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As violence permeates Baltimore’s Carrollton Ridge neighborhood, residents search for hope, solutions

Cyndi Tensley, President of the Carrollton Ridge Community Association, sings on the 1800 block of McHenry Street on Tuesday, Nov. 24, during a "Vigil for Life" commemorating the lives of people falling victim to gun violence in the neighborhood.
Cyndi Tensley, President of the Carrollton Ridge Community Association, sings on the 1800 block of McHenry Street on Tuesday, Nov. 24, during a "Vigil for Life" commemorating the lives of people falling victim to gun violence in the neighborhood. (Phillip Jackson)

Cyndi Tensley drove to the 1900 block of McHenry St. on a frigid November night, parked on the corner and set up for another Vigil for Life. Tensley hosts these gatherings for all the murder victims whose blood has stained the streets of Carrollton Ridge. It’s a practice she’s repeated many times.

Tensley, president of the Carrollton Ridge Neighborhood Association, grabbed a microphone, read scriptures aloud and sang with zeal as onlookers stopped, recognizing faces and names acknowledged in the vigil.

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Two of those names were Courtney Richardson and Aryanna James, both in their early 20s, and both fatally shot Nov. 14. Ten days later, the community lost 36-year-old Brian Moore, shot and killed in the 1800 block of Pratt St.

As of Monday, there have been 12 homicides this year in Carrollton Ridge, according to Baltimore Police data. That’s four more — proportionately, a huge increase — than each of the past two years for the south Baltimore neighborhood tucked north of Carroll Park.

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Residents say the trend is particularly troubling because Carrollton Ridge — though beset with poverty, drugs and vacant houses — had not suffered the same wave of violence over the past five years as some parts of the city. The spike in homicides has many residents pushing and pulling for solutions.

Carrollton Ridge derived its name from Charles Carroll, a founding father from Maryland, and the ridge that runs along the western part of the community. It is one of the most racially diverse neighborhoods in the city, and has long prided itself as a safe, welcoming home, residents said.

City officials joined Carrollton Ridge neighborhood residents during a walk through the community after a rash of recent fires.

Community dynamics began changing in the late 1990s, some residents acknowledged, as drugs made their way to street corners, illegal dumping increased and vacant rowhomes began spiraling. The neighborhood now has at least 780 vacant buildings.

Judy Diane-Taylor, 78, has lived in the neighborhood since the 1970s. Years ago she felt safer walking out of her home, but was robbed earlier this year. She now has little interest in venturing far from her home and the surrounding block.

Tommy Guthrie, 68, who has lived in the neighborhood for 38 years, said the increase in vacant rowhouses is noticeable.

“When I moved here, there was not an empty house on the whole block. They were all homeowners,” Guthrie said.

The neighborhood’s vacants are rife with problems: 11 of them caught fire recently. At least some of the incidents are arson, investigators said, but the cause of most is still not determined.

Jared Michael, executive director and pastor of CityBeat church at 535 S. Smallwood St., said the rise in drug-related killings and shootings has led some Carrollton Ridge residents to become desensitized to the violence, making it harder to find a solution.

Ayranna James, 22, and Courtney Richardson, 21, were both fatally shot in a double homicide on Nov. 14 in the 1900 block of McHenry Street. Both of them were honored during a vigil of life organized by Carrollton Community Ridge Association President Cyndi Tensley.
Ayranna James, 22, and Courtney Richardson, 21, were both fatally shot in a double homicide on Nov. 14 in the 1900 block of McHenry Street. Both of them were honored during a vigil of life organized by Carrollton Community Ridge Association President Cyndi Tensley. (Phillip Jackson)

“It is sad because you see a lot of young people going away before their time, and you see a lot of sons, brothers and families having to pick up the pieces of that," Michael said. “More people become numb to it because it happens so often."

Roxanne Roberson, a 71-year-old who has lived in Baltimore for decades, moved to Carrollton Ridge three years ago because she liked that it was quieter and more isolated. She said her block remains that way, and that she keeps to herself so that her family remains safe from retaliatory shootings and killings.

But, Roberson is aware of the bleak conditions just blocks away.

