Watching Baltimore face the worst night of violence and destruction since the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, the reporters, pundits, experts and the people on the street of what is proudly called ” Charm City” laid blame for the chaos with a wide net. From young thugs to an out of touch mayor to brutalizing police to absent parents, it seemed that just about everyone in Baltimore was at fault.
Lost in this blame game were state and local officials who took pride in revitalizing the Inner Harbor at the expense of Sandtown; the banks that approved but a handful of loans to build new homes and businesses; the corporate sector that left Baltimore never to return leaving one in five residents of the black community unemployed; and let’s not forget the media who in one tragic night all of sudden recognized that there was a poverty, inequality, injustice problem in the “Charm City.”
Baltimore was indeed on the way back with many examples of change and development, but the progress was painfully slow and the resources necessary to make a real dent on poverty, inequality and injustice were grossly insufficient. It doesn’t take an urban planner to see that with 16,000 abandoned homes in Baltimore the task of bringing the city back was akin to rebuilding Europe after World War II.
Because hope is always the antidote to negligence, many of the fine people of Baltimore took the city away from the chaos and began the long road back. It was truly heartening to see the people who love Baltimore cleaning up the streets and helping those who lost everything. It is important to remember that riots do nothing but bring senseless destruction; lawlessness is no answer to community failure; and isolating a racial group in the modern equivalent of a ghetto is a sure-fire recipe for retaliation.
Baltimore is now in the hand-wringing stage as government officials, religious leaders and community activists will form a blue ribbon commission tasked with making a long list of recommendations for reform. Some of the reforms may see the light of day, but what Baltimore needs more than anything is to admit that a city with 20% unemployment in the black ghetto, 16,000 abandoned buildings, and a power structure that is risk averse to pour resources into a forgotten part of the city needs a major make-over.