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Gunfire sparks fear among Jonathan Street area residents

January 14, 1999|By KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI

Several shots were fired on Tuesday afternoon in the 400 block of Park Place, not far from a community playground and in an area busy with pedestrians and motorists.

"I was scared," a 13-year-old girl who lives on Park Place said Wednesday. "I didn't leave my house the whole night."

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With at least seven shootings in the Jonathan Street area in the past 26 months, residents are speaking out. They say they are tired of hearing gunshots and fed up with not feeling safe walking down neighborhood streets.

Hagerstown City Police last year created a special unit designed to clamp down on the drug trade and bring order to the streets. The crime unit was not on duty when the shots rang out at about 4 p.m. Tuesday.

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That evening, police apprehended Durrell Marque Blackmond, 27, of 115 W. Church St., and charged him with attempted second-degree murder, first-degree assault and reckless endangerment.

On North Avenue, "there were several kids at the corner store when the shooting took place and they were terrified," said Alesia Parson, a computer instructor at Memorial Recreation Center at 131 North Ave.

Parson had just returned to the recreation center with a busload of children when she heard about the shooting.

"We had to lock the doors and not let in anyone who wasn't familiar," she said.

"The kids were shaken by it," said Parson, who said many of the youngsters wanted their parents to be called.

"It affects the whole community. There is anger about it throughout the community. Why is this still happening?" she said.

Parson said she is dissatisfied with the job police and HotSpots officials are doing to deter crime and catch criminals.

The area was designated a high-crime HotSpots site in 1997. Washington County received a $221,000 grant in 1998 to target small, high-crime neighborhoods with a comprehensive attack combining police, community groups, parole and probation agents, and after-school programs.

Despite those initiatives, Parson said she hasn't seen an increased police presence.

"They say there are more people out there, but are there really? The crime rate speaks for itself," she said.

Her sister, Pam Parson, echoed her concerns.

She said her 14-year-old niece was walking down North Street when a recent shooting occurred.

"Bullets were spraying and she was so frightened. She wouldn't walk down that street for a long time," Pam Parson said.

"I think we have to come together as a community to stop this. We want people to know that we don't want dealers from New York and Florida taking over our neighborhood," she said.

She said that the community has to be proactive and report crimes to police, but people hesitate to do that if their names will be broadcast over police scanners.

Pam Parson said her car has been keyed as retaliation for her outspokenness, in the past.

She said she also has not noticed increased numbers of police officers in the area and believes two-hour parking regulations on Sumans Avenue are not strictly enforced.

"Cars are parked there all day and we know what they're there for," she said, referring to the drug dealers.

As president of the Parkside Residential Association, Pam Parson said she hears similar concerns from some residents.

"A new wave of fear erupts after every shooting in the area," said HotSpots Coordinator Carolyn W. Brooks.

She said she will work with the community and the police to "explore ways to improve conditions. We are at the mercy of out-of-town people plaguing the community."

Brooks said she has noted increased patrols in the Jonathan Street area and a fast response time by city police.

"It's very depressing to know that type of violence is going on on a regular basis while law-abiding people are living there," said Stanley Brown Jr., vice president of Brothers United Who Dare to Care Inc., an organization started in 1986 that works to provide enrichment programs for children and build community awareness.

He said he fears that children living in the community may become desensitized to violence.

Brown, who lives on Bethel Street, said many residents have complained to him about the crime in the area.

"It's very disturbing. People have become very safety-conscious. They're apprehensive about walking (through some areas)," he said.

"It's a legitimate fear," said Hagerstown City Police Lt. Gary Spielman.

"We obviously have had more violence than in previous years out there. People are more willing to pull the trigger," he said.

Spielman said he believes most of the violence is drug-related.

He said the police department has significantly increased the number of uniformed and undercover officers in the Jonathan Street area, which he said has police coverage 24 hours a day.

"Just think of how much worse things would be if they weren't there," he said.

Tuesday's daytime incident is not typical of such street crime, according to Spielman.

"Typically, most violent issues occur later in the evening," he said.

He said it was the presence of an undercover officer in the Jonathan Street area at the time of the shooting that enabled police to apprehend a suspect who was fleeing the scene.

Spielman said citizen participation will go a long way toward reducing crime.

Residents must call in suspicious activity or crimes they witness and be willing to testify if necessary, he said.

"If people let them (drug dealers) know they aren't welcome, they won't stay long," Spielman said.

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