafficking and weapons violations. At least one resident of Biddle Street agrees.
"Somehow, we have to take our street back," says Rose Long. "I know it's a hard thing to do, but there's no other choice for us."
But on Biddle Street, Rose Long is the exception.
Her neighbors showed neither outrage nor shock at a little boy's violent death. Instead, they returned to ordinary life.
William McGowan, now 12, came back from the city swimming pool and went down the block, looking for friends.
He didn't want to talk about how he was shotgunned last summer: "When I talk, it brings up the memory," he said.
The McGowan boy ran past the liquor store on the Wilcox Street corner, near where Amanda Jacobs had stopped to chat with friends. Her 4-year-old daughter is doing better now, though the bullet from the April shooting is still in her back.
"She was lucky," said Ms. Jacobs, 25. "I could have lost her like they lost that little boy."
And then she left, walking back down Wilcox past graffiti that declare "9mm Rocks" and "Wilcox boys go all out" -- spray-can scrawl that was there two years ago, when Maurice Ready, then 9, was hit by a 9mm round.
"Maurice is 11 now and he's doing well," said his mother, Karen Kitchen, standing with her son at the other end of the block. "I had a job interview today and he came with me because he's afraid to be home alone."
Two older boys came out of the alley and turned the corner, walking past the rowhouse stoop where Andre Dorsey died. Maurice went inside.
"I don't really want to say more than that," said his mother, following. "I have to live in this neighborhood."