The feature photo for this essay is one I recently shot in my old West Baltimore neighborhood. The incongruity of it—a lovingly decorated home next door to a crumbling, abandoned house—shocked me to my core, in large part because I remember when these houses were all homes to my neighbors, friends, and classmates. Yet, this incongruous image is all too common these days, not just in West Baltimore, but in many other Baltimore neighborhoods, and in many other cities in America.
To close out this 3rd year of my blog, I want to share some reflections on the past year—updates on topics I’ve covered previously, along with a few other photos I’ve taken of different parts of this City I love.
Baltimore: A City of Contrasts
Baltimore’s bad reputation, and its new ranking as the #2 most violent city in the Nation, gets all the press. But as I’ve tried to stress over the past 3 years—and will continue to do in this space—Baltimore is no different from other urban cities. Yes, there is seemingly incomprehensible violence perpetrated by—and against—the young here. But there are many and complex reasons for this trend, from lack of adult supervision by parents, communities, and society, to poor schools, no safety nets, you name it. And yet, there are pockets of hope across this city: individuals and small organizations who are stepping up to bridge the gap. In West Baltimore neighborhoods such as Reservoir Hill, Penn-North, and Sandtown-Winchester, as well as other parts of the City, after-school programs, arts programs, youth leadership programs, and other endeavors are springing up.
Policing in Baltimore
Despite the fact that the 6 officers involved in the death of Freddie Gray in 2015 have been exonerated by the “System” and are now back on the job, and despite the fact that the recent murder of a police detective (Sean Suiter) is still shrouded in mystery, policing in Baltimore is changing. Commissioner Kevin Davis is making efforts to be more transparent, not just in his communications with the public, but also in the way his officers deal with crimes.
A case in point is the infamous car chase across the length and breadth of West Baltimore, just over a week ago. Three days after this strange event—in which a mentally ill suspect being chased by police for a half hour was televised live (watched by 10,000 viewers, including me, on Facebook alone), Commissioner Davis and his communications team held a press conference. With visuals and explanations of what the police were doing at every step of the way, they replayed the entire incident. The first responding officers (of what was initially a simple traffic stop) showed exemplary tact, respect, and restraint; and the department’s Foxtrot helicopter was in constant communication with officers on the ground as the chase unfolded. They even credited the suspect’s girlfriend, whose constant contact with him throughout the chase aided in his swift, nonviolent arrest! For once, Baltimoreans’ questions about a case were answered promptly and thoroughly.
Nearly 3 years after the Baltimore Uprising in the wake of the failures of the Freddie Gray case, progress is being made. Of course, there is always room for improvement.
Mayor Catherine Pugh’s First Year in Office
What started off, in my view, as an ineffectual term of office has yielded a few bold moves by our new Mayor. Most notable was her decision (after protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, over its public removal of Confederate monuments) to remove Baltimore’s Confederate monuments in secrecy, in the middle of the night. This decision made Baltimore a positive leader, as other cities across the nation followed suit. Still, Baltimore and these other cities later faced backlash from their respective municipal monument trusts, who claimed that the cities were breaking the law by ignoring their “covenants” that “gifted” us with these throwbacks—not to the Civil War itself, but to the 20th century Jim Crow era.
On the other hand, Mayor Pugh’s skirmishes with our Republican governor, Larry Hogan, have been less than stellar or productive. However, Governor Hogan is as much to blame for these childish, schoolyard brawls as our Mayor: he has wielded a heavy hand in dealing with the problems of Baltimore City, using state takeovers and/or directives concerning education funding, specific police matters, and other issues, impugning our ability to handle our own affairs, treating us like stepchildren instead of partners in our governance. Never mind that Baltimore City is the only incorporated city in the state (in addition to 23 counties); never mind the illustrious history of Baltimore as a port city (with its current crowning jewel, The Inner Harbor, being the only thing that the Governor—and the Mayor—seems to think is worth paying attention to). But let me save such issues for future blog posts!
Ta-Nehisi Coates v. Cornell West
Last week, Ta-Nehisi Coates, the noted Baltimore author, took down his own Twitter account after being attacked by Civil Rights icon (from an earlier era), Professor Cornell West, for Coates’ latest book about the Obama presidency (which is high on my list of books to read soon). To Mr. Coates, I’d like to say, “Get back on Twitter, now!” (even though I don’t even use Twitter—it’s the principle that matters!). And to Mr. West, I’d like to say, “Yours is not the only Black voice that matters, nor do your views represent all of Black intellect!”
And What About This Blog?
baltimoreblackwoman began 3 years ago, on December 27, 2014, when with some trepidation, I published my first post. I had no idea what I was getting myself into; I only knew that I wanted to share my experiences as a native Black Baltimorean.
At 3 years in, I’ve published more than 100 entries—mainly essays and poems (some, including original photographs), book and movie reviews, a few videos, and two guest authors. I even recrafted one article, on bicycle safety in Baltimore, into an Op-Ed that appeared this year in The Baltimore Sun, our primary print news publication!
I still don’t have enough hours in the day to research, much less write, as many pieces as I’d like. But I’m happy—and proud of what I’ve accomplished. Through this blog, I’ve joined a community of writers whose works I admire and often comment on. Friendships have sprung up! Thanks to my essay on an MLK concert at Beth Am Synagogue, I’ve become a member of the synagogue’s community organization (In, For, Of, Inc., or IFO) in Reservoir Hill. I even had the pleasure of meeting one of my fellow WordPress writers, Lynne Viti, at her November poetry reading here in Baltimore.
I’m working on developing my brand. I changed the layout of the blog, garnering more interest. And I now have business cards to hand out, that I designed myself! I’m also exploring self-publishing a book of my Essays on Race, the topic that launched this blog.
Thanks to all of you for your support and encouragement. I am looking forward to 2018 and more stories to tell.
From my house to yours, Merry Christmas, and Happy 2018!