England’s Lord Baltimore dreamed of a colony in the Americas free of religious repression, where Catholics and Protestants could worship freely.
That dream came true. Maryland was established and his brother, Leonard Calvert Baltimore, became its first Governor. A major problem solved. Now, the dilemma faced by Baltimore, Maryland’s largest city, and other major cities, is one of racial peace and racial equality–or lack of both.
Without relative economic equality, without hope and opportunity for ethnic minorities, racial peace is an increasingly elusive goal. Both goals seem to recede as the city reels from recent police misconduct and Black (and White) residents’ understandable angry reactions. For the time being, some peace may have been restored due to the arrest of police officers alleged to have murdered a prisoner in their custody—Freddie Gray.
Baltimore’s fascinating history belies its stormy present. It has called itself the “Charm City.” It is charming with its mixed ethnic population and cuisine–great seafood from Chesapeake Bay. It is where Francis Scott Key wrote the “Star Spangled Banner.” Environmentally creative Gwynns Falls (river and green space) runs through it. Babe Ruth, as well as jazz musician, Eubie Blake and Billy Holiday hails from Baltimore. It was a major center of manufacturing.
But today, Baltimore has been hit, as have many major cities, by deindustrialization. The Black population (64 percent), in particular, has been cast aside. They suffer drastically lower rates of education and lower income–double the average rate of poverty. The whole area, I realized when I lived there, is—in attitude at least—part of the south, so close to D.C. and Virginia. My own memories of Baltimore go back quite far. I trained at Ft. Holabird with Army Intelligence. Black officer buddies and I could go—in uniform—to the old speakeasies downtown or the great German restaurant, Hausner’s, but not in our civvies. The 1964 Civil Rights Act had not yet been passed.
Now, the Mayor is Black (and female). The State’s Attorney who brought charges is Black. Half the city council is Black. The state is predominantly Democratic. However, even those seemingly bright omens of support have not been enough to deliver more substantial help to the area. For shame; all parties and all ethnic groups are, in various ways, responsible.
Only more concern—national, state and local–more funds, more jobs and better education can (and will) make a difference. Cuts in job and housing programs, inattention to decaying infrastructure deny the people adequate resources to progress. Perhaps it took this dramatic “rising up” we see on mass media to get the attention of leaders from those areas of government. It will take longer to see significant results.
PBS may be the best place in the media to view recent events more dispassionately. Professor Natasha Pratt-Harris, Morgan State University, and others citizens of Baltimore, spoke of programs that worked; e.g., police interacting via sports with inner city kids. But many programs have been cut (PBS, May 2, 2015). Restoration is needed as well as new programs that are not temporary, not piece-meal, but well-funded and sustained. We know how to fix things, given the money and the will.
There is great potential. Baltimore is the second largest seaport on the mid-Atlantic. Autos and steel production will not return, but the service and tourism sectors are more susceptible to development, with the right amount and mixture of public and private monies. Federal funds for “Sandtown” and other inner cities with renovated, low-cost housing could do double work. They create jobs and create a city more attractive to private investment. Finally, better police vetting and training are a must.
Meanwhile, we must weather the storm that might follow if/when charges are dismissed. (Witness the push-back already occurring.) A George Washington University (D.C.) Professor, John Banzhaf, believes charges will be dismissed. Another academician, Professor Peter Moskos, former Baltimore policeman and now Professor at John Jay College, is wary the message that will send. Is Lady Justice really blind?
Moskos cites statistics: “Blacks are three times more likely to be killed by cops than Whites.” Michael Brown, Tamir Rice (age 12), Eric Garner, Walter Scott and Freddie Gray–the list of Black persons killed by White police–is both “a litany [of sorrow] and a rallying cry” (Michael Wines and Sarah Token, April 29, 2015, The New York Times).
A Criminal Justice Department professor consulted at the University of Texas—Pan American sees a “perfect storm” as the cause of this current case of “Baltimoron Justice” (my term, not his). 1) Economic inequality; 2) Right Wing Republican judges—who, since the 1980s, ignored the Bill of Rights and allowed police discretion for almost any abusive action; 3) “Cop Culture;” that is, most police—Black and Brown as well as White—“circle the wagons” and won’t “squeal” on fellow cops. In fact, Baltimore has in place a policy that allows ten days between an accusation of wrong-doing and the first questioning of officer(s). Such policies must be changed. Perhaps a massive, new “War on Poverty” needs to be discussed and implanted.
This current, “slow-rolling crisis,” as President Obama called it in a recent speech, must be dealt with as expeditiously and as seriously as possible. Just as President Lincoln warned against a nation “half-slave, half free,” just as the Supreme Court (Brown, 1954) warned against a nation half-segregated/discriminated, we cannot, must not look the other way.
It is not a Black or Brown or White dilemma. But current stalemate and confrontations are dangers to all. Racial equality and “equal justice before the law” are constitutional and All-American goals. The subject is complex. Solutions may not be easy. But major change in attitudes and behavior are necessary to achieve the dream of freedom and peace envisioned by Lord Baltimore – for Baltimore and for America.
Editor’s Note: Demonstrators march in Baltimore on April 29, 2015. (Photo: Reuters/Eric Thayer)