In the aftermath of recent crimes, neighbors in Little Italy and Canton are coming together and seeking solutions—on their own terms.
Dustin Ritter is tired of crime in Canton, and even more tired of feeling out of the loop about what crimes take place and how they are addressed by the city.
Ritter, who lives in the O’Donnell Square area, has taken matters into his own hands and with the support of other local residents is hosting an O’Donnell Neighbors Walk on Thursday, Aug. 1.
The group’s tentative list of concerns, compiled through conversations, emails, and social media, is long and varied, running the gamut from overzealous partiers at O’Donnell Square, to vagrants giving themselves naked sponge baths in broad daylight, to youth “casing” neighbors’ backyards, to burglaries, assaults, and the impact of angle parking.
Ritter said his isn’t a Citizens on Patrol Walk per se—he is uncertain whether Southeast police will even be attending—but an opportunity for neighbors to meet one another, walk around the neighborhood, and discuss issues that are important to them.
Ritter said this is an opportunity for neighbors to “speak up.”
“Our goal for the walk is to identify issues that are either not being addressed via 311, are too complex to be handled by 311, or have the potential to escalate into much larger issues for our community,” he said. “We see this walk as an opportunity to share information, which we believe the SEPD [Southeast Police District] and the Councilman [James Kraft] continue to struggle with, and to discuss ways to resolve issues that are unique to our community…”
Ritter noted that the broad focus of the walk is crime and safety, but he’s open to hearing what people have on their minds. Period.
“But bring all your concerns,” he said. “We’re not shutting down conversations here.”
Little Italy residents are dealing with their own crime concerns. In the aftermath of the July 20 beating and robbery of a Little Italy restaurant worker, more than 200 Little Italy residents and supporters convened at the Sons of Italy Hall on July 23.
The restaurant worker, whose name has not been disclosed, was attacked by about 10 youths and had his jaw broken and phone stolen, sometime between midnight and 1 a.m. near Bank and Exeter streets.
At the meeting, which was called by neighborhood residents, former State Senator John Pica, Jr., who grew up in Little Italy, spoke to the group about the possibility of Little Italy becoming a community benefits district that would have its own uniformed security.
Pica, now an attorney with the Offices of Peter Angelos, said he sponsored legislation to make community benefits districts possible in Baltimore.
“Gia Blatterman [president of the Little Italy Community Organization] had asked me to explain what special benefits districts are,” he said, in a later interview. “This is not my idea or my project, but if Little Italy wants it, I’d be happy to help them.”
Pica said of the attack, “They beat the living hell out of that guy. It’s all that the older people in Little Italy are talking about.”
Mel Stachura, president of the Little Italy Property Owners Association, said that police response to the attack was swift.
“Like any neighborhood group, we have our issues with the police– but not on this one. It was heartening that the police had made one arrest by Sunday night and others by Monday morning,” he said.
As of today, six arrests have been made.
After the meeting, foot patrols were started in Little Italy and the community is stepping up its efforts to improve safety. Restaurants, residents, and businesses are committed to installing additional surveillance cameras.
Footage from existing cameras helped in arresting the suspects, Stachura noted.
“One camera was outside of a residence. The other was outside of a condo,” he said.
“They are not the huge capital investment they once were. They don’t prevent crime, but they make it easier to catch criminals.”
by Danielle Sweeney