Elegy for Baltimore

This week as Baltimore passed 300 homicides for the year continuing on its track to end the year with an average of 1 homicide per day I feel compelled to write about this city that I love, that I hate, that my heart breaks for. In raw numbers Chicago has more homicides than Baltimore, but per capita Baltimore’s murder rate is higher making it by far the deadliest city in the country right now. And of course shootings are not the only violent crimes being committed in the city. I’m far more afraid of the roving packs of violent teenagers who seem hell bent on destruction and harm for no reason. It’s really hard to want to do anything in this city when you’re afraid that even in the areas generally considered the “safe” parts of the city you might might get severely beat up a group of teenagers seemingly for sport.

I just gave up one of my favorite walking routes because multiple people have been attacked by groups of teens trying to steal their bikes on it. I also decided against going to a concert at a downtown venue this week because I no longer feel safe walking even the short distance between the parking garage and the venue by myself.

There are a lot of really great things about Baltimore. It earns its nickname of Charm City just as much as it does Mobtown. Right now the bad seems to be outweighing the good though, and it’s taking a toll on me that is only magnified by all the terribleness going on in the rest the country and the world. I do question more and more why I stay there, but I also don’t know where I would go. I like my life here. I love my job. I have good friends. I like my neighborhood. I enjoy the cultural offerings available here as well as Baltimore’s proximity to larger cities like DC and New York that I have zero interest in living in but have many things I like to visit. Do I quit all that and move somewhere else? I don’t know where that would be.

I could stay in the Baltimore area and just move out the suburbs, but that seems dumb and doesn’t really solve anything. I’m a city girl. The suburbs aren’t my thing. Besides I’d still have to come into the city every weekday to go to work and unless I want to switch churches, which I don’t, on the weekends too. That’s not to mention that many of the things I like to do for entertainment are in the city. So I make my commute to everything better so I can sleep not in the city. I don’t think so.

And I also think about what it means to stay and fight for the city. Everyone who has the means to fleeing is only going to make it worse. But of course I can’t begrudge anyone who makes that decision either. As a neighborhood that has gentrified greatly over the last decade, I watch a lot of people move in before or shortly after they have kids only to leave as soon as those kids are school-aged. It’s hard to imagine how things can ever begin to turn around if everyone who has the social and monetary capital to change things leaves. But also I understand that if you have the choice why you wouldn’t want it to be your kids and your family trying to fight when you could go somewhere so much easier.

I don’t just want to cut and run, but I also have a hard time seeing a path forward. I get how the city got here. There are hundreds of years of history and injustice that have led to where we are today. Turning things around is not going to be an easy or quick process. It’s going to take generations and that’s if we devote every resource necessary, which isn’t going to happen. We can’t even really agree on what the cause of the problem is let alone solve it.

I’ve just finished listening to the three part series that was a collaboration between NPR and Education Week and aired as part of the Code Switch podcast on Ron Brown High School in Washington D.C. Although this particular story isn’t about Baltimore, pretty much all the struggles faced by the kids in this story are the same ones faced by those in Baltimore. This story is the perfect encapsulation of looking at how these kids have been failed, and even when we seemingly put all the resources we can towards them in some ways we still wind up failing them but can’t even agree on how. This school is putting in far more effort and resources to change the lives and futures of its kids than most kids get and they can barely move the needle. It’s not to say that the needle isn’t moving, but it’s going to be harder and take longer than anyone may have the stamina or resources for. And for all the kids who are raised in failing neighborhoods and failing schools where is there hope? Where is there path out?

I watch people on NextDoor yell at each other in demoralizing comment threads. Everyone is probably getting a little piece of it correct, but instead of doing anything about it we just argue with each other. Yeah, at some level it does come down to personal responsibility and making the wrong choices, but also when a kid has been given nothing and learned nothing else how unrealistic are we being to think they should be able to pull themselves out of their environment? I don’t know how you break the cycle. When I think about it, it seems like an impossible task. Halfway through writing this post I stopped and read this letter written to the Baltimore Sun, which almost perfectly gets at what I’ve been thinking about and am trying to get across here.

But I also don’t want to think that there is no hope. I keep hearing people say the long arc of history bends towards justice, but it sure as hell doesn’t feel like it in 2017.┬áThis city breaks my heart because I see the potential for so much greatness here, but I honestly don’t know how we get there. This city is literally bleeding out right now, and I hope that somehow we can manage to stanch the flow someway, somehow.