“Where there is no vision, the people perish …”
(BALTIMORE – June 22, 2017) – Until Baltimore deals with its historic issues of racism and class-ism, expect the worst. Like any other addiction, in order for the subject to gain freedom, one must first acknowledge the problem.
I’m so glad city leaders are acknowledging the crisis in Baltimore. That is certainly the first step. Truth is, I’m proud of them. Baltimore City has seen 161 murders thus far in 2017, including the mother of eight who was killed in front of her children just minutes after police visited her home. God knows how many more it actually is. After all, we’ve seen fudged numbers in the past.
Nonetheless, the problem has at least been identified, from the Mayor to the Fraternal Order of Police to the Greater Baltimore Committee. There is one thing that baffles me, though. Ever since Freddie Gray was killed where these pop-up black leaders were ubiquitously on television – LIVE from Penn-North – analyzing the issues facing Black Baltimore, there was a notion that something was going to change. Maybe I’m just an eternal optimist, but when I saw Baltimore’s elite leaders posted up on Penn-North, I was starting to believe that finally – finally, East and West Baltimore were going to get some major attention – attention that is long overdue.
Well, the only thing new in Sandtown – where Freddie Gray was last arrested – is a renovated Western District Police Station. Before Freddie Gray, the newest thing in this part of Historic West Baltimore was Al Wylie’s new funeral home in the northern most part of Harlem Park.
So, a rehabbed cop shop and a mortuary are the latest developments that my broader Westside community has garnered over the past few years. North and Charles on the other hand, the nucleus of the Station North arts movement in Baltimore, has transformed before our very eyes. New buildings and arts venues, coffee shops and eateries: These developments are beautiful. A central Baltimore collaborative has been the moving force behind this renaissance of a part of town many of us remember so fondly. It was once the ‘mecca’ of black nite life in Baltimore, featuring some of the baddest nite clubs in town, including O’Dell’s.
If I haven’t painted a clear enough picture thus far, my point is that when it comes to the desires of white folks, things seem to happen without interruption. Some might call it good planning. I call it an uneven distribution of resources. The developments that tend to happen for white folks in Baltimore are very different than what likely happens to Black Baltimore.
The irony is that Baltimore has a large percentage of black elected officials in a town that is at least half black. One would think that – just as progress has been made for blacks in Atlanta – the evolution of Baltimore’s black community would be more of a priority. One would think that by now, Baltimore would be more of a destination for blacks from around the country and that our black elected officials have evolved into serious players at the table on behalf of the black community that voted for him or her.
But, we are not. North and Patterson Park, located at the east end of North Avenue, looks the same way it did when I first saw her in 1968. Nothing has changed. The skyline is the same in that forsaken part of town. Fifty years later, it is not much different than how it appeared in the middle of the ’68 riots. This is totally perplexing, especially given that this section of town in very black. Even more, East Baltimore is where Baltimore’s black community began.
As we proceed into the 2018 election cycle, I imagine black politicians will emerge on the scene with their recommendations and endorsements. This time around, people like Gov. Larry Hogan will face-off with any one of a large field of Democratic challengers. Ben Jealous, a man I have never seen on the streets of Baltimore, is said to be a candidate. Yesterday, it was announced that Prince George’s County Executive Rashurn Baker has officially put his name in the ring; there were also news reports that he had come to visit Baltimore.
We also know that Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz is a likely candidate.
Over the next 17 months, we will start to hear the stories of what these men are going to do for us. I can only suggest that we be careful where we put our support. Why? Because politicians have mastered the art of telling us what we want to hear, but very ineffective in deliverables.
I fear that once again, the black preachers will allow these ambitious characters into their churches and pulpits and afford them five minutes to take us, once again, on a mentally masturbating journey filled with big dreams and empty promises.
But, do you know who is the most serious out here in these streets? I’ll tell you! It is the drug dealer. Between the preacher and the politician, it is the pusher who is the most committed to his task at hand. The dealer is willing to work long hours, risk their lives to stick-up boys, and jeopardize his … or her own freedom just in order to be able to sell product on the streets. Drug dealers are all-in.
I wish, though, that I could say the same for our preachers and politicians. Sure, I see them at church fake posing like they are praying – all for the sake of a picture that will ultimately go on social media. Yet, I am reminded of the ancient adage: “You can’t fool all of the people all of the time.”
I am not impressed with what I am seeing in my city. The police have clearly taken a knee and the drug dealers have turned it into the Wild, Wild West. The hustler boys are licking their chops as more money is being made off of drug sales than ever before. Addicts flock to places like Pennsylvania Avenue because the word on the street is that the police are on pause.
