Is it justified to simply scorn the behavior of bad actors who wreak havoc upon neighborhoods in Baltimore without accounting for the unabated decades-long systemic isolation and degradation of communities of color by the larger society that has caused wide swaths of the urban landscape to become desolate wastelands where the more fortunate inhabitants subsist?
The least fortunate among Baltimore’s subsistence culture, however, barely survive in an unbelievable environment of squalor with a physical terrain that resembles a war-torn milieu of vacant, decomposing structures and neighbors in perpetual survival mode.
Couple these circumstances with a population attempting to escape the pain of their existence by consuming alcohol, opiates and other drugs at some of the highest rates in the country, and you have a recipe for a social climate rivaling anarchy.
The daunting conditions that pervade Baltimore is the perfect storm to produce violent actors. Why is the government’s response not to invest resources that might curtail or reverse the conduct of very desperate people, but to invest more police resources to contain them?
I recently visited a West Baltimore home my family lived in for a time, a bustling block of two-story houses with lawns, in a neighborhood of working class families. There used to be storefront businesses on the local thoroughfare that provided the basic amenities any household might need. They’ve been overrun by an abandoned, decrepit, foreboding landscape.
On this block of approximately 40 homes on either side of the street, perhaps only one-in-three was still occupied. Among the occupied homes, half looked uninhabitable. The house I’d lived-in had a tree that had grown through the basement floor and out the roof, with branches extending through doors and windows. A family was residing in a home one door away.
I walked the alley behind my old home. There were rat carcasses in varying stages of decay, mounds of garbage, and glass crunched under my feet. Many of the houses, like my old home, were dilapidated, overgrown by trees and grass. The flourishing local businesses had disappeared. In their place were bars, liquor stores and Asian take-outs, all fortified for security and with worn-down facades.
The conditions faced by most of Baltimore’s poor communities of color have been inherited in a linear trajectory from slavery, through Jim Crow to the present without ever having portended any major social, political or economic uplift.
The out-of-neighborhood migration of the best and brightest, strongest and most ambitious, among the community’s resident talent pool caused a brain-drain that left only the least able and educated en masse to fend against a system that never supported their drive towards emancipation into full citizenship, with all the privileges that come with it.
It is no secret that the City of Baltimore was a pioneer of redlining strict racial neighborhoods a century ago to enforce Jim Crow, that by the 1930’s became the blueprint for the city’s public housing system which continues to inform Baltimore’s still largely racially segregated communities. According to a recent report, Baltimore is currently the 8th most segregated region in the United States. There are 388 metropolitan regions in the U.S.
Certainly, the crime and violence that plague Baltimore neighborhoods was not an intentional invention of the City’s power brokers, however the circumstances that foment crime and violence in Baltimore were absolutely by design. With the 3rd highest per capita concentration of police to citizens in the United States behind Washington D.C. and Newark, New Jersey, black Baltimore is over-policed, and under-invested.
Regi Taylor is a native of West Baltimore and a writer.