The Old York Road boys and the crew from nearby McCabe Avenue once did battle with their fists. Now they wage war with semiautomatic weapons -- and today, five of them face charges of first-degree murder.
In the past week, a string of shootings has become the latest outbreak of a feud that has raged on and off for decades.
The body count rose Sunday night when occupants of a van opened fire on people standing in front of a Chinese carryout in the 4000 block of Old York Road.
Two people died; six others were wounded. Police say the assailants fired at least 30 rounds from semiautomatic weapons and a shotgun.
Police made a major break in the case last night, charging five men with first-degree murder and handgun violations. Two arrests have been made and police said all of the suspects are residents of the area -- a fact that is probably no surprise to police and those who live in the groups' battle areas.
Arrested at 10 p.m. at his home in the 5600 block of Govane Ave. was Marvin Day Rivers, 19; taken into custody at 5:30 p.m. was Eric Brown, 23, of the 5200 block of Ivanhoe Ave., homicide detectives said.
Also charged in warrants -- and being sought by police -- are Ronald Brady, 19, of the 600 block of Woodbourne Ave.; Reginald King, 19, of the 5600 block of Lothian Road; and Gilbert McCory, 16, of the 700 block of Glenwood Ave.
The latest incident was at least the third shooting involving residents of the neighboring Northeast Baltimore communities in the past week. "They're like the Hatfields and the McCoys. It's never taken much to precipitate a shooting," said Detective Vernon Holley.
Police say there seems to be a common link between the Sunday night shootings and two others last week: the Aug. 18 slaying of a 24-year-old man on Winchester Avenue and the shooting of five men a day earlier in the 700 block of Cator Ave.
It is unknown whether the same men were involved in each shooting, but each incident seems to have been the work of the so-called "Old York Road boys" and the "McCabe boys," police said.
In the Aug. 18 incident, Steven Johnson of the 700 block of McCabe Ave. was shot three times. Charged was Marshawn Dimar Stokes, 19, who lives about four blocks away in the 5100 block of St. Georges Ave.
The Cator Avenue shooting followed an argument at Odell's nightclub on North Avenue. After the club closed, several men followed the victims and began shooting at them with handguns. Two of the victims were shot in the head but survived.
Police said the attack was so brazen that even as several of the victims ran toward a police patrol car, the attackers continued to fire, hitting a rear driver's side window of the cruiser. The officer wasn't injured.
"There are some kind of factions involved in a dispute there," said police spokesman Sam Ringgold.
Police investigators and neighborhood residents said the shootings are related to the bad blood between the guys from McCabe and those from Old York and Cator.
"It is just jealousy and hate between us, and so much bloodshed," said a 22-year-old man as he stood on Old York, just across the street from Sunday's shooting scene.
The man said he has been involved in the violence. Last year, he was shot three times after a fight with a guy from McCabe. "I beat him down pretty good," he said. "But the next thing I knew, he shot me."
Thomas Jones, 33, who was grazed by a bullet in the Sunday night shooting, said, "It's the new generation. They're all crazy."
Battles between young men from the two neighborhoods are nothing new. Growing up in Pen-Lucy years ago, Tony Baxter and his crew had their share of beefs with the guys from McCabe, less than a mile from their hangout near the battered business strip at Cator and Old York.
"There has been a battle going on since we were little boys," said Mr. Baxter, now a man of 27, with two college degrees and a job with the state attorney general's office. "We'd sometimes meet up with the McCabe guys at a party. There may be a fight. If there was a gun involved, somebody would fire in the air. But that would be the end of it."
Kent Johnson, 34, a city employee, ran with Mr. Baxter when they were boys. But police and neighbors says Mr. Johnson was an apparent innocent victim in Sunday's incident. He had been playing basketball at a nearby playground and stopped in front of the carryout to talk to a group of old friends when the shooting began. He died in the gunfire.
"I had just seen him," Mr. Baxter said of Mr. Johnson, whom he had known for almost 20 years. "Every Sunday, Kent and a group of us older guys would get together and shoot ball in that playground."
The playground and commercial strip also are gathering spots for young men in the area, some of whom deal in drugs and violence.
In an effort to control the problem, the City Council passed a bill putting a curfew on businesses along the strip. The measure awaits the signature of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke. Also, the area is a "drug-free" zone, meaning police have power to shoo loiterers from the strip.
But the city's best efforts seem feeble in the face of the problem.
"I try not to go up there. I only chance it during the day," one woman said of the strip, as she sat on her stoop on nearby Rosehill Terrace. She became more cautious after a shooting erupted while she was in the tiny Old York Road Chinese carryout. "I had to crawl out of there."
Another woman said she has seen boys from McCabe come through the playground behind Rosehill Terrace with guns drawn -- apparently in search of young men from Old York.
Marva Barrett, who also lives on Rosehill Terrace, has lost two sons. One died in an accidental shooting. The other was murdered. "Gunfire around here is an every week thing," she said. "It has to stop."
But to listen to the young man standing on Old York, there is no end in sight to the McCabe-Old York feud. And that means more violence could be in store.
"If you're an Old York Road boy, you don't like McCabe. If you're McCabe, you don't like Old York. It's just natural," he said with a shrug. "We tried to squash it two or three times, but it always gets kicked off again. It's wild. It doesn't make sense. But I feel like if another [man's] going to try to pop you, you're going to try and pop him first."