Anti-crime activist ignores threats


In the four years that Robert Nowlin has lived in the Pen Lucy community of Northeast Baltimore and fought the criminals there, his house has been shot up, bricks have been thrown on his front porch, and he has been called many unpleasant names.

But he has not been deterred. As the president of the Pen Lucy Community Association, Mr. Nowlin's goal is to make his neighborhood -- as well as the entire city -- free of drug trafficking and safer for his four children.

The 54-year-old native Baltimorean, who is blind, has been on many anti-crime marches, vigils and crusades throughout the city during the past year.

His reason is simple: "I'm a parent."

QUESTION: Have residents throughout the city just come to accept drug dealing and crime?

ANSWER: They're concerned, but have the wrong attitude about coming to fight the problem. They say that the police will never do anything about it.

They can't just say that they'll [criminals] kill me and leave it at that.

Q: You have participated in numerous anti-crime activities throughout the city in recent months. Why?

A: I have children, and I know the pain of having to keep them in the house and that sometimes they can't sit on the front porch by themselves.

It's very difficult to send them to school because of all different kinds of problems with the people [criminal element that hangs out] on Old York Road and the aggravations at the bus stop.

Q: Are you fighting a battle you can't win?

A: Working together with other active community organizations are the things that can save us.

Q: What are some of the pressing issues involving crime citywide?

A: Just about all of the corners in Baltimore City really oppress me and make me feel so bad because we have mostly black people on the corners, and for some reason nobody wants to go to them and speak truthful with them.

Everyone is shying from the fact that it is mostly black and that what they're doing is wrong.

The religious people tell them they understand and God loves you.

But they fail to tell you that what you're doing is totally wrong.

Everybody is afraid to tell you that selling drugs is wrong and that there cannot be any help for you until you listen and do the right thing.

Q: Have the problems gotten better in your neighborhood and in the city in recent years?

A: It's a shifting thing. One minute it's better, and the next it's right back to where it was.

Q: Do you go out and tell the people on the corners that what they do is wrong?

A: I tell them with marches and protests against what they're doing.

I would like to go to the corners and tell them face-to-face that what you're doing is wrong.

Unfortunately, I don't think that would be a very good idea. I've tried it, and it isn't safe.

Q: Are you at all frightened of the guys on the corners?

A: I'm frightened to the extent of knowing what could possibly happen to me.

But as far as really facing them and facing them down, no. But I know this is not the way they play. I'm afraid of what they'll do from behind, not what they'll do to my face.

My house was fired on, and they came by and threw bricks up on my porch. These people have no scruples whatsoever.

I was -- and still am -- frightened. But I can't let that stop me.

Q: Do Baltimore City police do all they can to fight crime?

A: We have a very good working relationship with Northern [District police station]. But police in general, no.

A lot of them don't show the aggressiveness that they should, and they say it's because they don't have the backing that they should from their superiors and from the judges.

We're trying to get an understanding with the judges and with the people that are important in this situation -- namely, court commissioners and bail bondsmen. They're going to have to change and stop being so fast in letting these people back out into the community.

Q: How do you feel about community policing?

A: Community policing is wonderful if everybody concerned does their part.

However, if the Police Department cannot win the confidence of the community, then the whole thing is worth nothing.

When you have people from the community pointing out drug dealers, drug users, gun users and so forth to the police and they lock them up -- and then these people are let back in the same community to seek revenge -- it's impossible for community policing to work. It's impossible for people to believe in it.

Q: What would help lessen the problems on the streets?

A: More community involvement would definitely spell success because we outnumber the opposing people by many.

But because they instill unbelievable fear in most of the people who want the right thing, they have the upper hand.

Q: What has happened to many neighborhoods throughout the city?

A: The complete control of communities by a handful of what I choose to call thugs and criminals. I think we hand out too many excuses for these people.

Q: Why don't others get involved in the fight against crime?

A: Some are just actually and truthfully terrified. For neighborhood groups to work, you have to put the fear aside and join in. Then you'll see it isn't as hard as it seems.

Q: How do you feel when other residents say that what they do won't make a difference?

A: It's very discouraging. I try to rally myself in order to rally them.

Whatever I want to do, I try my best to do it.

I don't disabuse my disability or handicap for anything.

But hopefully, other people will use my handicap as an inspiration and join this fight with me and to stay with me.

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