Shards of glass blanketed the roads like grass in a country field, flames engulfed the city in a vicious tsunami, and crimson puddles splashed as the feet of “protesters” marched forward. The smell of burnt garbage and the echoes of sirens and yelling filled the atmosphere… anyone could taste the bloodlust. Police plated in swat gear roamed the metropolis to confront the rioters, but even with maximum personnel, they were spread far too thin like the last of the butter on an unsatisfying piece of toast. Crime was normal here. Murder was normal here, but this wasn’t another shooting in the projects. This was a civil war. The sign on the edge of the town that read “Welcome to Baltimore City” had been vandalized now to read in a sloppy graffiti, “Welcome to Hell, USA.”
The previous illustration emphasizes a significant issue in Baltimore, Maryland–violent crimes. According to City-Data.com, in 2016 Baltimore had a violent crime rate of 991.5, while the average in the United States sits at 216 (“Crime Rate”). Because of the frequency and acceptance of this reality in Baltimore, violent crime has become self-sustaining. The effects bleed into the youth through damaged school systems and shattered homes. Dismayed police are deterred from patrolling dangerous areas in concern for their individual safety. Many search for an escape through the use of illicit drugs. This is called “insular poverty,” or poverty derivate of social circumstance, and insular poverty eats away at the entire nation, not just communities that seem far away. Violent crime runs rampant in the United States, but the frequency of which it occurs in Baltimore is unjustifiable. This can be mitigated with one simple solution that is often overlooked–adding blue lights to the environment.
While Baltimore is widely known for ravens, it is also a nest for murder, and I don’t mean a flock of crows. Baltimore, also known as “Murderland” by locals, is the runner up behind St. Louis, MO for most murders per 100,000 people, with a murder rate of 55.37, compared to Chicago’s 17.52 (“The 30 cities”). Murder is debatably one of the most heinous crimes one can commit, and tragically due to the rate it occurs in Baltimore, it has become a cultural norm for the city. That does not make it any less painful; however, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake empathized, “Every victim leaves family, friends and a neighborhood who mourn their loss” (Worland). Children grow up without their mothers and fathers. Brothers and sisters are found lying dead outside their homes. Families and relationships are destroyed, which kindles self-destructive and sociopathic behaviors.
While murderers are as common as jaywalkers in Baltimore, there is no shortage of violent criminals of other breeds. Rape, robbery, and assault, as well as various other crimes, are prevalent in Baltimore. I recall my first time shopping at a local Wal-Mart in Baltimore. It was a sweltering summer day in 2006. The Wal-Mart was flooded with people who were pouring in to escape from the blistering heat. Aside from the unnatural amount of people crammed into one building, the missing poster wall by the checkout especially caught my eye. Normally, one would see maybe 10 posters of various children from around the country posted up, but this was not typical. The entire wall was coated in missing posters, and the majority of them were from Baltimore. There are 16,855 thefts in Baltimore per year including child thefts, and nearly 300 reported rapes in Baltimore each year and over 5,000 robberies and assaults (“Crime Rate”). Citizens must constantly be on red alert, and that is strenuous and stressful.
Before looking to a solution, one first needs to be aware of what causes the problem, and while there are many things to attribute to the rate of violent crimes in Baltimore, poverty is near the top of the list. When people can’t afford basic necessities, they need to find a way to survive, and regrettably, crime pays in Baltimore. According to Ryan Chiles of Time, Baltimore is the sixth poorest city in the United States, where 32.2% of Baltimore’s population makes under $25,000 a year. Baltimore boasts an unemployment rate of 6.3%, where the nation as a whole has a rate of 4.1% (“Unemployment Rate”). Seth Pollack, a psychology professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, examined 823 brain scans of children and found that those who lived in poverty displayed higher cortisol levels (Thomas). Cortisol is a natural hormone responsible for our flight or fight response. A recent study done in New York by various doctors established a link between poverty and depression, and low and behold, a study done in Sweden found a link between depression and violent crimes (Galea, Bazian). I have always believed there is much truth to clichés, and realistically, it does take money to make money, so sadly, when one doesn’t have the finances to invest, his or her options are limited. In Baltimore, those options are generally illegal.
Besides being known as “Murderland,” Baltimore is also revered as the “heroin capital of the USA.” Roughly one in ten people in Baltimore are addicted to heroin. Wanda, a resident of Baltimore with a $50-a-day heroin habit, described the lifestyle that came with the addiction, “I did tricks, I stole, I robbed, I did whatever I had to do to get it…The drug was taking control of my life” (Yang). Due to the toxic stress levels of insular poverty and the war-like environment of Baltimore, many opt to drugs as an escape. These addictions cause good people to make dreadful decisions: prostitution, armed robbery, grand theft auto, and in some circumstances murder. On the other side of these “businesses,” poverty entices people to supply these goods, and that is a dangerous lifestyle in itself. Between 2010 and 2011, Garnett Smith made ten million dollars from cocaine and heroin sales in Baltimore (Duncan). What is it, after all, when everything falls apart, leaving homes barren and financially desolate? Whether it’s dreams of dinner or luxury, a quick dollar can be appealing to someone who doesn’t have two pennies to rub together.
