'Put the guns down': During Frederick Avenue walk, Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh urges end to violence

This stretch of Frederick Avenue was once called Skulltown due to the number of cemeteries in the area, including historic Loudon Park.

Today, neighbors say, it’s more notorious for drug trafficking.

“A lot of people can’t get in the store because it’s so crowded with the druggies,” said resident Ron McClary, 72.

On Wednesday, Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh walked through the neighborhood with police and city leaders during one of her regular crime walks, held as part of the mayor’s violence reduction initiative.

“I think all of us are sick and tired of hearing the gunshots,” Pugh told people gathered along Franklin Avenue on the crisp fall afternoon.

She urged would-be shooters to “put the guns down.”

The city has experienced an uptick in homicides in recent months, with 44 killings reported in the past 30 days. Simultaneously, some residents have expressed concern about what they see as dysfunction in the police department: The force lacks a permanent commissioner — Pugh said she and others were “still vetting” candidates and had narrowed the pool from 50 to four — and its chief spokesman recently quit citing “nasty mudslinging” and “political turmoil.”

Some Irvington residents say they don’t feel safe in their neighborhood. Robin Fenwick has lived in the area 21 years, but said nowadays crime levels have gotten so bad, “I don’t come down here for nothing.”

Neighbors brought their concerns about crime and other issues to Pugh on Wednesday. Dorothy Cunningham, regarded by some as “the mayor of Irvington,” said many streets are poorly lit, and thus provide cover to would-be shooters. She urged the mayor to speed up the process for bringing in new street lights.

“Why don’t you give us a chance to do our work?” Pugh told her. The mayor later said she would expedite the process.

As she walked with an entourage through the neighborhood, Pugh stepped inside several liquor stores and corner stores, businesses she has criticized in the past as being magnets for crime. In one shop, she pointed out plywood that covered up the windows. “This should not be allowed,” she said.

Inside one tavern, a rusty toilet could be seen on the floor — next to the bar. “Shut it down,” Pugh said as she walked out. Douglas Paige, director of the board of liquor licenses, said the tavern, which he said had recently been cited for various violations, would be closed for the rest of the day.

Accompanying Pugh on the walk was City Councilman Kristerfer Burnett, who represents the area. Inside one store, Burnett pointed out a display case of knives and expressed frustration. “We passed a bill prohibiting those from being displayed,” he told Pugh.

The mayor acknowledged that drug dealing is a problem in the area — and that dealers are using guns to enforce their territories of trade. She spoke of wanting to reduce the violence, and increase access to jobs in the area and encourage mediation and dialogue.

“Does she have a specific course of action?” asked Renee Washington, 40, as she watched the mayor walk up and down the streets.

Though she had made her concerns heard about lighting, Cunningham expressed skepticism: “Just because they’re being heard doesn’t mean they’re going to be addressed,” she said.

ctkacik@baltsun.com

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