Baltimore City, You’re Breaking My Heart.
This is why people leave.
Author’s Note / Feb. 11, 2014: This post has received over 355k views in five days, and thousands of shares via Facebook and Twitter. I’ve gotten lots of feedback, mostly constructive, mostly positive, and some negative. To the comments and criticisms I feel warrant further discussion, I’ve added some additional points to this post. To those of you who’ve thanked me for putting your concerns into words, you are welcome.
Life takes you places, you follow a course that isn't completely of your own making. One day you wake up, and it’s really all up to you. So where do you want to live? I happen to live in a city. Baltimore, to be specific.
And I'm growing to absolutely hate it here.
I’m tired of hearing about 12 year old girls being held up at gun-point while they walk to school.
I’m tired of saying “Oh Baltimore’s great! It’s just got some crime problems.”
I’m tired of living in a major crime zone while paying the highest property taxes in the state.
I’m tired of hearing about incompetent city leaders who are more fixated on hosting the Grand Prix than dealing with thousands of vacant buildings that create massive slums, and rampant crime.
I’m tired of being looked at like prey.
I’m tired of hearing the police helicopter circling overhead every night, and seeing the spotlight shine in my window.
I’m tired of reading about juveniles arrested for violent crimes who are let go because if it’s not a “murder” case, there’s no time to worry about it, or resources to deal with it.
I’m tired of checking in on neighbor and Baltimore Sun editor Jon Fogg’s Go Fund Me page to see if his family has met their goal to raise funds to help him recover from the brutal attack he suffered as he went from his car to his front door after work.
I’m tired of hearing city leaders delude themselves that people will move to, or visit, Baltimore — with visions of the Inner Harbor and the National Aquarium in their minds.
I’m tired of being surrounded by drug addicts.
I’m tired of answering the question, “Is Baltimore really like The Wire?” Answer: “Yeah it’s a complete shit-hole war zone depending on what street you turn down”.
I’m tired of looking at 11 year olds as potential thieves, muggers and murderers on my walk home from the office.
I’m tired of living next to a beautiful park that I’m scared to walk into at any time of day, thanks to regular stories of day-time muggings, drug dealing and gang violence.
I’m tired of doing the mental checklist of what I will do if I hear someone break into my house.
I’m tired of watching the murder count go up and up like a lottery pool. http://data.baltimoresun.com/bing-maps/homicides/
I’m tired of thinking about the horrifying final moments for 51 year old neighbor, Kim Leto, stabbed to death in her own home by two teenagers.
I’m tired of hearing people talk about how coveted the internships are at Johns Hopkins because you get “battle zone” experience.
I’m tired of wondering why city leaders haven’t said shit about recent horrific murders committed in what I used to consider “safe” neighborhoods.
Author’s Note: Some have criticized me for referring to certain neighborhoods as “safe” or “nice”. Here’s what I consider a nice, safe neighborhood, for reference: clean and litter free, people outside talking, neighbors saying hello to each other, homes and sidewalks that look cared for, and people who want to know you, engage with you, and care about the neighborhood. That doesn’t mean affluent, white, or privileged — to me. And if you were to really know Butcher’s Hill, you would know it’s full of all kinds of people with different income levels, backgrounds and opinions.
City officials ignore the fact that neighborhoods like Canton and Butcher’s Hill (supposedly appealing neighborhoods for young professionals, students and families seeking an urban living experience) have seen robberies up 35 percent and violent crime up 30 percent.
Author’s Note: This wasn’t in my imagination because I’m suddenly paying attention to neighbors getting attacked and killed. It’s a SE District, significant, spike. In violent crimes. Anyone should upset and concerned if they see this happening in their district.
I’m tired. I don't have to live here. But I want to stay.
Author’s Note: This phrase angered some who accuse my post of “reeking of privilege”, I’m assuming, in part, because I have options when so many in this city don’t. I never said I spoke for everyone in this city, and I’d never argue with you that I don’t count my blessing for many things that I’ve accomplished or had access to in my life.
Why should my situation in life, the place I view things from today, negate my feelings about safety and crime? Should I be silent until issues related to inequality, poverty and access to education are solved? And why should I have to preface any feelings or thoughts I have with a statement of privilege? Why do you think I should focus on issues that are important to you, rather than the ones I want to talk about?
I want to love this city again. I want it to get the crime monkey off its back and become the amazing place and home I know it can be.
I’m very fond of my neighbors. The people who live on my street are amazing and I consider many of them good friends. They look after my house, and I look out for them. They host block parties, offer to help each other out, and are generally awesome folks, many of them raising families amidst this increasing insanity.
Patterson Park, a half-block from my front door, is one of the most beautiful city parks in the country, and was the key defensive position for U.S. forces against British ground forces in the Battle of Baltimore during the War of 1812.
I love walking outside on a sunny afternoon and seeing the joggers, dog walkers, families, and the overall sense of diversity that I get living in the city.
Baltimore has a rich history and every building tells a story, every neighborhood has character, and as a city, it has so much to offer. On one hand there is more to do here than I could ever hope to experience, on the other hand most of the places I walk into, I bump into someone I know.
People jokingly call it “Smalltimore”, and it’s a huge part of its appeal.
Some of the best and most memorable restaurants in the country are within walking distance to my house, and I consider the owners friends.