As written in a previous column, it is my belief that the Department of Justice Consent Decree, one the city and its new mayor fervently pushed through, has hurt, not helped, Baltimore. From my understanding, local police feel betrayed by the system. If they do their job correctly, they fear that they will lose their job and get sued.
As for the everyday person living in the ‘hood, they are living in complete chaos and fear.
In April of last year, The Sun reported that the Central Baltimore Partnership plan “to spend $17.5 million over the next seven years to catalyze the transformation of 10 neighborhoods, guided by a redevelopment plan.”
The April 12, 2016 article went on to read, “The plan by the partnership, a coalition of community groups, universities, nonprofits and developers, calls for rehabilitating hundreds of homes; adding mid- and high-rise apartment buildings along Charles Street and in Remington; turning St. Paul and Calvert streets into two-way thoroughfares; and supporting commercial projects in Station North and Waverly.”
Question: Can black Baltimore convene a similar plan for its own community? Can’t we raise $17 million and come up with a development plan for our community, too? For example, I have heard about redevelopment plans for Park Heights for decades now. Our beloved black politicians were supposedly at the table. Now, the only thing I see in Park Heights is black people leaving, and an influx of others, including Latinos.
From the looks of things, somebody plans to clear the land of black people from Northern Parkway to Park Circle. It might sound far-fetched, but a glimpse at history reveals it all. You see, prior to the Civil War, Baltimore had the largest population of free blacks in the country. Baltimore has always been a hub for black people. Further, such a large black population has always caused certain whites to be fearful and face what some call “The Negro Dilemma”: What to do with all of these black people.
SOLUTIONS: I think that for one, white people must come to realize that a developed black community could mean a better city for everybody. Hence, it is to their advantage to pour resources into the black community’s most stable institutions. I think white folks have to stop being so archaic and learn to help empower their black brothers and sisters. Institutional racism, although invisible, is very real. I am reminded that racism is a learned behavior, and it is high-time it is unlearned. It is uncivilized and man at his worst.
Secondly, I think blacks in leadership positions too often become disconnected from the masses. Say what you want about Mayor for Life of Washington, D.C. Marion Barry, but the man is an icon not just in the District, but nationally. Marion Barry lived a life of service. If it were not for his black empowerment efforts, there would be no Rashurn Baker today. Barry practically built Prince George’s County by making sure qualified black people got good government jobs. He made sure that black businesses had a seat at the table. And he made sure that D.C. youth all had a summer job. He was genuine. He was calculated. And in the process, he pissed off some people – white and black – who simply didn’t get it.
The same is true for Atlanta, Georgia. Atlanta has a long history of blacks in power. It is nothing to see a black business, a black CEO, or a black prime contractor. These things are the norm. And the same should be the case in Baltimore and across Maryland, a 30% black state. But, it is not the way things typically go down. Too often, black businesses get shafted or simple left out of the loop.
And, I am not going to totally fault white folks. While institutional racism is real, it is also true that a lot of blacks prevent other blacks from making progress. In modern terms, Black America tends to have a lot of “haters.” Too often, we are stingy. Instead of helping our brother or sister, we choose to slander their name or the name of their business. Instead of coming together and lifting each other up, we are too busy tearing each other down. And it is wrong.
Just like Harriet Tubman, the black community needs both self-help without the ego and the assistance of decent white folks who understand the benefit of helping develop Baltimore’s black community. Transforming East and West Baltimore might seem Herculean, to me, it’s just pulling together the available resources – local, state and federal – to make it happen. It will require all hands on deck, including the preachers and the politicians.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is time to be real. Freddie Gray should have been a wake-up call for the city leaders. Apparently, it wasn’t because very little has been done to get to the core issues, including how to reverse institutional racism in Baltimore and how to pull together a black community that is constantly in the hot seat – at least if you buy the local news stations’ storyline.
As a native of Baltimore, I am confident of what can be accomplished when like minds come together. With a murder rate as high as it is in Baltimore, we are in a 9-1-1. Over 161 murders and June is not yet over? So, we also have to revisit this Department of Justice Consent Decree. In its present form, it is not working. The desired effect has been lost in space and hence it is time to return to the blackboard.
Lastly, we have to be committed. If we are not willing to work as hard as the neighborhood drug dealer, then we have already lost. Transforming Baltimore, I think, is the easy part. The difficulty is in transforming mindsets, both black and white. Once we get our thinking straight, we can make some progress. However, when we cannot be fair and decent to each other, regardless of race, then the only thing we can honestly expect is another Freddie Gray scenario. And nobody really wants that!