``It's like a flea market with drugs,'' said Coatesville District Justice Brenda Bicking, who knows of the problem by way of the many youths who come through her courtroom. ``You can just drive your car down Seventh Avenue with a $20 bill and have someone put crack in your hand.''
According to police and others, the drug dealers now on Seventh Avenue are largely the same ones who were run out of business when the Young Guns arrived in April 1996.
Now, Coatesville police must rid yet another area of drugs and crime - but this time with far less outside help than they had when they took on the Young Guns.
``We would like to do the type of operation we did again, but we don't have the resources,'' interim Police Chief Terry Alexander said. ``If we had the money, there's no telling how far we could go with this.''
In their effort to break up the Young Guns, Coatesville police received major assistance from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, the Pennsylvania state police, and the Chester County Detective Bureau.
The four agencies worked nearly a year to build their cases against the gang, gaining crucial evidence through confidential informants and video surveillance.
Now, Alexander said, his force of 21 officers simply is not big enough to cover this city of 1.6 square miles and 11,600 residents. Without the resources, he said, the police are outnumbered.
``It's like you're running here and running there, and you drive by some of the nuisance crimes because you have to get to something that's a higher priority,'' he said.
Since the demise of the Young Guns, there has been a recent and noticeable drop in violent crimes, especially shootings, Alexander said. Most crimes, particularly drug-related offenses, occur in the city's northeast section, which includes the north side of Lincoln Highway from Fifth to Tenth Avenues. Some fear the violence could begin anew if the open-air dealing along Seventh Avenue, a residential street of modest, working-class homes with small lawns, porches and back alleys, is not curbed.
Community activist Osceola Wesley said drug traffickers had become so emboldened that ``I'll be in my car and have to wait . . . until they are done with a deal.''
Coatesville's only police detective, Matthew Gordon, said the way to get the dealers was through a dedicated drug-fighting unit. But at best, he said, the city could expect some part-time help from the Chester County Municipal Drug Task Force.
``If we had one, they would solve more crimes than the arrests they make now,'' he said. Police say they make three to four drug-related arrests a week.
Coatesville officials say they simply cannot afford to dedicate even one officer to drug fighting. It is but one of many tough budget decisions the cash-strapped city has had to make.
For instance, in an effort to boost the ranks of the police by one officer next year, Coatesville had to take nearly half of the $100,000 it had earmarked for a community center project, which is now postponed indefinitely.
Because it could not afford the matching funds, the City Council also decided not to seek federal community police grants for next year, money it had received in the past.
But the city has suffered from a lack of direction, too. Its Police Department has had four chiefs in the last two years, while the city government has gone through five city managers in three years.
Experience suggests police may not be getting much help from Seventh Avenue residents either, Alexander said. Throughout their investigation of the Young Guns, police said, residents offered little help or support. In one case, a shooting victim declined to identify who shot him.
``It seems like there is a lot of community apathy when it comes to assisting the police,'' Alexander said.
Some residents said they did not think the Young Guns were as bad as police and prosecutors had shown them as being.
``As far as them going around and shooting people, it wasn't like that,'' said DeBoise Perry, 18. ``They didn't bother anybody.''
Vincent Miles, a resident who works at a neighborhood community center, said that he had known gang leader Delbert Franklin all his life and that Franklin was just ``out there hustling. This whole thing was blown out of proportion.''
Miles also said police needed to improve their relationship with the community.
``How can they be effective if they stay behind closed doors?'' he asked, referring to the lack of police on foot patrols.
Alexander said vehicle patrols were more practical because officers must be able to get to many different places quickly.
Wesley, the community activist, said the drug situation was not likely to improve unless residents took more responsibility.
``It's not just the dealers, it's the community, because they allow this to happen,'' he said. ``Let the dealers go over to 13th or 17th Avenues and see how long those people put up with it. If the police don't show up, they'll chase them out themselves.''
On a recent afternoon this week, Seventh Avenue was crowded with slow-moving vehicles and groups of youths huddled on corners. A car stopped in the middle of the street, a young man ran up to it, and a drug deal was made.
``In some places, you've got doctors and lawyers growing up,'' said a man who asked not to be identified as he watched the drug deal from his porch. ``Here you've got drug dealers growing up. Kids here grow up with it, and that's how it all starts.''