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Drug dealing lures flood of teens City's youthful trade depends on adults for supplies, sales KIDS & CRIME


An article in last week's editions of The Sunday Sun referre to a shop on Eutaw Street that sold empty glass vials to a teen-age cocaine dealer. The reference was not to Hippodrome Hatters at 15 N. Eutaw St., a long-established haberdashery.

The Sun regrets any confusion caused by the reference.

When he was carving out his slice of the market, a femonths before his 13th birthday, Anthony sometimes would toss a handful of crack cocaine into the air as a come-on.

"Testers!" he'd yell, letting the potential customers around West Fayette and Mount know that he was giving out free samples. "The pipeheads [crack addicts] would come scrambling for it," Anthony says. "People started knowing me."

They knew him, and they bought from him. For a while, he kept his profits in a toy slot machine. Then the slot machine filled up, and he began to stuff the money into a big teddy bear.

By the time he was 14, Anthony was delegating street sales to his girlfriend's little brother and a few of his friends, mostly 12-year-olds, while he lurked nearby with his gun. The boys gathered at Anthony's place every Saturday night to turn in the proceeds, keeping $200 apiece as their pay. Anthony's net was about $1,000 a week, he guesses.

"I'd just put it in the teddy bear without counting it," says Anthony, now 15. A subdued youth with dark eyebrows and a wispy mustache, he is now in a program for juvenile delinquents.

Anthony was a child prodigy on the drug corners, a standout in Baltimore's army of teen-age dealers. In the work handed to him by urban American life, he demonstrated diligence, creativity, fledgling managerial talent and ruthlessness.

But it was the adults who made Anthony possible. He was their creation. They were his silent partners. They formed the web of supply and demand at which he was the center.

There were the Jamaicans who recruited him, one day in the fall of 1989, as he stood with his buddy on Stricker Street. They ran the heroin and cocaine down from New York to this boy who was too young to drive. And they took their markup.

There was the woman who let him stay in her Stricker Street rowhouse -- as long as he paid the rent.

There was the crack addict who would take a load of cocaine and cook it up with baking powder in her kitchen into "ready rock" -- keeping six $10 vials as her fee.

There was the hat shop owner on Eutaw Street who supplied the empty vials -- $10 for 120.

There was the woman in the carryout who hid his gun and drugs. When the police were spotted, he'd toss the contraband into the Plexiglas pass-through and give it a spin. On the other side of the counter, the woman would make it disappear. The price -- $30 a night -- included food all night long.

There was Anthony's stepfather, who stopped by to check up on him from time to time -- and to pick up some cash. A former baker and cashier, he was unemployed.

"I'd give him money to take my little sisters and brother shopping," Anthony says. "I'd give him $400 every couple of weeks. He'd use it for paying bills, buying furniture."

Finally, there were the customers, a diverse lot, who paid their money and took their high and left Anthony and his boys to dodge the cops and the bullets.

He has been shot at four times, Anthony says. He has used the silver .357-caliber handgun the Jamaicans gave him "about six times," usually against older guys who tried to stick him up.

"I'd shoot 'em, but not in the head. I'd hit 'em sometimes. I shot a boy in the shoulder," he says.

If a 12-year-old essentially abandoned by his parents can be said to make a choice, Anthony chose his crimes. And he unabashedly enjoyed the profits of his trade, taking his girlfriend on $500 and $600 shopping sprees to Mondawmin and Old Town malls.

But his $300 leather "8-ball" jacket and his $75 tennis shoes don't really answer the question: Why did you start dealing drugs? In Anthony's world, the question seems to have been rather: Why not?

"First chance I got, I went for it," he says. "Since I've been opening my eyes, I've been seeing people dealing drugs."

Imagine no more

Imagine a major industry moving into Baltimore's poorest neighborhoods to provide jobs for unskilled youths, filling the vacuum of sky-high unemployment left by closing factories and commerce fleeing to the suburbs.

Imagine no more. On dozens of Baltimore corners, there's plenty of work. The influx of cocaine in the early 1980s and especially the arrival of crack at the end of the decade has driven a steady expansion of street drug markets and created thousands of jobs for youngsters.

Police officers, juvenile court masters and juvenile counselors say the drug trade has transformed juvenile crime, luring huge numbers of children into lawbreaking, spawning an epidemic of gun violence and jamming courts and counseling programs.

The drug corners have become an often irresistible alternative to school and to legitimate work, encouraging kids to drop out and scorn low-wage jobs. In some families, drug money has turned the tables in economic relations between children and adults, who depend on handouts from flush young dealers.

In 1981, when drugs were already an old and familiar scourge in Baltimore, 101 juveniles were charged with drug distribution. By 1986, the number was 422. Last year, 1,318 people under the age of 18 were arrested for selling drugs.

As drug cases have soared, juvenile arrests for burglary and robbery have declined sharply, suggesting that kids may have shifted from property crimes to drug sales.

"Ten years ago, my docket consisted of purse snatchings and burglaries," says Joyce L. Wright, head of the juvenile division of the Baltimore State's Attorney's Office. "Now you hardly see a purse snatching, and the burglaries are way down. Kids have found a way of getting more money -- dealing drugs."

