A dangerous block

The Baltimore Sun

The wind whipped through North Bradford Street, lifting trash off the pavement like an invisible hand and pushing it onto a sidewalk. Through yesterday's clutter of flattened fast-food cartons, crushed beer cans and empty bags of chips walked 16-year-old Deshawn Batson -- on a mission.

Wearing shiny black shoes and a black suit and tie, Batson had heard about Thursday's lunchtime quadruple shooting in the 1700 block. He knew about the 10-year-old boy and two 15-year-old girls who were struck by stray bullets, and the 20-year-old man who was the intended target.

Though from another east-side neighborhood, Batson had come to reach out to children who he knows often play freely on the streets, and to help them organize with one purpose: to clean up the streets, literally.

"Look at the block," Batson said, standing near the scene of the shooting, which may have stemmed from a dispute over a jacket. The alley behind the rowhomes is also littered with trash.

"There's really nothing for them to do," Batson said. "There's trash everywhere. There's glass everywhere. The city should've done something about it."

Batson took notes and photographs -- and planned to send it all to Mayor Sheila Dixon, who has made city cleanliness one of her top priorities.

The neighborhood where Batson walked is known as Broadway East, an area chronicled last year in a series in The Sun called "A neighborhood abandoned." Around the corner from the site of the shooting, the old American Brewery building -- a forlorn symbol of Baltimore's past manufacturing vitality -- dominates the neighborhood skyline. On many blocks in the neighborhood, the vacant, boarded-up rowhouses greatly outnumber the occupied ones.

Dixon visited the neighborhood Thursday after the shooting and was "very upset" by what she found, spokesman Anthony McCarthy said. Only a handful of rowhouses in the 1700 block of N. Bradford St. appear to be occupied.

"That particular block needs an enormous amount of attention," McCarthy said. He said Dixon contacted the city housing and public works departments to address the street's needs.

"It's a blighted community, and the mayor would like to see if these families have other options," McCarthy said.

The two 15-year-old girls and the 10-year-old boy live on the block; police wouldn't say where the 20-year-old lived. All four were shot while hanging out in front of an occupied home and three vacant rowhouses scarred by graffiti, crumbling brick and plywood boards covering windows.

About 12:30 p.m., a green sport utility vehicle drove down the street, stopped near them, and two men jumped out and started shooting, police said. Many neighborhood children were inside their homes, or playing outside, because school is out for spring break.

Genise Lassiter's children -- a 4-year-old son, a 14-year-old daughter, and a 17-year-old son -- were inside their home on the block when the shootings happened. But Lassiter, who had moved into the neighborhood five days ago, didn't know it at the time. She had gone down the street to visit her mother, and when she heard about the shooting, she rushed back home.

"It was a big moment of panic," Lassiter said. "I had no idea what was going on."

She said that police had blocked the street but that they allowed her into her home from the alley so she could check on her children. She said none of her children witnessed the shooting, but her daughter looked out the window after it happened and saw the 10-year-old boy being held by an older woman.

That boy remained hospitalized yesterday because a bullet broke a bone in one of his legs. The two girls were treated at Johns Hopkins Hospital and released. The man remained in serious but stable condition after being shot several times in the upper body, authorities said. A police spokesman declined to release the names of any of the victims because three were juveniles and the fourth was a victim and witness.

Thursday's shooting occurred on the same block where, in October 2005, a teenager and a man were gunned down. Police have arrested and charged a man in the double homicide, and his trial -- set to begin yesterday -- was postponed. Graffiti marks the spot where those killings occurred -- it was within a few yards of Thursday's quadruple shooting.

As Batson walked around the neighborhood yesterday afternoon, three young girls began to follow him around. He talked about organizing a Memorial Day picnic next month for the neighborhood children and using it as an opportunity to coordinate them to clean up the trash.

Batson is a sophomore at the Baltimore School for the Arts, and he became involved in church activities because his godfather is pastor. He said he sees his efforts to help children as part of his church ministry; he serves as a youth pastor at a church in his neighborhood -- the Cathedral of Praise, at Madison and Milton streets.

"When I heard about the shooting, I said, 'It's bad,'" Batson said. "Even though I'm a youth pastor in the church, I need to get more active in the city and try to do stuff to get my game up to help the kids out.

"The best I can do is come back myself and get the youth to help," Batson said, standing near the corner of East Lanvale and North Bradford streets.

"I'll help," said 10-year-old Dashawna Stelle. Her cousin, 10-year-old Jermyra Smith chimed in: "I'll help, too."


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