Part of this surreal week has been the fact that Baltimore is in everyone’s minds and on everyone’s lips. Seeing Wolf Blitzer and Geraldo and Prince talking about it: all weird and somewhat unbelievable. Time Magazine. Meet the Press. John Oliver. Mind boggling, somehow, for what feels like an overlooked small city in the shadow of great ones.
There have been some great, great articles* focusing on the longer standing issues in Baltimore which I have been glad to read. I read two this evening that inspired me to write something myself, and I hadn’t before because I haven’t been sure what to say. One is a first person account of someone like me, albeit with a family, who also loves the city and finds the life great and affordable…. for some people. The other is a NY Times piece about people who live in white neighborhoods in Baltimore and want to do something about the inequality and poverty, but aren’t sure what to do exactly. And that’s like me, too.
I should remind, again, that I live in an awesome, diverse neighborhood which isn’t gentrified and is made up mostly of working class people and middle class professionals. On one side of me lives a black adjunct professor and on the other, a white contractor. That is kind of it in a nutshell.
People often ask me why I would want to live in a place like Baltimore when it’s not a job or people who tie me there. They have seen the Wire or, lately, the news. And my answer has always been how charming it is, how great the people are, how cheap it is, and really, it is safe. For me.
I am like the people in both those articles. I feel incredibly upset and angry at the poverty and hopelessness in my midst. But now that the protests are over, I am not sure what to do about it. And like the author of the first article, I’m aware that a lot of my good, cheap living is actually because a portion of the city lives in grinding poverty.
This was further underlined this week by how far away most of us were from the protests and sometime violence that was happening in Mondawmin, Penn & North, and a few other spots. When I arrived last week, the first thing I noticed was that there were choppers everywhere. I mean, the noise was constant and you could see them in every direction. And the streets around the station were really dead. Very few people or cars compared to when I usually come in. But on the same days that action was happening in other areas, my neighbors were tending their lawns and washing their cars. It was kind of weird when you knew what was happening a few miles away.
I was encouraged to see many white people at the protests, and I think most people in the better neighborhoods of Baltimore wish more could be done to make inner city daily lives more like ours. But there are few jobs. Schools are failing. Crime is high. What do you, in your nice life, do to help other than staying in the city and paying the ridiculously high taxes?
White people are wringing their hands in other ways, too. In my Twitter feed, the week was marked by white people arguing with each other on the best way to support the struggle. Should we break curfew? Is it unseemly to take a smiling selfie of yourself out after curfew and post it? Does that show the disparity in enforcement or just make you look like a tone-deaf asshole? What if a black leader tells you to? Should you stop patronizing restaurants that gave free food to police but not to poor schoolchildren who missed meals when schools were out? That pub did, no they didn’t, yes they did.
I don’t know the answers to the big questions, but I am encouraged that we are asking them and that so many people do see the issues and want to do something about them. Yes, there are idiots who don’t, but I think they are outnumbered. I love Baltimore even more after this week. I love the community on Twitter who feel the way I do and those who work much harder than I do to make it a better place. And, I of course love our badass state’s attorney. I tried to explain to someone at work about why I would love a place with such issues and all I could do was quote someone from an article I can no longer find who said something like, “we’re in a marriage and it’s not perfect. It’s not perfect. But I am uninterested in divorce.”
*despite the articles I mentioned being from national press, I must give huge, huge props to local reporters from the Sun, City Paper, and the local news stations who have been fearless, knowledgeable, insightful, and smart in their coverage.