When I tell people I’m from Baltimore, the immediate follow-up question is almost always, “Is it really like The Wire?” Well, yes. Some of it is. We’re a majority African-American city where 20% of citizens live in poverty. One in 10 Baltimoreans suffers from addiction. There are few job opportunities, and the booming drug trade is a fast and reliable source of cash. Violence is the leading cause of death for young adults.
We reached a historic milestone this week in Baltimore. We’ve had 100 homicides in the first 107 days of 2022. There have been 201 non-fatal shootings. We’re now on track to record more than 300 homicides for the eighth straight year. We’ve got the second-highest murder rate in the country at 58 per 100,000.
Yes, it’s bad. We know it’s bad. And it’s very easy to normalize that level of violence as just a number and give in to hopelessness, especially when we’re being told over and over that we are hopeless. Donald Trump has called Baltimore a “disgusting, rat, and rodent-infested mess” where “no human being would want to live.”
In February, in a segment on the failure of democracy in the US, Fox News’s Tucker Carlson called the city “one of the worst places in the western hemisphere” and “a little bit of Haiti in the mid-Atlantic” that had gone from a “once beautiful city into a slum.” He blamed Baltimore’s murder rate on Democrats’ progressive policing policies, saying, “In Baltimore, pretty much everyone in charge is black, yet it’s a matter of religious faith that the main thing holding the city back is white racism.” At the bottom of the screen, a chyron read, “Hellscape 40 Miles from the Nation’s Capital.”
He directed his comments at White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. “You claim to care so deeply about African Americans…and yet here is one of the biggest black-majority cities in the United States. Tens of thousands of black people who live in Baltimore are in misery because their kids keep getting murdered.”
Reinforcing a narrative of fear about a majority-black city in peril from poverty and violence to push a political agenda is almost as harmful to Baltimore as the poverty and violence itself. The more we hear Baltimore referred to as a “slum,” the less hope we Baltimoreans have that things may ever change. Giving in to that mentality means that we have much less energy to create a dialog on more productive solutions, including Tucker Carlson’s suggestion to resume prosecuting low-level drug crimes.
In truth, there is hope here. Baltimore’s community-based movements are making an impact. The Safe Streets program puts volunteers on the streets to diffuse potentially violent disputes. Safe Streets says that in 2021 it mediated 935 conflicts that had the potential to become violent. Others still hope. City hospitals have united in the “Violence Intervention Program.” When a victim of violent crime is admitted to the hospital, they are paired with a caseworker who develops an action plan to create a strong support system designed to reduce the risk of violent re-offenses. At the University of Maryland Medical Center, at-risk youth spend a day in the Shock Trauma Center, where almost a quarter of all patients treated are victims of violence.
We know it’s bad. We know how it looks. People are fleeing the city in droves; our population has shrunk from nearly 1 million in the 1970s to only 580,000 in 2020. T. Rowe Price, Target, Barnes & Noble, and Holiday Inn have recently packed up and left downtown due to the city’s rising crime. You watched us destroy our own communities during the Freddie Gray riots in 2015.
We undoubtedly have some serious issues to address in Baltimore, including violence, blight, a failing education system, and corrupt police and politicians. We can’t hide it. But the last thing we need is for political outsiders to hold us up as a race-baiting pawn against the opposite party. We know you want us to fail, but we’re not going to be your punching bag. The truth is that we are still here, and we still have hope.