I don’t generally go off topic and talk about a non-diabetes issue here. But I don’t have anything else pressing at the moment, and this is all happening in my city, so why not? And if you happen to draw diabetes parallels to my thoughts, so be it.
I live in Baltimore, a city of around 650,000 people, with another million or so living in the surrounding counties. Give or take a mil, as Lauren Bacall said in How to Marry a Millionaire. As just about everyone in the developing world knows now, there was some serious destruction of property and also some looting in the city on Monday afternoon, leading into Monday night.
Quick note: I actually live a little over a mile outside of the city line. I work in the city (downtown) on my regular job throughout the week. If you’re wondering, me and my family are safe, and other than leaving work early Monday, and working from home Tuesday, we are unaffected by this event.
Like everyone else watching this unfold in front of their television, I was shocked and dismayed by what I saw Monday. I’m not going to try to break down what happened and why, but I will share a few thoughts here today. A lot of this comes from my own personal experiences after living here for over 20 years.
First of all: Baltimore is a rich, culturally diverse city that is, by and large, very friendly. I felt welcomed here from the very first day I arrived, and it’s probably one of the biggest reasons we’ve stayed here as long as we have. And I practice what I preach… I am happy to say that I actually do have friends of every race, color, religion, gender, national origin, age, disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity in my life here (Sorry if that sounds a little wordy– I had to go through those one at a time to double-check whether what I was saying was true).
This includes those living in the Mondawmin and Penn-North areas where most of the rock-throwing and looting occurred Monday. It’s not like I drive through those areas every day; I don’t. But I have, more than once. And the train I take to work goes right through the middle of those areas, and the people boarding the train at Mondawmin or Penn-North aren’t fundamentally different from anyone else.
But… and it’s a big but… There is truth in the notion that there are two Baltimores. The wealthy, elite, almost entirely white, privileged Baltimore that never even speaks to someone from those areas, let alone visits those areas to see how they can help. And the impoverished, struggling to pay the bills, kids pressured to join gangs or face beatings (or worse), living in a food desert families in East and West Baltimore.
That second group is the one that has seen a huge rise in their numbers jailed in the last ten years, beaten by police, killed by one another in the struggle to survive or get ahead. Ninety percent of elementary school children in this area receive federal assistance for school breakfasts and lunches. Because Baltimore is a city of neighborhoods, and people often tend to stay in their neighborhood, many of these people live their entire lives without even seeing the beautiful inner harbor area downtown that tourists frequent so much. As a result, they form ideas and opinions based solely on what they see every day, in their own neighborhoods. Yet, when you speak to them, their hopes and dreams are the same: A roof over their heads, food on the table, a few dollars in the bank, enough safety to enjoy them all.
Baltimore isn’t as segregated as some other cities I’ve seen. But as you drive around, and you encounter different people on a daily basis, the class distinctions between neighborhoods (and people’s perceptions about those neighborhoods) are very clearly defined.
So when you’re a kid who grows up in one of those, let’s say it, underprivileged neighborhoods all your life, you rarely see a glimmer of hope, you constantly encounter judgement from others based on nothing more than where you live (like you had anything to do with it)… you see people you know, or who look like you, being treated unfairly at best, and injured or killed at worst, in your own neighborhood and throughout the country… once your despair reaches a certain point, you figure you’ve got nothing to lose anyway, and you’re going to give in to the mob mentality and act out.
I am not surprised in the least that this sort of incident occurred. I am saddened by the fact that it happened in the city I call home.
So what’s next?
The biggest thing in the immediate future is the police report due on Friday. This will (hopefully) detail exactly what happened to Freddie Gray after he was arrested, including what happened in that police van that made four additional stops before he made it to the hospital. This much is clear: the report must be transparent, and hold accountable anyone who may have been negligent or complicit in his death while in custody. If that report exonerates all involved, don’t be surprised if there is a repeat of Monday’s lawlessness.
Going forward, it’s important that Baltimore’s civic leaders restore accountability at all levels within the city’s police force. If citizens don’t trust the people hired to protect them, they won’t have a problem acting in an untrustworthy manner themselves.
And the idea that there are two Baltimores? This really needs to be addressed. I don’t have any great ideas. I just know that when there is one group of people who has it better than another, and the group that doesn’t have it better is aware of the divide that exists, frustration and resentment will build until it can’t be contained anymore. That’s a completely avoidable outcome, without making anyone really suffer. In fact, giving people the help they need and the voice they deserve, while providing equal justice under the law, makes us all stronger.
It’s an idea that’s so simple, so American, that it hardly needs to be said. Fairness and friendliness builds trust. This week’s events prove that we are, indeed, only as strong as our weakest link. I will take a renewed sensitivity with me wherever I go in the city from this point forward. If you encounter me somewhere, remember:
I support you… no conditions.
UPDATE: Despite the fact that I have not found their reporting to be entirely accurate this week, CNN did a nice breakdown of the “Two Baltimores” in this online piece.