Rally demands protection for Murphy Homes City already plans additional safety measures there


In front of a high-rise building at George B. Murphy Homes housing project yesterday, Johnny Jones urged residents to come out and rally for what he said was the right to live in a safe and drug-free environment.

He had hoped rallies at the West Baltimore development and in front of City Hall would show city officials how concerned the residents are about increasing crime and violence in their community.

But Mr. Jones was unaware that city housing officials had already promised another group of Murphy Homes tenants that increased security measures would be in place within months.

So the rally, according to one tenant, was merely "another failure to communicate" among various tenants.

"Don't be scared, you live here," Mr. Jones said, yelling through a bullhorn, breaking the early morning quiet as he stood in front of the 14-story brick structure. "This is your neighborhood. No one wants to live under these conditions."

Few adult residents of the West Baltimore development joined Mr. Jones for the rally, which was prompted in large part by last week's strangulation of 9-year-old Ebony Scott, who was found dumped in a trash bin outside the building in the 900 block of Argyle Ave. No arrests have been made.

Yesterday, a crowd of about 50 people -- mostly youngsters -- rallied, then marched to City Hall.

Mr. Jones moved from Murphy Homes several years ago, but his mother and sister still live there. He said that drug trafficking and violence have increased at the development in recent months and that the city has done little to curb the problems.

"I know what's going on there. The people there have got to believe in themselves and say we're going to make a change," Mr. Jones said.

Lillian Brown, president of the Murphy Homes Tenant Council, said she and several other tenants had met Monday with William Matthews, chief of the city's housing police, and agreed on added security measures.

And she worried that the rallying tenants would affect the agreement.

"We already have an agreement with the city," Mrs. Brown said. "They're just a bunch of people who don't live here making a lot of noise. If they were so concerned, they would have come to some of the meetings. They waited for a tragedy to happen."

Mr. Matthews said much attention had been focused on increased security at Murphy Homes before Ebony was killed.

New security measures include:

* Turnstiles at the doors of the high-rises. Residents would receive cards to activate the turnstiles and gain entry to the building.

* An intercom system linking residents' apartments to the front doors of the high-rises. This would allow residents to screen visitors.

* Security patrols staffed by residents carrying two-way radios.

* Guard booths staffed by civilians who would monitor security in the buildings and report problems.

* Better coordination between city police and housing authority officers to ensure a police presence in and around the high-rises.

"We are very concerned about what is happening there," Mr. Matthews said. "We're going to work with the community to become more secure. We want to move drug trafficking away from Murphy Homes."

Housing officials did not give a timetable for ridding the area of crime and drugs, but said some of the security measures should be implemented within 90 days.

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