Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Charm City Burning

I'm Philly thick and thin, but Baltimore has a special place in my heart.

I've visited several times before, and so should you.

Baltimore is a fascinating place, it is a City's City, and between it's cobble stone alleyways separating its distinct cookie cutter row homes, and it's posh and beautiful Inner Harbor, it explains America.

From Edgar Allen Poe to Henry Mencken, Babe Ruth to Tupac, Baltimore is American as apple pie.

On one of my visits, back in July 2008, I decided to take the long way down to Montgomery County, MD where my ex girlfriend at the time lived. I chose good old Route 1, the local road which at one time was the only option, before I-95 existed.

It goes right through East Baltimore and West Baltimore as North Avenue, then turns sharply southbound as Monroe Street before veering off to the southwest leaving Charm City in the dust for the western suburbs.

And let me just tell you, at one or two points during this local urban trek, I regretted not taking 95.

Once or twice, admittedly, I was slightly scared.

Maybe it was the rampant hitch hikers, or the emotionless junkies sitting on the benches labeled "Baltimore - The Greatest City in America." Maybe it was the bandana-laden boys on the corners where my car would roll to a stop for just a few tense seconds.

But I got through it no problem. And looking back, I am so grateful I had the opportunity to see all of this. This unnecessarily long trip to my destination was actually the best part of my trip.

For, until this day, Baltimore was, to me, soft shell crabs and hotels on Charles Street and late Spring ball games at Camden Yards.

And surely, Baltimore is this, but also it is that. It is crumbling yet vibrant. Dangerous and safe. But one thing that is constant is its honesty.

What you see is what you get here, and what you get is a living lesson of the unintended and very destructive side of Globalization, and the people who simply refuse to be beaten down and who simply deal with the cards they're dealt. This is Post-Industrial America 101.

And yesterday, today, and for who knows how long after, we all may be witnessing the tipping point, the culmination of decades of neglect and policy failure. The epicenter? Right around that sharp southbound turn at North Avenue and Monroe.

Call it Globalization - Wealth + cheap cell phones with video capability everywhere = well, I'm not really sure what this final product is or will be.

It used to be a running joke what happens to you in the rear of a paddy wagon on the way to the Big House. It used to be accepted that police can get a little emotional with their fists and feet. This has been going on for decades. Complex social factors and the iPhone, however, are changing things whether we like it or not.

Sure, the smashed and burning store fronts will eventually be rebuilt, insurance will pay out, and protesters will eventually get tired and go home.

But calling PEOPLE ANIMALS won't help anything, and neither will pretending that looters stealing toilet paper and flat screens is political dissent.

I think some good will in fact come out of this. Reform will simply have to take place. Police CANNOT shoot people in the back, and teenagers CANNOT die of spinal injuries while in police custody. Period. Real community policing must become the paradigm once again. Neighborhoods deserve better than to be occupied by roving police cars looking for infractions.

I'm already seeing this in my new hometown of New Haven, CT. We're very lucky up here to have an enlightened and forward thinking top brass in the PD, who require all rookies to be paired up in a walking beat throughout the lower-income neighborhoods. You're not going to beat crime from behind a steering wheel. And crime is at record lows here in the Elm City. I'm sure it's way too early to correlate this drop to a new policing style, but I'd venture to say it's more than a big coincidence.

Community policing won't save Baltimore from years of neglect, corruption, police brutality, and a globalised economy that all but shuttered its seaport, and factories, and warehouses, resulting in tens of thousands of good paying jobs lost then replaced by menial minimum wage service sector part time work, at places like the very storefronts and pharmacies which are themselves being burned and destroyed as we speak by the disenfranchised children and grandchildren of a once proud middle class that clocked in at one time at the seaport, and factories, and warehouses.

But it may be a good start.

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