Baltimore has many nicknames, but I’m going to focus on two for the purposes of this week’s column: “Charm City,” and “Mobtown.” One was manufactured, the other was earned.
According to Baltimore historian and long-time newspaper man Gil Sandler, the Charm City handle was attached to our rough and tumble port town in 1975 during the administration of Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer.
Schaefer, who had big plans to make the city more of a modern tourist attraction, by turning a powerful public relations spotlight on a glittering crown jewel for the city, the yet to be built Harborplace. But, until his gleaming vision for the Inner Harbor could manifest he had to grapple with the reality of Baltimore’s dilapidated reputation; a disrespected and downtrodden stepchild obscured in the hierarchy of East Coast hubs, juxtaposed to the so-called, “great American cities,” of Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and of course, New York. So, Schaefer charged a team of local marketing gurus to come up with a pretty moniker for our rugged town and Charm City was born.
I can think of several adjectives when I ponder Baltimore and its residents (resilient always comes to mind), but, “charming,” isn’t one of them.
Mobtown is an organic tag that took root in the early 1800s when violence was first interwoven into the city’s soul. The application of mob justice was commonplace with marauding gangs of hooligans striking fear in the hearts of many in the city, including members of the massive free Black population, which outnumbered slaves 8 to 1.
Indeed, violence, murder and mayhem have weighed heavy on our people like the city’s infamous humidity, suffocating so many of us directly and indirectly for more than 200 years.
Today, we continue to fight what seems to be a losing battle to shake off our homicidal pedigree. Last Friday (Aug. 26), a man who was stabbed to death just west of Downtown at the Heritage Crossing community (built on the land where Murphy Homes once stood), became the city’s 200th homicide victim.
Yet, beyond the criminal milieu, Baltimore’s “public servants,” seem to have adopted the Mobtown mentality, wielding it like a cudgel with great ferocity in recent weeks.
Of course, American politics is a bloodsport (see Clinton v. Trump), but Baltimore politics often mimics an eternal steel cage deathmatch, with those hovering on the fringes suffering the brunt of the bludgeoning.
This week, the Office of the Public Defender called for the end of the Baltimore City Police Department’s “secret” surveillance of mostly poor, mostly Black communities, a program funded by private donations, circumventing proper fiscal channels (and perhaps governmental constraints).
After dangling the prospect of bringing a $15/hour minimum wage to Baltimore –buoying the hopes of the city’s thousands of low-wage workers — the City Council abruptly yanked $15 and hour off the table last month.
Also last month, the United States Department of Justice told the world what everybody Black and poor in the city has known for generations; that the Baltimore Police routinely violate our Constitutional and civil rights often with menacing fury.
City Hall has been bending over backwards since last year to deliver $660 million in Tax Increment Financing to billionaire Kevin Plank towards the completion of the massive Port Covington development.
Yet, a recent report out of Harvard (which flew mostly under mainstream media’s radar) says Baltimore is the worst big city for Black boys to escape poverty.
“In Baltimore, boys who grow up in below-median income households earn 1.4 percent less in adult family income for each year that they’re exposed to the neighborhood. So, a man who spent the first two decades of his life in Baltimore would earn about 28 percent less compared to the national average earned by other adults,” writes AFRO Senior Correspondent Zenitha Prince.
This is the reality of Baltimore’s underbelly inhabited by poor, mostly Black, mostly Brown people, at the mercy of the nefarious on the streets and those who occupy the city’s corridors of power.
Mobtown is a place where the police run roughshod over the people they are paid to, “serve and protect,” sometimes murdering them with impunity. Mobtown is a place where politicians don’t fear their constituents, they secretly scoff at them and then ask for their vote. That all needs to change. But, until it does, this is Mobtown…
Sean Yoes is a senior contributor for the AFRO, and host and executive producer of, “First Edition,” which airs Monday through Friday, 5-7 p.m. on WEAA, 88.9.