Culture, Science & Faith

Baltimore: Picking Up the Pieces

If the definition of insanity is trying the same thing and expecting different results, the Baltimore rioters were insane in more ways than one.

Michael Swartz · May 1, 2015

As more is learned about the death of Baltimore resident Freddie Gray, the new revelations will dominate the news cycle — along with the strife that stems from what some will perceive as a cover-up by Baltimore police, who turned over their findings directly to the State’s Attorney rather than make them public.

Update: Marilyn Mosby announced Friday that all six police officers will be charged for their actions that resulted in the death of Gray. “To the people of Baltimore and the demonstrators across America,” Mosby said, “I heard your call for ‘No Justice, No Peace,’ your peace is sincerely needed as I work to deliver justice on behalf of this young man.” If convicted, the police officers could face decades in prison.

Eventually, though, the story will retreat from the front pages and residents of the affected area will clean up and take stock of the damage done. The situation surrounding Gray’s death, though, raises questions about the extent of changes that should be made.

First of all, it’s clear that the relationship in Baltimore between criminals and citizens is among the most dysfunctional in the nation. Gang members joined clergy in seeking to stop in the riots, and reportedly “made sure no black youths, or reporters, were injured by rioters.” Two years earlier, the city made headlines when over a dozen corrections officers were indicted for assisting the Black Guerilla Family gang in taking control of the Baltimore City Detention Center. Those who learned about Baltimore from the HBO series “The Wire” weren’t getting a completely fictional story, as creator David Simon had been a crime beat writer for the Baltimore Sun. For his part, Simon heaps a great deal of blame on former mayor and likely 2016 Democrat presidential candidate Martin O'Malley.

We know rioting is not a “legitimate political strategy,” but another question comes from asking where Baltimore residents can turn for political solutions. Like most large cities, Baltimore is dominated by the Democratic Party. Indeed, the GOP contested just seven of 14 City Council seats in 2011, and Republican mayoral candidate Alfred Griffin received just 13% of the vote that year. More recently, Republican Governor Larry Hogan stunned the nation last November with an electoral win in heavily Democratic Maryland but only tallied 22% of the Baltimore City vote. While the Maryland GOP is planning a presence at rallies this weekend, the party has a long way to go before it can be competitive in Baltimore’s next municipal elections in 2016.

But the city’s biggest problem doesn’t have an easy solution: Baltimore has lost a generation or two of its best and brightest. The city’s schools are among the worst in the state, and the blue-collar jobs that generations of Baltimore families depended on went away with the closures of steel mills, auto assembly plants, and other industrial production. While Baltimore is Maryland’s largest port and has easy rail and highway access to the largest markets in the country, the city has pinned its redevelopment hopes on tourist attractions like the Inner Harbor and relatively new facilities for its professional sports teams, the Orioles and the Ravens. Those weren’t much use in recent days, though, as the Orioles were forced to play Wednesday’s home game in an empty ballpark and relocate a weekend home series with the Tampa Bay Rays to Florida.

In short, the needed reform of the Baltimore police department is but a baby step on the long path to redemption for the city. Decades of failed political leadership led to a lack of accountability that spread to the population at large, and to problems that were always someone else’s fault. The Democrats’ promise to the citizenry was always the same: a solution is just around the corner — just keep voting for us.

Yet while the city holds elections next year, a new mayor and council can only do so much. Even with a Republican governor, the state’s General Assembly is dominated by Democrats, many of whom hail from Baltimore. Granted, there are Democrats who want to work with Republicans, but there are also plenty of special interests who view the occasional civil unrest as a small price to pay to maintain their dominance and keep themselves enriched.

For Baltimore to change, its people must change. Once upon a time, before President Lyndon Johnson’s catastrophic “Great Society” programs, the city’s black population was often poor yet proud enough to stress the importance of school, church, and family. Unfortunately, too many black youth drop out of school and don’t attend church because what now passes for “family” is a single mother and siblings from different fathers. Nationwide, over seven in 10 black children are born out-of-wedlock. Baltimore embodies this urban epidemic of fatherlessness.

One enduring image from the riots, however, is that of Toya Graham disciplining her 16-year-old son for taking part in the unrest. This wasn’t a textbook case of proper parental guidance — something which needed to come far sooner in the young man’s life and from a source other than a single mother with no job and six kids — but every little bit helps.

Still, it’s up to the generation of Toya Graham’s son to rebuild Baltimore, and to embrace the examples of outstanding black role models such as Dr. Ben Carson, Clarence Thomas, Lt. Col. Allen West, and Star Parker to point themselves in the right direction. If the definition of insanity is trying the same thing and expecting different results, the Baltimore rioters were insane in more ways than one.

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