Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Baltimore on fire

A 25 year old man, Freddie Gray, was arrested (for what?), and died after being transported to booking from a severed spine (how did that happen?). 

From the New York Times:

The unemployment rate in the community where Mr. Gray lived is over 50 percent; the high school student absence rate hovers at 49.3 percent; and life expectancy tops out at 68.8 years, according to analysis by prison reform nonprofits. These statistics are a small glimpse of the radical inequality that blankets poor black Baltimore. It’s no wonder that black Baltimore erupted in social fury. As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. announced in the wake of the Watts riots 50 years ago, “a riot is the language of the unheard.” And judging by the actions in Baltimore, thousands are not being heard.

The Inner Harbor in Baltimore is a great place to live and visit....for tourists and upperly mobile people.  The rest of Baltimore is very different.

Baltimore, then, is like so many other cities with their own Freddie Grays: a place in which private capital has left enormous sections of the city to rot, where a chasm separates the life chances of black and white residents — and where cops brutally patrol a “disposable” population.
Yesterday’s uprising occurred the same day Gray, the twenty-five-year-old whose spine was almost completely severed while in police custody, was laid to rest. Protests haven’t ceased since his April 19 death.  (see link)

Baltimore is a city left behind by globalization  (see link).  

Between 1970 and 1980, the city's population dropped from 906,000 to 787,000. By 2010, Census data showed there were just 620,961 residents in Baltimore.  As factory jobs moved overseas, most of the opportunities for employment that replaced them did not pay very well.
A 2012 Brookings study found that jobs in low-paying industries like food service grew by more than 60 percent in Baltimore from 1980 to 2007. Meanwhile, jobs in high-wage industries increased by only 10 percent.

The gradual attrition of jobs that paid a decent wage rendered Baltimore particularly vulnerable to the drug trade, which has become almost synonymous with the city thanks to media depictions like HBO's "The Wire." Starting in the late 1970s, drug kingpins began recruiting children and teenagers -- who, if caught, could usually escape the criminal justice system more easily and more cheaply than adults -- to aid with the day-to-day business of selling illicit substances. For many young people, the drug trade offered much more lucrative possibilities than the weak local economy.
Compounding all these issues has been the subprime crisis of the past several years. Predatory lenders allegedly targeted black communities in Baltimore, steering people into untenable, high-interest mortgages that would eventually wipe out their wealth and leave the city riddled with foreclosed and vacant homes.  A damaged economy, high levels of crime, little opportunity to achieve something better: That's the context Freddie Gray lived in his whole life. In Sandtown-Winchester, the Baltimore neighborhood where Gray grew up, the unemployment rate is 1 in 5, about twice as high as the city average, according to a Baltimore City Health Department report cited by Slate.

Can the United States still be a place of opportunity and justice?  


  1. This is such a difficult and frustrating issue to discuss. In so many US cities there seems to be a small area that is nice and clean and shows hope, and then the rest of the city is desolate of these qualities as described above. It seems to me, that from multiple standpoints, one cannot say with honest certainty that the US is a place of opportunity and justice. From an economic standpoint, the people in "black Baltimore" and other similar places, have no economic opportunities or economic justice. Any growth or path to a successful future has been absent for years as employment has been outsourced and taken away. This lack of opportunity is pervasive and will only breed more poverty, crime, and more issues like Freddie Gray.

  2. In all honesty, I do not think the U.S. can truly be a place of equal opportunity and justice for the African-American community as well as other minority citizens. The reason being, in order for this to happen, I think the U.S. must undergo a fundamental systematic change. The U.S. government system was designed without the consideration or the African-American community and other minority community in mind. To be trustful, I really think that a way to tackle the economic inequalities that exist within the African-American communities and also inequalities faced by other minority citizens would be through examining root structural problems within the United States.

  3. I've been struggling with how to articulate my thoughts on the incredibly complex dynamics the city I lived in for two years is experiencing right now, especially when so many people far more eloquent and personally impacted by the issues than I have done so. There is an enormous need for systemic change to address the massive inequalities and injustices that have become ingrained in Baltimore and across the country.