Tuesday, April 28, 2015

While Baltimore Smolders

When I announced that I was moving to Baltimore to be the new senior Rabbi of Har Sinai Congregation, inevitably, one of the first questions I would be asked was, “Have you seen The Wire?”

Since I do not subscribe to HBO, up until recently, I had never seen an episode. However when HBO announced a recent agreement with Amazon over streaming old episodes, I was finally able to watch what everyone was talking about. To my dismay, I discovered The Wire was what non-Baltimoreans thought of Baltimore. A place filled with urban blight, violence, drugs, and poverty.

Since moving here I have instead uncovered a people who love their city with incredible devotion. It may have to do with the fact that Baltimore is often forgotten as it is sandwiched between Washington D.C. and Philadelphia. It is a city filled with proud boosters one would be more hard pressed to find. We have amazing arts, colleges, restaurants, entertainment, music, and the like. 

Baltimore has been undergoing a tremendous renaissance since the late 70’s with the development of the inner harbor and subsequent redevelopment of many of Baltimore’s neighborhoods. Young people are now moving into areas that a generation or two ago would never have dreamed of occupying.

That being said, the redevelopment has not been even or steady. There are neighborhoods especially in west and northwest Baltimore that are still filled with the same blight, poverty, violence and drugs as seen on The Wire. Though local groups and partnerships have been working to alleviate and help out the neighborhoods, many residents feel under siege and a sense of festering anger.

The needless death of Freddie Gray at the hands of police was the spark. Truth be told, Mr. Gray was no saint. But once he was handcuffed and shackled by police, there is absolutely no reason why he should have died in their custody. It is the core mission of the police to protect and serve, not to protect, serve and punish. Punishment is the sole responsibility of our judicial system.

All that being said, Baltimore City Police Commissioner Anthony Batts, with whom I have met, is a qualified and dedicated public servant who is working hard to restore relationships between our hard working men and women in blue and the communities they serve. But it is a work in progress. 

Young African American men in Baltimore City feel they are the targets of police. And this strategy has to change.  As Dan Rodricks wrote in his opinion piece for the Baltimore Sun The 'Other Baltimore' Breaks Through "But, in the O'Malley years, we got zero-tolerance policing and a continuation of the war on drugs that, while reducing violent crime, also harmed the relationship between police and the people who live and die in that "other Baltimore" you can't see from Harborplace."

And that anger has now spilled out into the streets of Baltimore. Of course the media was quick to focus on the violence and looting because sensationalism sells. They failed to tell the stories of the brave individuals and clergy who went out to try to stop the violence and protect homes and stores. They failed to tell the story of the non-violent protests over the Freddie Gray's death. No, they focused on the looting and burning.

Which was probably also the goal of some of the young individuals who feel they have no voice. Now that they have 'acted out,' politicians and civic leaders are finally paying attention to them. There are of course also the 'thugs' who went on wanton rages of destruction and looting for their own selfish reasons, for which there is absolutely no excuse. And they will hopefully be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law just as much as those responsible for Freddie Gray's death will also be held accountable.

Baltimore is an amazing city. It has come so far, but admittedly, it has a long way to go. Sadly the perception of Baltimore by the rest of the world has been validated by the violence and by the media's portrayal of the violence. There is little reporting of all the people who woke up this morning, put on their gloves, and went out to clean up the mess. It is going to take a long time to clean it up.

It is going to take a long time to build, let alone, rebuild the fractured and damaged relationships with the most often ignored and neglected members of our Baltimore community. But  I, for one, have faith and hope that we can learn from the lessons of the past and build a better Baltimore for tomorrow.

In the meantime, if you would like to help, you can go to this link Help Baltimore City set up by the Associated to donate funds to help rebuild Baltimore. 

1 comment:

Dane Menges said...

Well said, Rabbi. I haven't lived in Baltimore but I've spent many days and nights there with friends and I have come to truly see it as Charm City rather than Season 6 of The Wire. I think now is when we're seeing the value of social media stemming the tide against the laziness of the mass media, but it takes time for it to percolate into enough social networks to reach the same level of saturation. But its staying power beyond the 24 hour news cycle may prove a bigger benefit. Let's hope!