While Sunday’s fatal stabbing came as a shock to those who think of Charles Village as one of Baltimore’s safest neighborhoods, many who live there were outraged and saddened — but not surprised.
“When you have a middle-class neighborhood rubbing next to a poor one, it’s expected,” Meghan Shutt said, today.
Shutt, who lives one block east of where Hopkins researcher Stephen Pitcairn was stabbed to death Sunday, counted three murders in the area in the past year and said she has had her house and car broken into multiple times.
At Thursday evening’s vigil for Pitcairn, one clearly distraught resident said he’d been waving his arms about the Charles Village crime problem desperately and been ignored.
“One month ago . . . I emailed. . . and nobody responded except Johns Hopkins,” said Richard Burnham, who owns a business on 25th Street. “I said ‘Get the druggies off the streets.’”
Burnham said he had warned police, public officials, lawmakers, community leaders and others that the area had a problem with drug-related crime recently: “If only people had listened to me.”
Just across the street from where Pitcairn was killed, the Village Learning Place offers city kids a summer camp experience. While the students are at the red brick building daily, few of them live in the neighborhood.
“After my grandfather was shot 3 different times, we moved,” one student said, interviewed outside the building today. Others noted that while they may walk a few blocks to where their parents pick them up, they know never to do so alone and never after dark.
Jay Kellner, who takes a cab home from work every day, said his current goal is to get a small truck and then move back into the suburbs. The people who killed Pitcairn “were just looking to rob someone and that’s just the way it is in Baltimore.”
Trying for an inclusive- and safe – neighborhood
Pitcairn was in the 2600 block of St. Paul Street when he was killed, walking home to Charles Village from the Penn Station area, where he had just gotten off a bus from New York. He was on the phone with his mother when two people demanded his wallet and phone and then stabbed him, police said.
Pitcairn’s death occurred at the lower edge of Charles Village, the neighborhood that lies to the east and south of Johns Hopkins University’s Homewood campus, the Baltimore Museum of Art and other iconic city institutions. Hopkins affiliates and students live there, as do all sorts of enthusiastic urban dwellers who like the diverse, community oriented-vibe and the colorful facades of the Victorian row-houses. (The so-called “painted ladies.”)
Focused as they are on this latest violence in their own neighborhood, several people at the vigil couldn’t help but think of similar vigils taking place with sad regularity in other city neighborhoods, to mourn of victims who were not Hopkins-affiliated and white.
“I went up to Waverly when they had those two shootings and I prayed for them,” said Elizabeth Schultz, a retiree who said she has lived in Charles Village “forever.” “People shouldn’t make this out to be a black-and-white thing.”
Schultz, who is white, was referring to the back-to-back shootings in April that left two men dead on Greenmount Avenue: Charles Bowman, 72, and Damon Anthony Minor, 21, both African-American.
“We don’t just do this for white people,” said Mark Counselman, president of the Oakenshawe Community Association, echoing Schultz.
“Where is the State’s Attorney? Let’s hear from her!”
Gripping his bicycle helmet as he waited for the vigil (he had pedaled over from nearby Oakenshawe and was heading downtown) Counselman talked about his neighborhood’s encounters with crime.
The killing of a backyard intruder by a samurai-wielding Hopkins student took place in that area in September and, in May, vandals on a rampage there damaged almost 40 cars and garages. In January, in nearby Guilford, a man was robbed and abducted and the man arrested of the crime, it turned out, had been convicted robbing a woman in the same neighborhood at knifepoint two years earlier and only served about a year of his ten-year sentence.
Energized residents have pressed police and the state’s attorney for help and stepped up neighborhood COP (Citizens on Patrol) walks, Counselman said.
But citizens can only do so much and police and city officials need to do more to prevent people like the couple charged in Pitcairn’s death, from being released and committing more crimes, he said.
“We’ve got to stop doing this,” Counselman said, gesturing toward the familiar assembly of media, mourners and elected officials, the bouquets laid at the base of the tree. “There is no reason those people should have been back out on the street.”
“There’s a leadership problem,” he said, “and, absolutely, the state’s attorney’s office is part of it.”
Indeed, Baltimore City State’s Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy was at the Thursday evening vigil but she stayed on the periphery, wisely perhaps, since the restive crowd hissed and jeered when Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake mentioned her name.
Other fixes, long and short-term?
Some in Charles Village are calling, simply, for more police patrols.
“The police can’t be everywhere at once and I understand that, but if you did put a police officer on every corner, that’d fix the problem,” said Kellner, interviewed at Calvert and 25th.
(He also pointed out the basketball courts on 26th between St. Paul and N. Calvert as a problem spot. “If you shut down that basketball court you’d get rid of a lot of trouble.”)
Rawlings-Blake, at the vigil, promised 100 new police officers by the end of the year, 300 by the end of 2011. Baltimore police commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III took responsibility (“we’re sorry we failed”) but then launched into a high-octane indictment of “a lot of other people” who allowed Pitcairn’s accused murderers onto the street.
He reiterated his plea for the passage of state laws to keep ‘bad guys with guns’ in prison longer, a point also made by Del. Curtis S. Anderson, who heads the city delegation in Annapolis. Anderson blamed “other folks who are not from Baltimore City” for blocking that legislation.
The heart of the problem
A self-professed proponent of Baltimore, Shutt said that it is the community members who care about Baltimore that are hurt most by the city’s violence.
“I’m from Baltimore and I love Baltimore and I root for it and it’s frustrating when I do everything to participate as a community member,” Shutt said. She said Charles Village needs city leaders to offer immediate help AND meaningful change.
“The vigil was just a bunch of politicking,” she complained. “This starts with not cutting funding for schools … you have to stop the leak from happening, not just deal with the drops. It needs to be a two pronged approach, being tougher on crime — they need to be in jail, they shouldn’t have been out — and dealing with the root of the problems.”
The city needs to do something, she said, to “end the conditions for the kind of poverty that just perverts the mind.”
Just worried about safety
Some who spoke today didn’t try to come up with solutions, just a take-away message about safety.
Niharica Raizada, who said she worked with Pitcairn, said that his death ha already made her change her behavior: “I was at the medical center and thought about waiting and taking the shuttle but just got a cab instead. Just pay $14, why risk it?”
Katie Reinhart, a graduate student at Johns Hopkins, described the incident as a reminder.
“I’ve lived here for five years and I’ve always felt safe. Charles Village is a safe neighborhood. That being said it’s all part of Baltimore,” Reinhart said.
“I’ve done that walk that he did from Penn Station and knowing this I’ll be more cautious, it’ll make me a little more attentive,” she explained.
“Things like this are good reminder that even in a ‘safe’ neighborhood there aren’t invisible walls or barriers.”