They ignored the blaring sirens from all directions and the police helicopters above, and cursed the drug dealers who are normally at corners nearby. The disturbing sounds and sights of East Baltimore are all too familiar to its residents, who rallied against violence and drugs last night as part of National Night Out, a program of neighborhood crime prevention.
About 150 people gathered at a church parking lot in the 800 block of N. Chester St. - one of several observances across the Baltimore area - to exhibit a unified front against crime.
In a city with a history of high homicide rates, one of the first killings this year was that of 25-year-old Taharka McCoy on Jan. 17, who was shot twice in the back about one mile from last night's rally. McCoy's stepfather, Clifford C. Cox, who raised McCoy since he was 3, attended the event in support.
"I don't want other families going through what I'm going through," said Cox, a 42-year-old cook. "Once it hits home, then you wake up."
After averaging 320 homicides per year in the 1990s, Baltimore saw killings drop to 261 in 2000 and 259 last year. But amid a recent wave of shootings - several with juvenile victims - the number of homicides has reached 157, compared with 150 at this time last year.
Despite the most recent spike in crime, East Baltimore residents proudly note improvements, but are still troubled by heroin trafficking.
"They are out there now, sitting and waiting to make sales," said Marie E. Holmes, clinging to two great-great-granddaughters. "You can see it night and day, all the time. They must never sleep."
Several police officers showed up last night to promote police relations with the community.
"It's important to reiterate to the community that we care about them and we care about crime reduction," said police Col. Edward C. Jackson, who grew up in East Baltimore.
Earlier in the day, a mural depicting idealistic visions of East Baltimore was dedicated as part of the community's National Night Out observance.
In Highlandtown, more than 200 people enjoyed free hot dogs and soda in the 3400 block of E. Baltimore St.