When Lyneir Richardson, CEO of Chicago TREND, decided to try and buy Edmondson Village Shopping Center, he said he knew that addressing crime was one thing that needed to be a priority.
“Stevie Wonder can tell that there is drug dealing in the parking lot,” he wrote in a text about what he observed.
Rather than let his concern deter him from purchasing the shopping center — which he thought had great potential because of its proximity to busy Route 40, among other things — he looked for ways to address the crime. His community development corporation applied and won a state grant to be used for crime prevention and intervention efforts at the retail center.
His concerns, as well as those of residents, hit a new level Wednesday when Deanta Dorsey, 16, was killed and four other teenage boys injured in a mass shooting outside a Popeyes restaurant at the shopping center, which is across the street from Edmondson-Westside High School.
Though crime has dropped significantly in recent years, the shopping center and some of the immediate areas around it have long grappled with and complained about crime and say it is still a problem. Residents say they have for years called for police and city officials to do something about it.
In 2021, there were 12 larcenies and 4 burglaries within about two blocks of the shopping center, compared to 47 larcenies and 12 burglaries in 2015, according to a Baltimore Banner analysis. Between 2015 and 2021, there were also 90 aggravated assaults within about two blocks of the center. As of December 1, police received 41 calls for service in the entire 4400 block of Edmondson Avenue that includes the shopping center, including 3 for aggravated assaults and 3 calls for narcotics, according to police data.
The crime issue is no secret to police. During a press conference Wednesday, Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said, “We have had issues here in this mall for a long time.”
Still Monique Washington, president of the Edmondson Village Community Association, wished resident complaints were taken more seriously.
“It could have all been avoided, especially during school hours,” she said.
She believes that crime has become normalized. In 2021, she reached out to a television news station about drug dealing in and around the shopping center. The station placed a camera near Edmondson Avenue and Swann Avenue and captured a possible drug transaction in broad daylight.
Jai Joyce, a longtime Edmondson Village resident, said she’s tired of the negative attention her community gets and said the decline at the shopping center has felt like a void left in the community, even though it’s physically still there.
“We’re tired of crime, period. We’re tired of the shooting,” she said. “It’s hard every day that we turn on the news. ”
In another high profile case in 2017, Deric Ford was shot and killed by one of two robbers while working at the Dollar General store at the shopping center. His family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Edmondson Village Shopping Center Holdings, criticizing the company for not taking adequate security measures in common areas of the shopping center and “causing it to become a ‘haven’ for foreseeable violent criminal activity and thereby proximately” causing Ford’s death, according to court documents.
“There comes a point where a shopping center or a place held open to the public is so dangerous and has so much violence that it becomes a public nuisance,” Michael Belsky, a partner at Schlachman, Belsky, Weiner & Davey, P.A.S, which represents Ford’s family, said Thursday. “This shopping center has been notorious for many years for its enabling of criminals.”
In a motion to dismiss the case, Edmonson Village argued Ford was a tenant because he worked at Dollar General and that as the landlord of the shopping center “it did not owe Ford a duty to protect him from the criminal acts of third persons inside the leased premises.” A Baltimore judge ruled in favor of Edmondson Village and the lawsuit was thrown out, but the Maryland Court of Special Appeals reversed that ruling. The case is still pending.
The shooting on Wednesday highlighted another issue with the shopping center.
Councilman Kris Burnett said that residents have long been concerned about students leaving the school, particularly during lunchtime, and that despite a myriad of efforts to keep students on campus there’s “consistent finger-pointing” about who exactly should be held accountable.
Edmondson Westside High School has solicited food trucks to park on school property and hired monitors who keep tabs on students’ comings and goings. Harold Diggs, president of Young Successful Leaders Inc., also said he’s trying to raise money to pay for a food truck outside the school so students do not have to leave for lunch.
Burnett has directly appealed to businesses to stop serving them during school hours. The city has a codified curfew for youth during school hours, and a portion of city code allows officials to cite businesses that “knowingly permit any minor to remain on the premises” during curfew hours. Burnett said he has spoken to every single business operator in the shopping center asking them to abide by the curfew. Most are receptive and post fliers about it, he said.
But a few conversations with business owners have turned adversarial: “From their perspective, they’re refusing money,” he said.
On Oct. 31, 2022, Popeyes was cited for being in violation of the daytime curfew code, which can carry a maximum fine of $500. Popeyes and several other establishments in the shopping center, including Kimmy’s, America’s Best Wings, Royal Carryout, and Bryan’s Chicken, were also given a verbal warning on the same day.
Burnett and residents are hopeful about plans for a renovated shopping center.
Richardson said that Chicago TREND is still invested in a vision to add more retail and sit-down restaurants. Parts of a restricting 1945 covenant will have to be amended first, though.
“There’s some grit in me that says it’s even more urgent to purchase and renovate,” he said. “There’s hope that this can be better. The shopping center has to not be lost.”
Emily Sullivan and Ryan Little contributed to this report.