By Sean Yoes, AFRO Baltimore Editor, [email protected]
A few years ago I had a conversation with a young female political activist from Bogota, Colombia who had risked her life revealing the corruption and systemic use of violence in her native country.
Her harrowing story resonated with me deeply, and not just because I am a native son of one of the most violent cities in the world.
Her story also sparked something in me because more than a decade earlier (I believe it was 1991) I wrote and performed a monologue for an avant garde play at Maryland Art Place, which focused on political corruption, genocide and general mayhem in Latin America.
For my part, I briefly examined the brutal regime of Augusto Pinochet, the diabolical dictator of Chile from 1973 to 1990.
The point is I had a peripheral understanding of ubiquitous violence wielded by dictatorial regimes in many Latin American countries in the 20th century, prior to my encounter with my colleague from Bogota. But, her message to me was clear; violence is not unique to Baltimore or the United States, violence is a phenomena gripping much of the Western Hemisphere.
A harrowing and magnificently crafted report in the New York Times this past weekend really brought that fact back to full rememberance for me.
The story titled, “‘Either They Kill Us or We Kill Them,’” reminded me instantly of a recurring narrative many of our young men in Baltimore live and tragically die by. The story generally goes like this: one young man hears another young man is coming to get him, for reasons contrived or real. The plot to attack may or may not be true. Yet, the threat, real or imagined is enough for most terrified young men who dwell in the hollowed out, blighted neighborhoods of East and West Baltimore to adopt the mantra, “I’m gonna get him before he gets me.” Fear and lack is palpable in many of our neighborhoods, just like the barrios of San Pedro Sula, Honduras, Los Cabos, Mexico and San Salvador, El Salvador.
Although Baltimore has endured more than 300 homicides a year for four years in a row, the plague of murder in our city is dwarfed by several towns and cities in Latin America and the Caribbean.
According to the Times reporting, most of the world’s most dangerous cities are in Latin America. Specifically, the Times reports there have been 2.5 million homicides in Latin America and the Caribbean since 2000. “The region accounts for just 8 percent of the global population, yet 38 percent of the world’s murders. It has 17 of the 20 deadliest nations on earth,” according to the Times.
In the 21st century, more Black and Brown young men throughout the Western Hemisphere probably have more in common because they are forced to grapple on a daily basis with the specter and reality of violence, instead of a common love of baseball, or basketball, or soccer. And of course that all encompassing violence thrives upon a foundation of poverty, inadequate education and governmental corruption in cities like Baltimore, Chicago, San Salvador and Tijuana.
In the Times story, a young man they call “Reinaldo,” 22, who belongs to the Honduran neighborhood gang, “Casa Blanca,” succinctly sums up his perilous plight.
“Lots of people ask me why we’re fighting for this little plot of land,” he said. “I tell them I’m not fighting for this territory. I’m fighting for my life.”
Far too many of our young men and a growing number of young women in Park Heights and Edmondson Village and Belair-Edison and Middle East and Sandtown-Winchester share Reinaldo’s reality in Honduras. They aren’t fighting over dilapidated strips of Baltimore turf, they are fighting for their lives.
Sean Yoes is the AFRO’s Baltimore editor and the author of Baltimore After Freddie Gray: Real Stories From One of America’s Great Imperiled Cities.