Commentary: Anybody in Baltimore Could Have Told You This Was Coming

Commentary: Anybody in Baltimore Could Have Told You This Was Coming

Writer reflects on the city and what led to the unrest after Freddie Gray’s death.

Published April 28, 2015

I knew it.

I knew this would happen. So did everyone else from Baltimore. We’ve been predicting this for years. 

When the Ferguson riots happened, my first thought was, “I pray this never happens here, because it’s going to be so much worse.”

| SEE RECENT POLICE BRUTALITY CASES IN BALTIMORE |

I may be born and raised in Harlem, NY, but I’m definitely from Baltimore. I came here to go to college in 1996. I grew up here. Went to college here, got my first house, first real job and became a father in Baltimore. I worked as a teacher in Butchers Hill, just a few blocks from where an entire building went up in flames last night.  We all knew this would happen. 

Just a few weeks ago (just days before Freddie Gray met his end at the hands of Baltimore City Police), I met with a few friends for a friendly card game, and we nonchalantly discussed strategy. It just came up organically. 

What will we actually do when the lid on this city finally pops? Not if, but when. Whose house should we all meet at? Would we evacuate the city or stand our ground? It was as casual as a conversation about sports.  

I love Baltimore. This is a weird, beautiful, historic city. It’s also a very dangerous city. But the danger is sectioned off in areas that everyone knows to avoid. The hundreds of murders a year that are reported are mostly people in the drug game. Not to say their lives don’t matter, but to say that, despite its reputation, Baltimore is not a place where the inhabitants feel unsafe. There aren’t many cases of random violence. 

Whenever I tell someone I lived in Baltimore, it’s generally followed up with a question from them about The Wire. “Yes, HBO’s The Wire is a perfectly accurate depiction of what Baltimore is like.”

And it is. Some parts. A lot of parts. Too many parts. 

There are giant swaths of land here that are not just “underdeveloped,” they look like something out of a post-apocalyptic horror movie. Every friend from New York who has ever come to visit eventually says, “Damn, I can’t believe this is an American city,” or some variation. Mostly “damn!” though. 

Then we just keep driving a few more miles to a nicer part of town, near the suburb of Towson, where I live, far enough from the dirt to feel like I’m a part of it but close enough to see it. The people who live in poverty in Baltimore, the ones who lashed out last night represent a damaged community. They gave a misguided response to a real problem. A problem I’ve seen firsthand as a teacher in this town. There’s evidence of real, institutionalized poverty and hopelessness on a mass scale. From the outside looking in it seems like organized poverty.  How can people live like this? How long are they going to take it? How long before they lash out?

Surely there are better ways to respond, but the damaged community articulated itself in the only way it could. I feel bad for the people who were hurt or suffered property damage at the hands of those that are seizing the opportunity to do harm and looting for the sake of looting, but agent provocateurs always exist in these moments. The impetus for all of this has been going for decades. The gate was left open a long time ago.

The death of Freddie Gray was just the match that lit a fuse to a bomb that everyone who’s spent a day in this town knew was going to eventually explode. Yes the mayor blew it, yes there were not enough cops on the ground to stop the initial violence, yes there were thugs mixed in with the peaceful protesters, but this was always going to happen. And it will happen in every town like Baltimore as long as people are poor, hopeless and live in fear of police.  

Right now, it’s the morning after. Things appear to be somewhat under control. I drove through some of the affected areas in an attempt to get pictures. There was an eerie calm in the streets. It was quiet, but it didn’t feel safe. 

There are murmurs of panic as reports of another #Purge get texted and emailed by neighborhood association presidents and concerned citizens. The streets are packed, but they’re not busy. Schools are closed today. There are hundreds of kids just standing around. And it doesn’t look like they’re done. 

It feels like they’re waiting.

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(Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Written by Jason Torres

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