City man's block party is weapon against drugs


William E. Roberts Sr. has run unsuccessfully for City Council, mayor, governor and the state legislature. But in the minds of law-abiding residents of the 2000 block of Walbrook Ave., Mr. Roberts is undisputed king.

Soft-spoken, dignified and determined, Mr. Roberts has single-handedly cleared his block of drug dealers, neighbors say. He has openly videotaped drug deals and incessantly reported dealers to the police. Now he throws block parties with a single message: Stop drugs.

At last night's party, as speakers blared pop songs and friends and neighbors served hot dogs, Mr. Roberts declared: "This is my house. I've lived here 45 years, raised eight children here. Why should I have to hide in my house because some crumbs come in and decide to set up a drug business?"

Mr. Roberts, 65, lives on Walbrook Avenue between Payson and Pulaski streets in West Baltimore. He is tall and has a salt-and-pepper beard. He began videotaping drug dealers five years ago after they took control of his block, turning residents into virtual prisoners.

He has been written up in the newspaper and featured on TV. He has run for office as the anti-drug candidate. His block parties are his latest effort to alert children to the dangers of drugs and to draw attention to the overwhelming drug problem in the city.

"Upper middle-class whites have no idea what it's like to live down here," Mr. Roberts said. "When I step out that door I don't know if I'm coming back or not. I don't know if there's going to be a gunfight or not."

The street is mostly quiet outside Mr. Roberts' rowhouse because of his vigilance, said some of the more than 100 neighbors who attended the party. But Mr. Roberts said he frequently hears gunshots in the area. He said drug dealers have threatened him, but he is not afraid.

"I hope my luck is better than Custer's," he said, smiling. "I hope this isn't Roberts' last stand."

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