Higher-up adult distributors have come to rely on younger and younger dealers because they offer a number of business advantages, says Sgt. Russell Shea, a Western District narcotics officer.

"They want someone who's street smart but not too independent, who comes relatively cheap and isn't going to get locked up," Sergeant Shea says. Because most arrested juveniles are released to their parents to await court action, usually months later, a juvenile bust doesn't significantly interfere with trade.

'Home to their mommies'

"They go right home to their mommies, and then right back onto the corner," Sergeant Shea says.

Charles, 17, a dealer for the last two years along Barclay Street, says he and his buddies came to recognize the "knockers," the undercover detectives, and gave them nicknames -- "Pacman" and "Robo-cop."

But even when they jail an older teen, it doesn't slow things down. "Now there's boys 10, 11, 12 on up. When they bust the boys my age, there's lots more waiting to take their place," he says.

A kid who sells part time for a friend, keeping $1 or $2 from each $10 vial of cocaine, may make less money than he could make in a fast-food job. Another who makes his own connection, buys in quantity and recruits a number of dealers can make several thousand dollars a week.

Kids and cops say $100 a day in drug profits for a dealer who works most of a "shift," from late afternoon to well past midnight, is probably not far from average. Friday night, Saturday and "check day" -- the day of the month when welfare checks are received -- are lucrative. Sundays are slow.

In the long run, a dealer may pay for his profits with a bullet in the head or a long prison term after his 18th birthday. But for an adolescent whose mind is on the present, cash in hand often outweighs potential trouble later on.

Antonio ran away from home for days at a time to sell along Ashland Avenue in East Baltimore for dealers from New York, grabbing a few hours of sleep in their stash house, where as

many as 10 other boys sometimes slept.

But a 12-year-old drug dealer is still a 12-year-old. Antonio's drug dollars went chiefly into quarters to feed the video games at Crazy John's, a Baltimore Street sub shop. "My favorites are the driving game and the basketball game," Antonio says.

Slightly older boys spend their earnings to satisfy the whims of teen-age fashion. If they're 16, they may buy cars, sometimes traveling to Virginia where they say fewer questions are asked of a kid with a pocketful of cash.

But a large part of the money, according to police, counselors and the dealers themselves, goes to others.

Some goes to the extensive service industry that supplies the young dealers, as Anthony found. Gun shops, where addicts with clean records buy weapons for underage dealers, get a share. Motels often provide teen-age dealers with a temporary place to live, party and deal, and taxi drivers will take $10 or $20 to book the room.

'Giving my mother money'

In the poor neighborhoods where the drug corners are concentrated, much of the money goes to support siblings, friends and adult relatives. Many young dealers are bringing money home to households where unemployed parents, desperate to keep the power turned on or stave off eviction, close their eyes to its source.

"I have five kids on my caseload right now who were giving money to their parents," says Gary Dingle, a juvenile caseworker in West Baltimore.

"I was giving my mother money off and on," says Larry, 16, a veteran dealer around the corner of Monroe Street and Ridgehill Avenue, who earned his first drug dollars at the age of 8 watching a cousin's drug stash. "Whatever she needed -- if I had it, I'd give it to her."

He gave his 30-year-old uncle, a heavy drug user, both money and drugs. "He's my favorite uncle, so I didn't want him bumming [drugs] off anybody. I'd buy him a couple of bags of dope, or give him coke from my own stash."

'Most boys are selling'

Most teen-age dealers don't sample their products for fear of consuming their profits or getting in trouble with higher-up suppliers, police and dealers say. In fact, many young drug peddlers speak contemptuously of older "junkies," "dopeheads," "crackheads" and "pipeheads" who are their customers.

The adults they serve are by no means all from the neighborhoods where they buy.

"They come to West Baltimore from Anne Arundel County, from Dundalk and Essex, from all over the place," says Sergeant Shea. One 13-year-old dealer working a drug corner in an all-black East Baltimore neighborhood estimated that 30 percent 40 percent of his customers were white.

But the suburban customers don't take the problems home with them -- the fear of stray bullets from shootouts; the blight of crack houses and shooting galleries; the corruption of children as young as 8, who are paid to hold drugs or money or act as lookouts.

Drug scene changes

Denise Harris, the mother of Antonio, the video game fan, says the drug scene in her old East Baltimore neighborhood has changed drastically since she was her son's age 20 years ago.

"When I was a girl, we'd say, 'Oh, he's a junkie' or 'He sells reefer from his apartment,' " Ms. Harris recalls. "It was there, but it wasn't really part of the neighborhood. Now, you go over there and nine out of 10 adults are using dope, [heroin] or coke, and most of the young boys are selling."

Mr. Dingle, a juvenile caseworker since 1982, says the cocaine-fueled spread of street drug markets has made his job more frustrating and more dangerous.

He's had a teen-ager come for a counseling session with as much as $1,200 in his pocket, he says.

"You have a kid sitting in your office with a big sum of money, and you're trying to convince the person on grounds of principle that he shouldn't be selling drugs," Mr. Dingle says.

