The smoke has cleared in Baltimore for now, and one of my favorite American cities is just a little bit less than it used to be.
I bear a lingering affection for Baltimore because it mirrors in many ways the Philadelphia of my youth. Both towns are so fundamentally shitty, the residents have developed a crass, resigned sense of humor unmatched anywhere else in the USA. Philly and Baltimore are a scant 100 miles away from one another and thus share that wretchedly mangled mid-Atlantic accent where every hard “o” sound is murdered. It’s impossible to sound intelligent when you have that accent. Both Philly and Baltimore are the only American metro areas I know of where restaurants regularly feature the culinary monstrosity known as scrapple on the breakfast menu. (I like to tell people that scrapple is made from the parts of the pig that were too disgusting to be made into sausage.) And once you get past the tourist spots, both towns are as hard as cement, mainly due to some of the most blighted and hostile black ghettos in the country. To me, Baltimore has always seemed like Philly’s little brother, but with a nasty case of the crabs.
I suppose it wasn’t always that way. Almost fifty years ago, country singer Bobby Bare appeared on The Porter Wagoner Show to croon “The Streets of Baltimore,” his dreamy paean to the town variously known as Charm City, Mobtown, and The Greatest City in America:
Her heart was filled with laughter
when she saw those city lights
And she said the prettiest place on Earth
Is Baltimore at night.
The prettiest place on Earth? Obviously that woman hadn’t traveled much. Even fifty years ago—prior to the 1968 riots that left huge permanent scars on the city—that notion was sort of a joke. In fact, I can’t ever imagine that this giant stinking pile of painted bricks ever quite qualified as “pretty.” Maybe it was pretty—relatively speaking—a hundred years ago when H. L. Mencken wrote for The Baltimore Sun. Compared to its current state of seemingly irretrievable dilapidation, perhaps it was a trifle more visually appealing in the mid-1800s when Edgar Allan Poe was cranking out his peerless horror stories.
But as long as I’ve been alive, Baltimore has been an eyesore. I was last there nearly a decade ago, and block for block it seemed to be pockmarked with more abandoned buildings than any major American city I’d ever seen.
Still, last week it got just a little big uglier.
Freddie Gray, like Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin before him, appears to have been a blundering fuckup. But as with the others, the blurry circumstances of his death were used by hordes of other blundering fuckups as an excuse to loot and beat and smash and destroy.
To those who’d refer to last week’s Baltimore riots as “unrest” or even an “uprising,” the sort of urban ne’er-do-wells who punched reporters and smashed police cars and looted grocery stores and burned buildings were merely reacting to the economic exploitation that capitalism had foisted upon them and the relentless brain-bludgeoning racism that has forced generations of them to squirm in pain under white supremacy’s pale, unforgiving thumb.
No one could be bothered to explain how the walking dead who occupy a terrifying quotient of Baltimore’s no-go zones were being economically exploited. Unless I’m missing something, such people typically don’t have many belongings worth stealing nor any job skills worth exploiting. Unlike feelings, dollars can be measured, and such types tend to drain more dollars from the public till than they provide.
And the already threadbare “white supremacy” narrative crumbles—at least to those who are willing to listen—when one considers that half of Baltimore’s 3,000 cops are black. It falls apart even more disastrously seeing as how the city’s mayor is a black woman. Baltimore’s police chief and city council president are also black. The Baltimore City State’s Attorney is a black woman, and last week when she filed criminal charges against six police officers that were in some way involved in Gray’s death, three of those officers turned out to be black. The most serious charge—that of “second-degree depraved-heart murder”—was filed against a black male officer.
But we seem to be increasingly living in a culture where the factual narrative gets trampled beneath the emotional fairy tale. And early last week, that perfect storm of post-Ferguson myopia that obsessively focuses on the relatively few black lives that are lost at the hands of police compared to those who perish at the hands of other blacks used Gray’s death as excuse to throw another wide-scale emotional tantrum that only sends capital and jobs and small businesses fleeing as far away as possible from such urban nightmare zones.
A generation or two ago when a black family would move into a non-black neighborhood, the common refrain was “there goes the neighborhood.” But when large masses of black rioters—sprinkled, of course, with a handful of the usual benighted white “radical” morons—torch large swaths of their own stomping grounds, it might be more accurate to say “there goes the city.” Newark never recovered from the 60s riots. Neither did Detroit. Baltimore seems well on its way to never recovering.
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake reportedly told the city’s police to stand down and let Charm City burn.
During a press conference, she also said the following:
I’ve made it very clear that I work with the police and instructed them to do everything that they could to make sure that the protesters were able to exercise their right to free speech. It’s a very delicate balancing act, because while we tried to make sure that they were protected from the cars and the other things that were going on, we also gave those who wished to destroy space to do that as well.
Blake later said her words were taken out of context and misinterpreted. But if she told the police to back off and let the rioters run loose, she indeed created a safe space for those who wished to destroy.
Like an autistic Nero, I fiddle with logic while the country burns. Only someone immune to logic would claim that the situation in Baltimore has nothing to do with race. Perhaps it’s oversimplifying things, but the main culprit here would either have to be what the city does to black people…or the very presence of black people. As it stands, the general public has been brainwashed and terror-zapped away from even daring to consider the latter option as a possibility.
For decades now, I’ve been begging the world to provide me with evidence of any place on Earth where basic living conditions—i.e., longevity, income, education, safety—improved rather than deteriorated subsequent to a large influx of blacks. Hell, I’d be satisfied to see a place where conditions even remained steady. I’m not saying such a place doesn’t exist, only that no one yet has been willing (or able?) to cough up evidence of such a place. Why does the general pattern—especially in Africa after the white colonialists are sent packing—seem to be destruction rather than creation? And why do I instantly become Evil Incarnate for asking that question? When people resort to calling you dirty names merely for asking honest questions, one starts to suspect that they don’t have an honest answer.
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