“Live by the streets, you are going to die by the streets. These people are dying because all they know is the streets," Roberson said. She said one of the biggest problems is easy to spot. Once young kids become teenagers, there is less support and less money spent on providing recreational and other outlets to keep them off the streets.

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“I think there used to be a lot of facilities for the older kids, but they closed them up," Roberson said.

Making a living remains a problem, with the median household income dropping by $1,000 since 2011, to $28,732, according to city data. That’s well below the city median.

Lester Davis, spokesman for Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, said more recreational centers and employment opportunities will deter crime. Davis added the consent decree between Baltimore Police and the Department of Justice should have a holistic impact on how residents are engaging with crime and police in their community.

“There has to be cooperation and partnership between the community and police. When that gets fractured, people are less likely and less willing to cooperate if they don’t believe that information will be used correctly,” Davis said. “The consent decree is a piece of work that will have a profound change with not only community policing, but how citizens engage with police.”

Baltimore police did not respond to multiple requests for comment from The Baltimore Sun for this article.

Councilman John Bullock, who was elected in 2016, said the “unfortunate part” is that problems plaguing the neighborhood have built up over time. Bullock sees issues around dumping, vacant housing and violent crime as “multi-faceted.”

“It’s not just the city. It’s not just the neighbors. It is us trying to find solutions together," Bullock said.

A community gathering place, spearheaded by Carrollton Ridge Association President Cyndi Tensley is located just blocks away from her home. The Carrollton Ridge Field is an area where Tensley looks to beautify the neighborhood.
A community gathering place, spearheaded by Carrollton Ridge Association President Cyndi Tensley is located just blocks away from her home. The Carrollton Ridge Field is an area where Tensley looks to beautify the neighborhood. (Phillip Jackson)

Yet community organizations are striving to build up Carrollton Ridge and the residents who live there.

The Food Project has provided opportunities for 146 young people this year to learn culinary skills and work with mentors, part of an effort to counter the circumstances in their neighborhood.

“Here, at least they know they can walk through the door and get dinner at night," Michelle Suazo, executive director of The Food Project said.

But when a killing happens, keeping kids’ spirits up becomes complicated.

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Suazo said some young people in the project were friends of Richardson. Suazo worries that when children experience a loss to gun violence, they have to wake up in the morning and go to school as if nothing happened.

“They are just expected to accept death and accept all these terrible things that have happened and just brush it off to the side and go on and live their life.”


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“They are just expected to accept death and accept all these terrible things that have happened and just brush it off to the side and go on and live their life," Suazo said.

Later on, "12 to 13 years later, it is still unresolved issues. If it is not dealt with, the pot will continue to heat up in Baltimore.”

The neighborhood of Carrollton Ridge, located just west of Baltimore's inner city harbor has seen a total of 10 homicides in the community alone in 2019.
The neighborhood of Carrollton Ridge, located just west of Baltimore's inner city harbor has seen a total of 10 homicides in the community alone in 2019. (Phillip Jackson)

In the same building is I’m Still Standing, a nonprofit that helps veterans and ex-offenders get job training and life skills, and boosts at-risk youth by providing life training and support to make better choices. President and CEO Lawana Perkins and training coordinator Bruce Jennings say many young people are not exposed to opportunities outside of their neighborhood.

Jennings said more opportunities for young people at an early age can help. He hopes his organization can show kids that there’s a future that expands past the block they live on.

“Part of it is lack of hope. If you don’t see opportunities coming into the community and you are limited, you get locked into the community," Jennings said.

As groups continue trying to expand hope and opportunities for neighborhood residents, Tensley will continuing doing her part and holding vigils. A post on Tensley’s Facebook announced that another would be held “sometime next week," this one in memory of Nathan Rosenberry of South Smallwood Street.

The 26-year-old was killed Dec. 10. Weeks later, on Dec. 26, the neighborhood saw another killing: Michael Smalls, 39, who was shot in the 1800 block of Pratt Street.

And on Monday morning, another young man became Carrollton Ridge’s latest murder victim as the year comes to a close. He has not yet been identified.

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