Though poverty is not easily solved, violent crimes in Baltimore can be mitigated tremendously by simply adding blue lights to the environment. Both Scotland and Japan have implemented the use of blue lights and had favorable results. Astonishingly, this finding was completely accidental, “In the early 2000s, the city of Glasgow, Scotland, changed over to blue street lighting in an effort to improve the appearance of the city, but areas with the newly blue lights saw an unexpected and disproportionate decrease in crime” (Kurt). Later, Nara, Japan began transitioning to blue streetlights as well. One can suspect they were pleasantly surprised when they found a decrease in crime by nine percent. On top of that, some railroad stations in Tokyo decided to switch over to blue lights, and they were rewarded with not only fewer suicides, but no suicides since the implementation of the blue lights (“The Yomiuri Shimbun”). Alas, it has been over ten years since Nara added the blue lights, and this hasn’t become a trend. Switching to blue lights in order to reduce crime may sound silly to some, but the proof is in the statistical pudding.
Many theories explain why blue lights reduce crime, but the most accepted one is that they can “cure” depression. As I mentioned earlier, a link has been found between those with depression and those who perpetuate violent crimes. An astounding 4.2% of people who were convicted for committing violent crimes were diagnosed with depression, compared to 1.7% of the general population (Bazian). Blue lights have been used for quite some time now for curing SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), but not much research has been put into testing their use with clinical depression. Unfortunately, this is because they are not very profitable, and money motivates. Once one purchases a light, he or she is set. There is no recurring charge. A small study conducted recently, however, does prove that blue lights can alleviate depression as well as anti-depressants (Rabin). This connection explains why the use of blue lights can decrease not only the rate of violent crime and suicides but also illegal drug use.
Recently, Switzerland had the revolutionary idea of implanting blue lights to their public bathrooms. The Swiss believed that by adding blue lights to their lavatories, the cerulean luminescence would make it more difficult for heroin users to shoot up, and thusly, reduce drug use. Rick Steves, speaking of his trip to a public bathroom in Switzerland reported, “I couldn’t see my veins… you couldn’t shoot up if you wanted to.” While, I’m sure that an addict would find a way to “chase the dragon,” I do believe that by adding blue lights to wash rooms, there would be fewer people getting high. Blue lights have been shown to reduce depression, and there is a plethora of evidence regarding drug use due to depression. It is no surprise that, “Mental disorders can lead to drug abuse, possibly as a means of “self-medication” (“Comorbidity”). To these ends, with almost seven percent of Americans diagnosed with clinical depression, blue lights should be everywhere (“Major Depression”). No cure all exists, but blue lights are a step in the right direction.
While I would love to see blue lights on every block in America tomorrow, that isn’t realistic; we should start this movement by modifying street lights in the most crime ridden cities in America first–specifically, Baltimore. This would take a sufficient amount of funds but would be painless to execute. How many men does it take to screw in a light bulb? It would take money and man-power, but the solution is within reach. It would start with blue street lights in the most dangerous parts of the city, and would eventually expand to cover the entire metropolis. After that, the use of blue lights in public restrooms would become mandatory (because besides Starbucks, who else would use them without incentive?), and from there we would do the same with the next city infested with crime–one by one until there’s no dispute as to which planet truly is the “Blue Planet.” The timeframe would solely depend on budget but would certainly be worth the investment.
Everyone is affected by violent crimes. It’s not something that’s only in the projects of impoverished ghettos. One person from the hood becomes famous, and suddenly every child in the suburbs is talking about drugs and murder, and emulating that lifestyle. Someone like Garnett Smith becomes a multi-million drug dealer and dumps heroin into a city which then spreads throughout the entire country. While Baltimore’s inner harbor is stunning, many tourists will miss the chance to visit it due to concerns for their safety. Riots in Baltimore inspire youth to revolt in vicious, primitive methods. Depression plagues America, and poverty torments our brothers and sisters. We must talk about it, write about it, and do something about it. Whether it’s adding blue lights to our own businesses, or going out and running for a local office, every action adds up.
Imagine this. The moon hides behind the clouds as the wind whispers peacefully in a quiet city. Citizens walk up and down on a sapphire lit sidewalk. In the past, it was impossible to go anywhere once the sun set. That’s when the demons came out, but lately, there has been a change. People pass by with smiles and nods; the only honking comes with a friendly wave. No one has seen caution tape surrounding their neighbor’s house in over a year. The friend who once wrote a suicide note now lives life with a new, radiant aura. Most importantly, the economy is picking up. More children are going and staying in school. There’s less need for drugs, so more people are finding regular work. It’s not a utopia, and there are still problems, but there’s a newfound tranquility. A sign sits on the edge of the city that used to read, “Welcome to Baltimore,” but it’s been replaced with a new one that now reads, “Welcome home.”
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Chiles, Ryan. “These Are the Poorest Cities in America.” Time, 14 Nov. 2014, time.com/3581716/poorest-cities/.
“Comorbidity: Addiction and Other Mental Disorders.” Drug Abuse, Mar. 2011, www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/comorbidity-addiction-other-mental-disorders.
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Thomas, Brandi. “HOW LIVING IN POVERTY AFFECTS CHILDREN’S BRAIN DEVELOPMENT.” Duke Today, 27 Oct. 2016, today.duke.edu/2016/10/how-living-poverty-affects-children%E2%80%99s-brain-development.
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Yang, Carter M. “Part I: Baltimore Is the U.S. Heroin Capital.” ABC News, 3ADAD, abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=92699.