When he visits his clients, there is no avoiding the web that is catching so many of them. "You step over seven dealers to knock on a door and find out why a kid's not going to school," he said. "And meanwhile, the dealers are asking you what you want, and you have to say, 'I'm not copping today.' I saw a kid draw a pistol and shoot at another one the other day on Etting Street."In some neighborhoods, drug dealing has become so pervasive that it is hard for a teen-age male to stay out of it.

In the early 1980s, in a few blocks of West Baltimore rowhouses, about 20 boys formed a clique they called Def City. They would hang out together, shooting hoops in the alley between McKean and Monroe, playing football in the winter streets.

Their fun was not always innocent. A few of them shoplifted from the 7-Eleven. A couple of them started stealing cars. Occasionally they got in fistfights with the boys from Chocolate City or CBS -- named for the streets they live on, Calhoun-Baker-Stricker -- and the other nearby cliques.

"We didn't look for trouble," says Teffori David, 16, once a Def City regular. "But if one of us used to fight, we'd all fight."

Then, in 1989 and 1990, everything changed.

Soon the two car thieves quit stealing cars -- because they had bought their own, Teffori says. Fistfights began to turn into gunfights. Kids who once never had bus fare were surprising their mothers with gifts of cash to make amends for breaking their curfews and hanging out all night.

"Almost all of us," Teffori says, "got into selling drugs."

One day in 1990, a buddy walked Teffori up to the intersection of Druid Hill Avenue and Whitelock Street, an old drug intersection, and introduced him to the trade. "We're gonna get some work," the friend said. "Make some money, yo."

The friend introduced him around and showed him little Zip-Loc bags of crack -- smaller "dimes" and bigger bags that sold for $20. He explained how some of the dealers worked in groups of four -- one making deals, one holding drugs, one holding money and one holding the gun.

There was little territorial jealousy, he says. "It's not like that," he says. "They're teaching you to go into business for yourself."

Teffori gave in to the pressure to sell once, he says, for about a week. He quit partly because he realized that to make big money he'd have to get in fairly deep, which would be dangerous. Of the Def City clique, he counted four who have been shot. None have been killed.

'Be like Donald Trump'

An incident a few months ago confirmed his decision to stay out of dealing, he says.

A man broke into his mother's house at 1 a.m. and held a gun to her head, demanding money and drugs. Teffori heard the noise, broke the basement window and ran out to call the police. His mother escaped unharmed, but he felt guilty. He didn't think the house had been chosen at random.

"I think maybe they saw me dealing, and that's why he came to our house," he says. "I decided I don't want to go around every day watching my back, afraid someone's going to jump me."

Teffori, who has earned $4.25 an hour doing various jobs at the Hyatt Regency at the Inner Harbor, says he's decided to try to make it without the drug trade.

"I want to get a job and say, 'I made it -- made it without selling no drugs,' " he says.

Maybe he'll become a chef or an architect, he says. "Be like Donald Trump, so nobody in my family has to work, because I can support them."


If everyone knows the corners where teen-agers deal drugs, why isn't the trafficking stopped?

A Southwest Baltimore resident recently complained to The Sun that one teen-ager had been openly involved in drug dealing for more than a year on Frederick Avenue. He had been arrested repeatedly but quickly resumed dealing every time.

Here is his story of David 17, as told by court records:

April 2, 1991: Officer arrests David on a Southwest Baltimore corner after spotting two plastic bags of majijuana in a corn-chip bag he is holding. After being held seven months by the Police Department, the case reaches court on Jan. 16. David fails to appear three times in court. A warrant is issued.

June 4, 1991: David is arrested with a companion after an officer finds 45 vials of cocaine on the other teenager. Charges are dismissed July 11 because no witnesses can link David to the drugs.

July 30, 1991: David, who is wearing a beeper, is arrested, and 25 vials of cocaine are retrieved from a nearby . Seven months later, prosecutors drop charges for lack of evidence linking David to the drugs.

Aug. 7, 1991: David is shot in the leg at 6:30 a.m. near his home in an incident police tie to drug dealing. He is treated at Bon Secours Hospital and released. Police say the shooting is drug-related.

Oct. 16, 1991: Officer arrests david on North Calverton Street after finding a loaded .38-caliber handgun under his trench coat. David is charged as an adult, and placed on probation for two years. he is ordered too attend Baltimore City Community College and do 50 hours of community service but does neither.

Nov. 19, 1991: Two officers catch David in an alley with the magazine for a 9mm semiautomatic pistol and find a matching pistol nearby. David is charged as an adult but the case is dropped because the officers did not see him with the gun.

May 10, 1992: A plainclothes officer searches Davis on SoutSmallwood Street and finds several vials of cocaine held together by a rubber band. Hr is charged as a juvenile and realease.

June 26, 1992: David fails to appear in court on a charge oviolation of probation and another arrest warrant is issued.

July 24, 1992: Sheriff's deputies go to David's house and find ialmost empty . David's father, sitting on the steps, says he has not seen his son in some time.

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