Reason to worry

The Baltimore Sun


An article Saturday on crime in the Belair-Edison community and another about a housing program in yesterday's editions led readers to conclude that Johns Hopkins Hospital was in charge of a new biotechnology park being built adjacent to its campus in East Baltimore. The revitalization project is run by East Baltimore Development Inc., of which Johns Hopkins is a partner.

The street is mostly empty now, many of the businesses lining Belair Road closed or empty.

Joe Maina warily eyes a stray customer who walks into his store, the Belair-Edison Arcade, a hodgepodge of ethnic products, Kenyan coffee and Caribbean spices, bumper stickers and T-shirts that declare African pride.

Just across the street, two East Baltimore men were shot to death in broad daylight as an afternoon church service was getting out.

"Some of my customers can't come to this area - they worry about stray bullets," says Maina, 35. "They know the area is not secure. I'm just waiting to see how it's going to be."

In the midst of a surge in homicides and nonfatal shootings across the city this year, Northeast Baltimore has seen some of the steepest increases, and the community of Belair-Edison is among the casualties.

On Sunday in the 3400 block of Belair Road, Channing Myrick, 26, and Deion Morris, 23, both of East Baltimore, were gunned down. Police have made no arrests.

Three blocks away in late July, a man was found dead at Belair Road and Clifton Park Terrace, across the street from a day care center. The remnants of his makeshift memorial - deflated balloons and a mound of white melted wax - mark the spot.

And a block away in April, a 43-year-old woman died after a city police officer fired his Taser at her when she attacked him.

The impact has affected residents on nearby leafy streets lined with well-kept rowhouses, but also businesses on the usually busy thoroughfares of Belair Road and Erdman Avenue

While some say the neighborhood and its business district have always dealt with the usual urban ills, others say things have taken a turn for the worse in recent years.

More than 100 businesses line about a half-dozen blocks, including a large number of beauty salons and barbershops mixed with tax services and banks, convenience stories and carryout restaurants.

Chad Hayes, director of commercial revitalization for Belair-Edison Neighborhoods Inc., a nonprofit across the street from the double homicide, said he doesn't believe the latest shootings will affect business. "Obviously, it's a negative thing that has happened to the neighborhood," he said. "But I believe for the most part people realize this is a safe business district."

But some business owners remain worried.

Those like Maina, who took over the family business in May after his cousin was robbed three times, say customers fear wiring money through his store's money gram business. He decided against adding a check-cashing service.

A Vietnamese laundromat owner across the street complains about the constant drug activity outside and ponders moving but cannot afford it.

A block away, a new business owner says that buying a convenience store in the area was a big mistake. "Not yet," he says wryly when asked if he has been the victim of a robbery.

At a local bar, the Mayfield Inn, the bartender points to a stray bullet that tore through the front door. "It's already hurt business, these drug corners," says Sandy Bornscheuer, 64. "I'm afraid to walk two blocks in broad daylight. If it's slow, I shut the doors and lock them until I see someone I know."

Baltimore police were unable to provide crime statistics for the Belair-Edison neighborhood. But Northeast Baltimore overall has had 29 homicides this year, compared with 13 at this time last year. Nonfatal shootings have jumped from 52 last year to 65 this year.

Felony drug arrests in the area have increased 30 percent, while misdemeanor drug arrests are up 43 percent. But most other crimes, including aggravated assaults and robberies, are down, said Sterling Clifford, a spokesman for the Police Department.

Anthony Dawson, president of the Belair-Edison Community Association, blames some of the problems on investors quickly selling properties - a practice called flipping - and renting out the houses to people who aren't as invested as homeowners.

"Our community right now is in transition," said Dawson. "We're trying to create an identity for our community, which is definitely not a community for crime and disorder."

But Johnette Richardson, executive director of Belair-Edison Neighborhoods Inc., a nonprofit that assists people looking to buy homes in the area, said that home prices have increased in recent years and that the ownership rate - about 75 percent - remains strong.

"We're one of these middle neighborhoods in Baltimore. We have turned a corner," said Richardson, who lives north of Belair-Edison.

"Nobody's afraid to live here," she added. "I think it's an isolated thing. I think it's unfortunate, what's becoming our reality in Baltimore City. I just think the overwhelming sense is that these guys are in a lifestyle that is unfortunately spilling into the streets."

Ede Taylor, founder and executive director of Belair-Edison Health Communities Coalition and a longtime member of the community, said she believes Sunday's double homicide is a sign of things to come. Taylor said she thinks a disproportionate number of people displaced by Johns Hopkins Hospital's biotechnology project in East Baltimore have ended up in Belair-Edison.

Taylor doesn't believe figures from the East Baltimore Development Inc., the nonprofit created to relocate affected people, that just 32 out of 396 households relocated to Belair-Edison. She said much higher figures were presented at a meeting last year.

The area, she said, does not have enough youth and employment resources to support such populations. "We need the city and foundations to help us with these needs," Taylor said. "The relocation coupled with the lack of resources has led to instability."

To some residents, the very nature of the business district is what needs to changed.

"Who wants carryout? Who wants fried fish and fried chicken?" said Joseph Boyd, 44, chief financial officer of Moveable Feast, a nonprofit that delivers meals to homebound people with AIDS. "I think it's a shame that in the last five, six years there's no place where you can simply sit down to eat.

"Why aren't we getting better-quality businesses?" he asked. "Maybe we just haven't demanded it."

Since the double homicide over the weekend, the business district has been eerily quiet. Police officers have come through several times, handing out "Get Out of The Game" posters and door-hangers, an anti-gang initiative.

Dennis Parker is one of the few outside, a handicapped man in a wheelchair sitting outside to get his only fresh air of the day.

"This is a rough area," says Parker, 69, who lives with his daughter around the corner. "It wasn't like this when I first moved up here. This was a beautiful neighborhood at one time. Not no more."

Across the street, the lights from a police car blink, and officers question a young man.

Parker heard the shots Sunday. "It sounded like canons," he said. "Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. I think I heard four more after that."

He won't go outside at dusk anymore. "We can't afford to move," he said. "We just stay to ourselves. Keep our doors locked and stay to ourselves."

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