Jack’s Bistro — http://www.jacksbistro.net/
Peter’s Inn — http://www.petersinn.com/
Woodberry Kitchen — http://www.woodberrykitchen.com/ (will be within walking distance to our new office)
Some of the brightest minds come to this city every day to work at Johns Hopkins, curate at The Walters Art Museum, run businesses like Under Armour and Millennial Media, or provide unique services like the Water Taxi, which will take you from the historic streets of Fells Point to The Visionary Museum in Federal Hill.
Baltimore City has beautiful areas to explore, amazing diversity, unique experiences and generally really nice and friendly citizens.
There are bars like The Horse you Came in On, the oldest continually operating saloon in America, and Edgar Allan Poe’s last known destination before he died.
You’ll never have a shortage of fun and interesting places to take visitors who come to stay, just warn them not to leave anything in their car, use their iPhone while in a public area, or walk alone after dark. And make SURE they know how to set your alarm when they leave your house. And let them borrow your pit-bull if they want to roam around a little and explore the neighborhood.
For me, there are so many great things about this city, more than I can list here. They've made me proud to call Baltimore my home since 1996, when I moved here to go to graduate school at the Maryland Institute College of Art, one of the best art schools in the country.
But you just can’t ignore the crime.
It’s the elephant in the room for Baltimore City, and city officials don't seem like they are ever going to look it square in the eye. With that kind of attitude being represented by your city’s leaders, it’s no wonder the city’s population continues to decline.
Author’s Note: Other voices have said the real elephant in the room is poverty, inequality and other root causes of crime. I don’t disagree with these sentiments. I’m happy to see efforts go towards youth programs, rehabilitation centers, education, addressing the blight, pushing for transparency, neighborhood outreach, community forums, etc. These things take a long time to turn the ship around (I’m not discounting them just saying they are part of a long game) and addressing crime can have a more immediate impact. Why do we have to chose one over the other?
I'm looking at you Mayor Rawlings-Blake.
Author’s Note: I’ve received criticism for calling out our Mayor. I welcome a list of others who should be added to this list, and hope citizens of this city hold them accountable as well. But a Mayor accepts that position because she feels she can make things better for a population, that she can tackle tough problems, that she can work with others in her team to make progress, and shift gears when things need to change. I didn’t run for Mayor, or any other city position. I’m a private citizen who runs a small business that employs other city residents. I thought I was the kind of community member a city would want to extend equal value to, along with all other community members.
However, I, and many of my neighbors, were unfortunately told very clearly by the Mayor, during her State of the City Address on Feb. 11, 2014, that we are “part of the problem”.
During Mayor Rawlings-Blake’s State of the City, when asked if she had read this blog post (and the many other voices who have joined the conversation) she replied:
“If a crime happens in an area where property taxes are higher, we're supposed to care more?" the mayor asks.
Saying she doesn’t have the luxury of debating the angst of people fearing violence in high-end communities, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said citizens either have to join her in her efforts to reduce crime or acknowledge that they’re “part of the problem.”
I don't know how to fix Baltimore’s crime problem, but in my opinion, I do my part. I pay my taxes, I run a business where I employ other citizens of Baltimore, and my business provides a service to other Baltimore businesses and people. I report suspicious activity, I come to help when someone yells “Help”, I try to keep my home looking nice, and I leave my outside lights turned on at night.
All I know is when there are more police, there is less crime. When people get arrested for littering or loitering or being publicly intoxicated, they go do that shit somewhere else, or they think twice about doing it at all. And yes, I realize this may be a knee-jerk reaction and won’t solve all the problems. But I’m desperate for some kind of help. I want to feel safe.
Author’s Note: Here is perhaps where I got some of the most push-back. Although for those who said I was only complaining and not offering solutions — these were my suggestions — more police, more focus on quality of life offenses.
I’d like to reference some articles written by people who’ve studied these problems, and are much smarter than I when it comes to addressing crime increases.
Please notice that most studies conclude that a stronger police presence in hot zones decreases crime throughout a city, it does not just push the crime to other areas as many have stated.
And, many studies conclude that by focusing on “quality of life” crimes like littering and loitering, you can actually make a significant dent in the spread of crime amongst youth (as kids see their older influencers have an increasingly difficult time conducting low impact crimes successfully, they are less likely to pursue criminal activity themselves.) These articles also cover a wide range of suggestions and solutions, some of which are being initiated by the Mayor according to her speech yesterday.
If you ignore the little things, you encourage worse things to happen.
Life is a fast ride that gets faster the longer you are on it. This world is full of amazing places, amazing people, and more choices than one can even conceive. How do you decide where to make your home?
For the first half of my life, it’s pretty much been outside factors that have impacted where I live. I intend to make the second half a much more deliberate and personal process. I’m going to start with asking myself what I like and what I don't like. And then I'm going to find my home where most of the check marks fall in the “like” column.
Being afraid you will be robbed, attacked or murdered where you live will be in the “Don’t Like” list, but it really shouldn't be in a list at all.
To those of you who feel I had no business writing such a personal and emotional piece about Baltimore City, or that I’m part of the problem, I ask you this:
Who IS qualified to express concern over safety and crime in their neighborhoods? I'll be quiet, but not before you tell me who is entitled to speak up?