Notes on Baltimore

IMG_0564This is a mural for Freddie Gray that was completed on Saturday in West Baltimore. I was there for the day. I saw a great many boarded up row houses, broken windows, warm people sitting on stoops. A demonstration put together by local organizers and the New York Justice League marched from the city community college to a youth concert. Most of the rapping was about the police. The sun was bright, and the crowd was small. Men in tuxedos — Nation of Islam members — milled about, shaking hands and selling newspapers. Aside from some families, the crowd seemed mainly composed of organizers and activists.

The theme of the day: what will justice for Baltimore look like? Does it mean harsh sentences for the six police officers charged with the death of Freddie Gray? Does it mean tempering the Baltimore police’s proclivity for violence? Does it mean making the landscape of West Baltimore look more like what you would expect of one of the more affluent metropolitan areas in the country?

Screen Shot 2015-05-13 at 10.54.41 PM (Chart above from Brookings.)

I walked by a courtyard sectioned off with police tape. I asked a white cop if things had quieted down recently. “Things are never quiet around here,” he told me with a smile. I asked if there had been any more riots, and he said there had not been.

The thing that struck me about the day was the smallness of it all. A day or so of zero-fatality rioting had caused the nation to obsess over Baltimore. The president of the United States was talking about Baltimore. Future presidents of the United States were talking about Baltimore. White liberals across the country were trying their hardest to summon everything they had ever imagined about Baltimore. Every pundit in America had decided that everything that mattered was at stake in Baltimore. But less than two weeks on, it was clear that Baltimore was no longer some kind of allegory; it was just Baltimore. And Baltimore was on its own again.

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