Theresa looks the young drug dealers in the eye when they pass her house on Sheridan Avenue. Some even mumble apologies — “sorry, Miss Lady” — when they see her, she says. But she also hears them call out “On the road!” or “They coming!” to alert one another when police cruisers pass.
Despite living in Woodbourne-McCabe in North Baltimore for 30 years, she won’t sit on her front porch to enjoy her and her neighbors’ sprawling gardens after the sun sets, given the violence that has afflicted her neighborhood in recent years. And she declined to give her last name, out of safety concerns.
“It’s a drug area,” she said, with an air of resignation.
On a Baltimore Ceasefire weekend that saw the 200th homicide of the year, the city opened its 12th and latest Safe Streets Baltimore site, Woodbourne-McCabe, in a rowhouse at York Road and Sheridan Avenue, across the street from Theresa’s house. With the motto “Stop shooting, start living,” the Safe Streets program tasks reformed criminals with mediating neighborhood disputes, using their street credentials to intervene before disagreements erupt into violence.
At least five people have been shot in the block or in the immediate area this year, according to police.
When a 37-year-old man was shot in the leg and hip in the most recent nearby incident Friday, Lisa Jones was one of the first people to arrive and provide first aid while the victim waited for an ambulance.
Amid all the violence, neighbors have embraced the new Woodbourne-McCabe Safe Streets site, volunteering to help clear trash, paint walls and hang curtains, among other tasks, to get it ready, said Jones, the site director. Nearly three dozen men in the neighborhood played in a pickup softball game Jones organized, she said.
Having a comfortable, safe place where people can come to talk through their emotions and find common ground will make the neighborhood safer, Jones said.
“This space is critical,” she said. “We can convene and talk about strategies. There are areas to meet one-on-one.”
Shantel Allen, 29, a Safe Streets violence interrupter, said the rehabilitated rowhouse is “somewhere you can go where you know everything’s going to be OK.”
“It gives you a family," she said. "It gives you a home.”
Volunteers at the site will receive training through the Baltimore Community Mediation Center, which operates in more than 140 churches, libraries, community centers and other locations in the city, said Shantay Guy, the mediation center’s director. The center has a full-time staff of seven and more than 80 volunteers.
Unlike a more workplace-style facility, the Woodbourne-McCabe Safe Streets rowhouse fits seamlessly into the neighborhood, a new place for people to talk with mediators or one another, said Wayne Paige, 28, who works with Safe Streets and the Beautiful Baltimore Foundation.
“It makes it feel like this is a part of the block,” Paige said. “It just makes you feel safe.”
Theresa is cautiously optimistic. Her husband, Yohanes Wasie, crossed the street to glance inside.
“We are hoping it will help. We are praying it will help,” she said. "We have to wait and see what happens.”
After a ribbon-cutting ceremony, Jones gave Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young a tour of the air-conditioned sitting room with plush couches and a flat-screen TV, the conference room set up just off the kitchen area, the offices and the basement work stations. The mayor even sat in a massage chair next to a salt lamp in a small upstairs meditation room.
“Hosting a site here in the Woodbourne-McCabe community will go a long way in combating violence and bringing hope,” Young said.
Jones showed him the “Community Commitment,” a list of promises the Safe Streets workers and community members planned to read together:
I promise to love my community.
I promise to contribute to peaceful solutions for my community.
I promise to love and respect children, teenagers, adults and the elderly.
I promise that when I am called upon to help my community, I will do my best.
I will rebuild and restore myself and my community.
Young paused to read the list of pledges and couldn’t hide the frustration in his voice over the city’s violence.
“Do all of them take it?” he asked. “All of them should take that. Every last one.”'
Baltimore Ceasefire organizers helped celebrate the Safe Streets site’s opening Sunday, one day after gathering for a “sacred space ritual” to commemorate the place where a 32-year-old woman was shot to death in her car in the parking lot of the Seminole Court Apartments in the city’s 200th homicide of the year Saturday.
The victim, whose name police have not yet released, was shot in the head and body just after 1:30 p.m. in the apartment complex in 4300 block of Seminole Ave., near Gwynns Falls/Leakin Park in Southwest Baltimore. The Mount Washington Group, which manages the apartment complex, could not be reached for comment.
Maria Ray, who lives near Hanlon Park, texted family members who live in the apartments after the shooting to make sure they were safe and stopped by for a visit Sunday.
Reflecting on the city’s violence, she recalled years during the 1990s when Baltimore had a killing a day. More than 300 people have been killed in each of the past four years, and the city is on pace for a fifth. The death toll is “scary, frightening and sad," Ray said. "But it’s not new.”
“We’re kind of used to it,” she said. “It’s very sad for the family, and we’ll be praying for them. The rest of us will keep doing what we do.”
Christopher Carter, 40, said he came outside to begin his shift as a taxi driver Saturday afternoon when he realized the apartment parking lot had become a crime scene. A child’s pink toy car, a scooter, a soccer ball and a badminton racket were visible on one of the apartment balconies just feet from where the shooting happened. Rognel Heights Elementary/Middle School is just up the street.
Carter had just scrolled past an Instagram post about the Ceasefire Weekend, during which organizers hit the streets with the message: “Nobody shoot anybody.”
“You don’t want any murders at any time,” Carter said. “I was thinking, ‘What didn’t I do right? Should I have been standing outside?' "