American City in Crisis … West Baltimore: Ground Zero
By: Joel E. Gordon
When I asked to be assigned to a high-crime area upon my graduation from the Baltimore City police academy in 1981 and was assigned to West Baltimore, I never could have imagined that nearly 40 years later the deplorable conditions on the city’s west side would be a topic garnering national attention.
The decline of living conditions in Baltimore far predates my arrival there and even predates my birth in 1959. A recent commentary by a fellow law enforcement officer speaks to the area:
“One of my last cases as a detective from a neighboring jurisdiction brought me to Baltimore City regularly for a few weeks. Was an eye opener when the Baltimore police told us not to stop at certain intersections due to gunfire and had to clear out areas around the doors we needed to knock on as it was not safe for armed detectives to just walk up. How they worked there in those conditions I’ll never know. The city rivals sub-Saharan third world cities in terms of crime, violence and poverty.”
So when President Donald Trump said that the area is a "disgusting, rat and rodent-infested mess" was he simply restating observations that many others have made?
Late one night early in my career, I personally recall a time when I received a call for the alarm sounding at what had been one of my favorite go-to carryout sandwich shops on my beat. After encountering huge rats scurrying to the building’s rear and observing their activity, I thought better of my choice of eateries from that point forward. (No wonder my primary dispatcher would quip “It’s your stomach” when revealing my location while picking up my “lunch”!)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) condemned Trump for criticizing the well-documented crime, poverty, drug abuse and political corruption that plagues Baltimore. However, while touring a West Baltimore neighborhood in December 2015, "Anyone who took the walk that we took around this neighborhood would not think you're in a wealthy nation. You would think that you were in a Third World country," Sanders said, according to the Baltimore Sun newspaper. "What we're talking about is a community in which half of the people don't have jobs," he later told reporters during his trip. "We're talking about a community in which there are hundreds of buildings that are uninhabitable."
Also in 2015, President Barack Obama was quoted as saying “It’s too easy to ignore those problems or to treat them just as a law-and-order issue as opposed to a broader social issue.” Then, Obama lashed out at those who had been torching buildings and looting businesses in Baltimore calling them “criminals and thugs” who were destroying their own communities.
Former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh, who stepped down amid FBI raids and ongoing investigations into her own business dealings, upon touring these neighborhoods as mayor was caught on an open-mic saying: "What the hell? We should just take all this shit down. ... Whoa, you can smell the rats. ... Whew, Jesus. ... Oh, my God, you can smell the dead animals."
The first prerequisite to fixing a problem is recognizing you have one. Baltimore is again on pace for 300+ homicides this year with hundreds of shootings, stabbings, thousands of robberies, burglaries, etc... It IS rat-infested. The former mayor is in trouble as were two mayors before. The police department is a mess, with the current mayor and city council rubber-stamping old rehashed crime-fighting plans put forth as being new by Baltimore’s latest police commissioner. The civilian Deputy Commissioner brought in to implement the Federal Consent Decree was himself, along with his wife, robbed at gunpoint in a city park. Another police department civilian employee was assaulted and robbed not far from police headquarters. Is there any end in sight?
One West Baltimore resident known as Michelle completely agrees with what Trump said. "What he [Trump] said was definitely true," she outspokenly said. Michelle then gave credit to Kimberly Klacik for previously posting videos of what Baltimore really looks like with trash and rodents.
My own personal observations and interactions during my time serving the citizens of West Baltimore lead me to believe that a majority of the many good law-abiding people living in these largely neglected areas are in agreement with Michelle about our president. Local residents welcome any truly constructive dialogue that could have any chance for being an impetus for positive change. Race is not an issue here.
Once all of the tweets and comments are over and the politicians and pundits have moved on to other issues, in the end will anything change? If history is our guide, the residents of the downtrodden areas of West Baltimore and America will sadly be disappointed once again.